Tag Archives: folk singer

Recognizing a counterculture icon Dylan wins Nobel Prize for Literature

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 counterculture icon

Nobel prize for Literature

  • Bob Dylan performing at a civil rights rally in Washington D.C. on August 28, 1963. Photo: Getty Images

     
  • Bob Dylan and singer Joan Baez in Embankment Gardens, London in 1963. Photo: Getty Images
    Photo: Getty Images

    Bob Dylan and singer Joan Baez in Embankment Gardens, London in 1963. Photo: Getty Images

     
Armed with a harmonica and a guitar, Bob Dylan confronted social injustice, war and racism

Bob Dylan, the surprise winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, became an icon of the 1960s counterculture, but his voice has reached widely and evocatively into the American past.

The author of some of rock’s early anthems such as “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” the poet of pop tapped classic folk and gospel songs to rejuvenate defining US forms of story-telling.

Since early in his career, the 75-year-old singer has experimented with the intersection of the literary and the musical.

In the words of a reviewer in The New York Times, who saw the then 21-year-old perform solo at Town Hall theater in 1963, “Mr. Dylan’s words and melodies sparkle with the light of an inspired poet.”

One of his most celebrated songs, “Mr. Tambourine Man,” features a literary character based on a drummer Dylan knew from the clubs of New York’s Greenwich Village.

“Like a Rolling Stone” tore apart pop convention by going on for more than six minutes, with Dylan’s steady narration and a touch of R&B interrupted by the refrain, “How does it feel?”

“After writing that, I wasn’t interested in writing a novel or a play or anything, like I knew like I had too much. I wanted to write songs,” Dylan said later of the song.

“Desolation Row,” which closed his 1965 album “Highway 61 Revisited,” stretched on for more than 11 minutes and reached into biblical allusions, while referencing the growing tumult in urban America.

“Highway 61 Revisited” itself reflected an American journey, referencing the highway that stretches from Dylan’s home of Minnesota to New Orleans and the homes of the blues in the American South.

The album was part of a massive burst of creativity when in a two-year period Dylan put out three legendary albums, with the other two being “Bringing It All Back Home” and “Blonde on Blonde.”

Rise to stardom

The stardom is all a long way from his humble beginnings as Robert Allen Zimmerman, born in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesota.

He taught himself to play the harmonica, guitar and piano. Captivated by the music of folk singer Woody Guthrie, Zimmerman changed his name to Bob Dylan — reportedly after the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas — and began performing in local nightclubs.

After dropping out of college, he moved to New York in 1960. His first album contained only two original songs, but the 1963 breakthrough “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” featured a slew of his own work, including the classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Armed with a harmonica and an acoustic guitar, Dylan confronted social injustice, war and racism, quickly becoming a prominent civil rights campaigner — and recording an astonishing 300 songs in his first three years.

His interest in civil rights has persisted and in 1991 he released “Blind Willie McTell,” one of the best-known songs of his late career in which Dylan reflects on slavery through the story of the blues singer of the same name.

In 1965, Dylan also was behind a symbolic turning point in music when he went electric at the Newport Folk Festival, turning on the amplifiers for a stunned audience.

As Dylan toured Europe afterward, he was met with hostility with an audience member in England even denouncing him as “Judas” over the betrayal of his folk roots.

When Dylan afterward played in France, the tensions had become so raw that he even held a news conference with a puppet, to which he would sarcastically put his ear as if seeking counsel to reporters’ questions.

Sound like a frog’

Despite his massive cultural influence, Dylan has remained an enigmatic presence. With his gravelly tone, he has long won acclaim in spite of rather than because of his voice.

“Critics have been giving me a hard time since Day One. Critics say I can’t sing. I croak. Sound like a frog,” Dylan said last year in an unexpected career-spanning speech as he accepted a lifetime award at the Grammys.

His relationship with crowds is borders on indifference to hostile, with Dylan steadfastly refusing to please audiences by rolling out his hits.

Performing Friday at the inaugural Desert Trip festival of rock elders in California, Dylan did not say a word to the crowd and kept his back turned, not allowing overhead footage of him for the majority of the audience that could not see. In one turn that surprised fans, Dylan — raised a secular Jew — became a born-again Christian in the late 1970s after taking up Bible study following his divorce from his first wife, Sara. Dylan soon played down the Christianity, saying his conversion had been hyped by the media that he was agnostic at heart. He raised controversy again when he played in 1985 at the Live Aid concerts for Ethiopian famine relief and told the crowd that he wished “a little bit” of the money could go to American farmers struggling to pay their mortgages. His quip quickly created momentum as Willie Nelson and other artists set up Farm Aid, a still-running US festival to raise money for farmers.

Dylan has remained active and toured regularly. In 2012, he released an album full of dark tales of the American past called “Tempest,” raising speculation it would be his finale, in an echo of Shakespeare’s last play of the same name.

But Dylan has kept up his prolific output. Earlier this year he released his 37th studio album, his second in a row devoted to pop standards popularized by Frank Sinatra.

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COOL PEOPLE – Townes Van Zandt

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Townes Van Zandt – Colorado Bound

http://youtu.be/q0znckPjGt8

 

Townes Van Zandt – interview – Marie – Tv broadcast

http://youtu.be/WQHDnO-VQHc

 

Townes Van Zandt – If I Needed You

http://youtu.be/zaP8NGML_QE

 

Townes Van Zandt Biography

Singer, Songwriter (1944–1997)

Townes Van Zandt was a critically acclaimed folk-country singer/songwriter known for songs like “If I Needed You,” “Loretta” and “To Live’s to Fly.
Townes Van Zandt, born on March 7, 1944, in Fort Worth, Texas, became a touring singer/songwriter whose storytelling on albums like For the Sake of the Song and Our Mother the Mountain won acclaim. An underground figure who struggled with drug abuse, Van Zandt saw his tunes “Pancho and Lefty” and “If I Needed You” become hits. Recording for almost three decades, he died on January 1, 1997, in Smyrna, Texas.

Background

Acclaimed country/folk singer and songwriter John Townes Van Zandt was born on March 7, 1944, in Fort Worth, Texas. He moved around quite a bit during his childhood due to his family’s oil business, and during adolescent faced major emotional and mental health challenges, being diagnosed with manic depression and institutionalized.

Later citing Elvis Presley and Bob Dylan as major influences on his work, Van Zandt decided to pursue singing and songwriting, taking up the guitar at 15 and continuing to ply his craft while a student at the University of Colorado. He later relocated to Houston and worked as a live performer, influenced by the likes of blues great Lightnin’ Hopkins and forming lasting connections with country singer/songwriter Guy Clark.

Acclaimed Albums

After recording in Nashville, Van Zandt released his debut album For the Sake of the Song in 1968 and over the next few years offered up a steady stream of releases: Our Mother the Mountain (1969), Townes Van Zandt (1969), Delta Momma Blues (1971), High Low and In Between and The Late Great Townes Van Zandt (both 1972).

He released a couple of more albums during the late ’70s, including Flyin’ Shoes (1978), and didn’t offer any new recordings for almost ten years. Then throughout the late ’80s to ’90s, he put forth several new works, with 1995’sNo Deeper Blue, made in Ireland, being the last album he recorded.

Influential Song-Maker, Hard Life

Van Zandt’s music is characterized by moody folk textures, vividly engaging storytelling and his emotionally resonant voice, leading to rounds and rounds of critical acclaim from those in the know and his status as a major influencer of traditional/alt country. He became a mentor of sorts to Steve Earle, and during the ’80s his tune “Pancho and Lefty” became a chart topper for Merle Haggard and Willie Nelson, while Emmylou Harris and Don Williams had a hit with their version of “If I Needed You.”Yet Van Zandt never enjoyed major popularity himself, with the musician stating that’s not what he was after. He remained a wandering, perennially touring figure and abused drugs and alcohol for decades, which affected the quality of his live performances.

Tribute and Documentary

After receiving an operation for a broken hip, Van Zandt suffered a heart attack and died on January 1, 1997, in Smyrna, Tennessee. Posthumous anthologies and previously unreleased recordings were put forth along with In the Beginning… (2003), a collection of 1966 demos.

Van Zandt’s songs have continued to be covered by a range of artists, and Earle released a tribute album, Townes, in 2009. Filmmaker Margaret Brown also helmed the 2005 documentary Be Here to Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt.

Townes Van Zandt
Memorial Page



Photo handed out at the
memorial service, Jan. 5, 1997
Photo by Steven’s Stills

So friends, when my time comes
as surely it will
you just carry my body
out to some lonesome hill
and lay me down easy
where the cool rivers run
with only my mountains
‘tween me and the sun
My home is Colorado
from My Proud Mountains – TVZ


The sad news:


Initial notice heard Jan 2, 1997Details about Townes last moments – Update from Jeanene Van Zandt; Jan. 4, 1997 6 PM PT part 1, and part 2

And a more complete version of what happened from Jeanene via about-townes mail-list; Aug. 2, 1997

A report on the memorial service by Topher – posted to the TVZ mail list


Books and Films about Townes Van Zandt:


Collected reviews, “Be Here To Love Me: A Film About Townes Van Zandt” 9/14-15/04 – added 16/Sep/04Book review of “For the Sake of the Song” A new biography captures the self-destructive genius of Townes Van Zandt – by Lacey Galbraith – added 02/Mar/07

Collected reviews, “For the Sake of the Song – TVZ Biography by John Kruth” 3/5/07 – started 5/Mar/07

Collected reviews, “A Deeper Blue – TVZ Biography by Robert Hardy” Apr 2008 – started 30/Jun/08


Tribute show information and reports:


Report on the KUT radio tribute to Townes 2/Jan/97 by Larry Monroe – added 10/Aug/97Listing of a radio tribute show on WNEW 1/5/97

Report on the tribute to Townes at the Cactus Cafe in Austin by Larry Monroe – added 10/Aug/97

Review of the tribute concert held 3/Feb/97 in Seattle thanks to Peter Blackstock (posted to TVZ mail list)

Review of the tribute concert held ??/Mar/97 in LA thanks to John Hulett (posted to TVZ mail list) – added 10/Aug/97

A tribute concert to be held 23/Feb/97 at the Bottom Line in New York thanks to Vin, WNEW-FM | also note of a tribute in Los Angeles 1/March/97 (updated 23/Feb/97) Now with reviews from Vin Scelsa and from Ross Whitwam – added 25/Feb/97 and from Neil Straus in the NY Times – added 27/Feb/97 and at ASCAP’s web page – added 10/Aug/97

Review of the tribute Austin City Limits concert held 7/Dec/97 in Austin thanks to Rob and Kathy (posted to TVZ mail list) – added 4/Jan/98

10 Year Anniversary of Townes passing Radio Tribute Show – KDVS thanks to Bones – added 17/Jan/07

A page for the annual TVZ wake, held early Jan at the Old Quarter Acoustic Cafe in Galveston Texas. Included there is a song written in memory of Townes by Diane Craig of Galveston, Texas called ‘The Ghost of Townes Van Zandt’. Recommended by M. Chambers. – Added 10/Mar/2001


Dreams, Poems, Stories, and Songs:


A dream that Townes visited faxed to me by Jeanene – added 18/Jan/97Last Haunts on TVZ A poem by Scotty Melton – added 23/Feb/97

Chasing Townes A poem by Robert Gibson – added 10/Aug/97

Leaving Townes A short story by Richard Dobson – added 10/Aug/97

A series of songs and poems by Scotty Melton – added 10/Aug/97

Fort Worth Blues lyrics written in tribute to Townes by Steve Earle – added 10/Aug/97

Guitar Road song written in tribute to Townes by Chris Deschner/David Munyon – added 26/May/98, thanks to Kim Nygaard

Townes (key of C) song written in 1990 by Dallas Denny – added 31/Dec/98

ADIOS song written by Horst Schrader – added 17/Sept/2000

New Year’s Day A poem written by David Byboth local copy – added 10/Mar/2001

Jesse Sykes Interview An excerpt posted to About-Townes 03/Sept/04 on how Townes influenced this musician – added 4/Sept/2004

We Needed Him A short poem by Chris Edwards – added 30/June/2008

Wild Morning Glory A song written for Townes by Matt Watroba, who once interviewed Townes a couple of times on his radio show, and now plays Townes music regularly on WDET Detroit and in his own performances – added 06/Feb/2009

I just listened to Live at The Old Quarter and it brought back memories Remembrances of townes especially on stage during rough times by David Brown – added 27/Mar/2009

The Muses Envy A poem written shortly after Townes death by beyondfencesmusic – added 11/Aug/2010

Stage Light On The Lonely Town A song written as a tribute by M. Andros – added 06/Sept/2010


Press Releases and Published Articles about Townes:


Jan 2, 1997 Associated Press story by Jim Patterson appearing in StarWeb [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 2, 1997 4:58 PM PT NPR interview with Nanci Griffith – part 1 (8 bit mono AU sound file, 973 KB)Jan 2, 1997 4:58 PM PT NPR interview with Nanci Griffith – part 2 (8 bit mono AU sound file, 750 KB)Jan 2, 1997 1:45 PM PT Story by Marcus Errico appearing in E! ONLINE [Local copy] (if not avail from orig. source)Jan 2, 1997 Story in Jam! Showbiz [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 3, 1997 Story by Steve Morse in the Boston Globe [Local copy] (if not avail from orig. source)Jan 3, 1997 Story by NEIL STRAUS appearing in the New York Times [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 3, 1997 Associated Press story plus different photo in MS-NBC [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 3, 1997 A new story by Peter Blackstock in MS-NBC [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 4, 1997 Washington Post Story – mentions two upcoming releases by Townes from Sugar Hill [Local copy] (no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 4, 1997 A newspaper article in the Austin American-Statesman by Michael Corcoran – as posted to the TVZ mail listJan 5, 1997 A story by Robert Trussell appearing in the Kansas City Star Jan. 5, 1997 – added 19/Jan/97Jan 8, 1997 A story by John W. English appearing in Flagpole Magazine Online(Athens, GA) [local copy] (if no longer available from original source)- added 21/Jan/97Jan 13, 1997 A story by Brad Tyer called “End of the Road” – thanks to Dan for submitting this to me – added 21/Jan/97Jan 10-16, 1997 The Dean of Texas Songwriters [local copy] (if no longer available from original source) – A story by Lee Nichols in the Austin Chronicle – thanks to Dave J. – added 4/Feb/97Jan 10-16, 1997 Dead Rabbits [local copy] (if no longer available from original source) A story by Ed Ward in the Austin Chronicle – thanks to Dave J. – added 4/Feb/97Jan 9, 1997 from Kellmans Real Music Reviews [local copy] (if no longer available from original source) – added 10/Aug/97Jan 30, 1997 We Needed Him by Naomi Shihab Nye in the Texas Observer – thanks to Roy K. – added 4/Feb/97Feb 7, 1997 Death’s Dark Shadow [local copy] (if no longer available from original source) by David Marsh in the American Grandstand/Addicted To Noise – added 9/Feb/97Mar 1, 1997 Keeping quiet for the sake of a song by Adam Sweeting in the British Gaurdian – thanks to Michael K. – added 10/Aug/97Jan 28, 1997 Segment #4 on Acoustic Cafe Show #107 Go to their site and select “Listen to the Cafe”. Includes Tecumseh Valley – N. Griffith, Buckskin Stallion Blues – Jimmie Dale Gilmore, Pancho and Lefty – Emmylou Harris, Dont You Take It So Bad – Guy Clark, Dublin Blues – TVZ [local copy] (if no longer available from original source) – added 19/Apr/97Jul 25, 1997 A long essay about Townes by Roy Kasten submitted to about-townes – added 10/Aug/97Jan 1999 A gentleman and a shaman – article in No Depression by Matt Hanks – added 09/Sep/10Oct 1, 1999 William Hedgepeth’s article “Townes Van Zandt – messages from the outside” that appeared in Atlanta’s Hittin’ the Note magazine back in May 1977 is now available hereDec 29, 1999 An article appearing in the Gaurdian UK, Aug 1998 “Legend Of The Fall” with a note by Dave Williams, who kindly transcribed and submitted this article


More articles about Townes and His Legacy of Recordings:


Dec 10, 2001 Interview with Townes’ son JT Van Zandt from LoneStarMusic.com Texas music newsletter [Local copy] (if no longer avail from orig. source)Jul 2003 “Travels with Townes Van Zandt” from Perfect Sound Forever online Music Magazine story by Steve Hawley [Local copy] (if no longer avail from orig. source)Nov 14, 2003 “Dead, Not Buried” – the fight over Townes recordings and publishing rights Dallas Observer story by Robert Wilonsky [Local copy] (if no longer avail from orig. source)Aug 3, 2005 “10. Live at The Old Quarter, Townes Van Zandt in “Heartworn Highways: The 25 Greatest Country Albums of All Time”www.beingthere.com article by Zayne Reeves [Local copy] (if no longer avail from orig. source)Jan 7, 2010 “Legends: Townes Van Zandt in American Songwriter. On Townes and his songwriting www.americansongwriter.com/2010/01/legends-townes-van-zandt – article by Holly Gleason



I ain’t much of a lover it’s true
I’m here then I’m gone
and I’m forever blue
but I’m sure wanting you

Skies full of silver and gold
try to hide the sun
but it can’t be done
least not for long

 

– from No Place To Fall
by Townes Van Zandt

COOL PEOPLE – BILLY BRAGG And He Performs Surprise Set at the Royale For Ferguson: “Liberty and Justice for All!”

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This song comes from the 1998 album, Mermaid Avenue. The lyrics to all the songs on this

album were written by Woody Guthrie sometime before his death in 1967 and put to music

by Billy Bragg and Wilco about 30 years later. The words to this song paint a picture of

sleeping and dreaming beneath the beautiful California stars.

“CALIFORNIA STARS”

http://youtu.be/nhm27uXG6bg

Billy Bragg & Wilco – Walt Whitman’s Niece (Lyrics)

http://youtu.be/1GDU6ns2mRM

Way Over Yonder In The Minor Key – Billy Bragg & Wilco

http://youtu.be/vwcQAlRn0Gs

Billy Bragg Biography

(1957–)

 QUICK FACTS

NAME

Billy Bragg

BIRTH DATE

December 20, 1957 (age 56)

PLACE OF BIRTH

Barking, England

FULL NAME

Stephen William Bragg

Finding inspiration in the righteous anger of punk rock and the socially conscious folk tradition of Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan, Billy Bragg was the leading figure of the anti-folk movement of the ’80s. For most of the decade, Bragg bashed out songs alone on his electric guitar, singing about politics and love. While his lyrics were bitingly intelligent and clever, they were also warm and humane, filled with detail and wit. Even though his lyrics were carefully considered, Bragg never neglected to write melodies for songs that were strong and memorable. Throughout the ’80s, he managed to chart consistently in Britain, yet he only gathered a cult following in America, which could be due to the fact that he sang about distinctly British subject matter, both politically and socially.

Bragg began performing in the late ’70s with the punk group Riff Raff, which lasted only a matter of months. He then joined the British Army, yet he quickly bought himself out of his sojourn with £175. After leaving the Army, he began working at a record store; while he was working, he was writing songs that were firmly in the folk and punk protest tradition. Bragg began a British tour, playing whenever he had the chance to perform. Frequently he would open for bands with only a moment’s notice; soon, he had built a sizable following, as evidenced by his first EP, Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy (1983), hitting number 30 on the U.K. independent charts. Brewing Up with Billy Bragg (1984), his first full-length album, climbed to number 16 in the charts.

During 1984, Bragg became a minor celebrity in Britain, as he appeared at leftist political rallies, strikes, and benefits across the country; he also helped form the “Red Wedge,” a socialist musicians’ collective that also featured Paul Weller. In 1985, Kirsty MacColl took one of his songs, “New England,” to number seven on the British singles chart. Featuring some subtle instrumental additions of piano and horns, 1986’s Talking with the Taxman About Poetry reached the U.K. Top Ten.

Bragg’s version of the Beatles’ “She’s Leaving Home,” taken from the Sgt. Pepper Knew My Father tribute album, became his only number one single in 1988 — as the double A-side with Wet Wet Wet’s “With a Little Help from My Friends.” That year, he also released the EP Help Save the Youth of America and the full-length Workers Playtime, which was produced by Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Nick Drake, R.E.M.). Boyd helped expand Bragg’s sound, as the singer recorded with a full band for the first time. The following year, Bragg restarted the Utility record label as a way of featuring non-commercial new artists. The Internationale, released in 1990, was a collection of left-wing anthems, including a handful of Bragg originals. On 1991’s Don’t Try This at Home, he again worked with a full band, recording his most pop-oriented and accessible set of songs; the album featured the hit single, “Sexuality.” Bragg took several years off after Don’t Try This at Home, choosing to concentrate on fatherhood. He returned in 1996 with William Bloke.

In 1998, he teamed with the American alternative country band Wilco to record Mermaid Avenue, a collection of performances based on unreleased songs originally written by Woody Guthrie. Reaching to the Converted, a collection of rarities, followed a year later, and in mid-2000 Bragg and Wilco reunited for a second Mermaid Avenue set. While touring in support of Mermaid Avenue, Vol. 2, Bragg formed the Blokes in 1999 with Small Faces keyboardist Ian McLagan. Lu Edmonds (guitar), Ben Mandelson (lap steel guitar), Martyn Barker (drums), and Simon Edwards (bass) solidified the group while Bragg moved from London to rural Dorset in early 2001. One year later, the Blokes joined Bragg for England, Half English, his first solo effort since William Bloke.

In 2004, Bragg collaborated with Less Than Jake for “The Brightest Bulb Has Burned Out,” a track included on the Rock Against Bush, Vol. 1 compilation. The two-CD Must I Paint You a Picture? The Essential Billy Bragg appeared in 2003 with initial copies featuring a third bonus CD of collectibles and rarities. The Yep Roc label released the box set Volume 1 in 2006. The set included seven CDs and two DVDs of previously unavailable live footage, and the label simultaneously reissued four titles from Bragg’s early back catalog in expanded editions. Billy Bragg spent the next year recording in London, Devon, and Lincolnshire, and 2008 saw the release of Mr. Love & Justice, his first solo effort in six years. Although the Blokes served as Bragg’s backing band on the album, a limited-edition package also included a second disc comprised of intimate solo recordings. The barebones Woody Guthrie-inspired Tooth & Nail arrived in early 2013 and the following year brought the DVD & CD set, Live at the Union Chapel, which included an encore performance of Life’s a Riot with Spy vs. Spy in its entirety as a bonus feature. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine, Rovi

Billy Bragg Performs Surprise Set at the Royale For Ferguson: “Liberty and Justice for All!”

billybraggroyaleferguson_sutter_565.jpg
Bryan Sutter
Billy Bragg addresses a crowd of about 100 people on the Royale’s patio. See more photos here.

Billy Bragg stood at the microphone toward the end of his set at the Royale, thoughtfully looking up into the night sky as he tried to put words to what’s happening in Ferguson.

“The true enemy is our own cynicism,” Bragg finally told the audience. “We have to fight to overcome that cynicism. We have to show the world that St. Louis is not a cynical place, a place where people give in to their worst impulses.”

Bragg, known worldwide for speaking out against human-rights violations and bigotry, performed an hourlong set at the Royale on just a few hours’ notice, deciding to stop in St. Louis as he made his way south to Arkansas on a photography tour of the old Rock Island Line railroad path for Aperture magazine. Several performances over the next week are planned, but Bragg and fellow guitarist Joe Purdy already have made a habit of impulsively playing where they’ve felt moved to do so, such as outside a school in Illinois where teachers were striking for better pay. St. Louis was just such an impulse stop.

See also:
PHOTOS: Billy Bragg Supports Ferguson with Impromptu Set at the Royale
Tonight: Billy Bragg to Support Ferguson with Surprise Show at the Royale

“Yesterday, I tweeted from Rock Island [Illinois] about where I should go, and people from here and Britain reminded me that St. Louie wasn’t far,” Bragg said. “It’s not just people here that care [about Ferguson]. We saw a demonstration of a dozen people walk past our hotel in Rock Island.”

Bragg then said that he contacted his friend Karl Haglund, an artist who paints canvases of iconic guitars, about where he might perform. Upon advice from Magnolia Summer’s Chris Grabau, Haglund suggested the Royale and put Bragg into contact with owner Steven Smith. The performance was announced on Twitter and Facebook 30 minutes later, with Smith using the show as a way to rally up bins of toiletries, food, school supplies and first-aid kids from the 100 or so people attending — all donations that would be distributed in Ferguson through St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church.

On the Royale’s patio in front of an orange-red garage, Bragg and Purdy opened their acoustic set with “Rock Island Line,” an old American folk song that Lonnie Donegan famously covered and that initially inspired the journey. Bragg went solo next, delighting the crowd with his song “Sexuality.”

Bragg said that he and Purdy would be switching off to “stay fresh,” giving up the “stage.” Purdy, now solo, joked, “The problem with traveling with Billy Bragg is that you have to follow him.” He performed “Down to the Water” on “this old pawn-shop guitar.” “But I still love you,” he said to the instrument.

Bragg returned for a few train-based songs, saying, “I don’t think there was any invention as transformative in human existence as the railroad.” The duo performed “There Is Power in a Union,” which moved the toe-tapping audience to yip and clap, especially once Bragg finished the song and shouted “Solidarity forever!” with a fist pump.

See the Riverfront Times’ complete coverage of Michael Brown and Ferguson.

Playing solo, Bragg reminded the crowd of his love and respect for folk hero Woody Guthrie, sharing that “Guthrie as a young man witnessed the aftermath of lynchings and wrote this song,” before beginning “Hangknot, Slipknot.” The lyrics, “Who makes the laws for that hangknot?” resonated through the rapt audience.

Bragg reminded the crowd again about seeing the Ferguson supporters through his hotel window. “These are difficult times,” he said as the Royale crowd spontaneously began chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” — a now-iconic phrase coined because of reports that Michael Brown had his hands in the air when Ferguson officer Darren Wilson shot him on August 9.

Moved by the night’s emotion, Bragg continued. “I was trying to think of a song I could play for this tonight. There’s an old song I know from the civil-rights days, written in 1968, but it may have some resonance now. You have a great weight to resolve this in a peaceable and transparent way, and you have our support.” Bragg and Purdy then began harmonizing on “Cryin’ in the Streets,” punctuating the line “I see people marching in the streets” with a powerful “Yeah!” and growing louder throughout the song.

At the end of the night, Bragg ceded the floor to Royale owner Smith, who emphasized that showing solidarity with the people of Ferguson was important. Pastor Steve Lawler of St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Ferguson then shared a story about a little girl who recently collected food with her family amid the chaos. “She had a cartoon drawing of people getting food in her hand, and she wanted me to say something to the people who had given her this food.”

“What do you want me to tell them?” Lawler had asked the girl.

“Say thanks, and say don’t be afraid.”

The evening closed with the crowd on its feet, clapping and shouting along with Bragg and Purdy to Bob Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” but Bragg had one more thought as he closed the famous tune. “And liberty and justice for all!” he shouted, shaking the Royale patio with force. The audience agreed, erupting into “No justice, no peace,” another chant made famous recently in Ferguson.

Steven Smith surveyed the scene and vowed, “We’re going to create a new normal.”

Watch Bragg perform several songs in this video playlist by Stephen Houldsworth:

How Did Bob Dylan Get So Weird?

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HOW DID BOB DYLAN GET SO WEIRD?

Bob Dylan, 1964
Photo: © Daniel Kramer.

In August, a Bob Dylan album may well arrive in stores concrete and virtual. It may be called Shadows in the Night. It may have a song called “Full Moon & Empty Arms” on it; a stream of the tune was released without comment on his website a couple of months ago. Why Dylan chose to record a cover of an old Sinatra track isn’t clear; it may, or may not, be a clue that the purported album will consist of covers. Dylan has just finished shows in Japan, Eastern Europe, and Scandinavia; will head next to Australia and New Zealand; and may or may not be preparing for a swing through the U.S. in the fall.

We think of Dylan in a pantheon of great rock stars, at or near the top of a select list that includes the Stones, Springsteen, maybe U2, but not too many other active artists. But he behaves much differently. He’s released more albums than Bruce Springsteen in the past 25 years and played more shows than Springsteen, the Stones, and U2 combined. Yet he hardly ever does interviews and does virtually nothing to publicize his albums or tours. For someone who seems to be in such plain sight, he remains hidden, present but opaque, an open book written in cipher. Normal questions don’t seem to do him justice. You want to ask: What is Bob Dylan? Why is Bob Dylan? After listening to him since I was a kid and seeing him live for—gulp—nearly 40 years, I think I’m beginning to figure it out.

You have to start by disregarding the well-told narrative: The soi-disant vagabond’s rise through folk music to a place of utter domination at the highest level of literate, passionate, and difficult pop and rock music, all by 1966; a retreat and Gethsemane until 1974, when he came back, roaring and vengeful, more passionately focused than before, adding a remarkable personal dimension to his ’60s work. After that, depending on how generously you view his career, there has been either a long decline or decades of remarkable and kaleidoscopic creativity, culminating in the triumphs, late in life, of his five most recent albums.

For an artist as rooted in our musical culture as Dylan, the linearity of a narrative works more to disconnect him from the influences and traditions his work comprises than to explain him. First, you have to appreciate the many layers that make up his peculiar but unmistakable aesthetic. His work is grounded in acoustic folk-blues—­ballads, chants, and love stories, populated with mystical or just plain weird meanings and themes, rattling and farting around like tetched uncles in the attic of our American psyche. To this add the dread-filled dreamscapes—unexplainable, ­unnerving—of French Surrealism, and then, arrestingly, the punchy patois of the Beats, who originally intuited the substratum of social stresses that would whipcrack across the ’60s and into the ’70s. Then factor in personal songwriting, a strain of pop he basically invented, doled out first with obfuscations, payback, tall tales, and lies—some by design, some on general principle, some just to be an asshole—and then the signs, here and there (and then everywhere, the more you look), of autobiographical happenstance and deeply felt emotion.

And remember that some of his narratives are fractured. Time and focus shift; first person can become third; sometimes more than one story seems to be being told at the same time (“Tangled Up in Blue” and “All Along the Watchtower” are two good examples). And then there’s plain sonic impact: Even his earliest important songs have a cerebral and reverberating authority in the recording, his voice sometimes filling the speakers, his primitive but blistering guitar work adding confrontation, ease, humor, anger, and contrariness, presenting all but the most unwilling listeners with moment after moment of incandescence.

And, finally, a key component often overlooked: Dylan’s artistic process. On a fundamental level, he doesn’t trust mediation or planning. The story of his recording career is littered with tales of indecisive and failed sessions and haphazard successful ones, in both cases leaving frustrated producers and session people in their wake. You could say the approach served him well during his early years of inspiration and has hobbled him in his later decades of lesser work. Dylan doesn’t care. During the recording of Blood on the Tracks,which may be the best rock album ever made, one of the musicians present heard the singer being told how to do something correctly in the studio. Dylan’s reply: “Y’know, if I’d listened to everybody who told me how to do stuff, I mightbe somewhere by now.”

He came to New York in early 1961, telling anyone who’d listen he’d ridden the rails, played with Buddy Holly, all sorts of nonsense. In reality, he was a fairly middle-class kid who’d hitchhiked, in winter, from the far north of Minnesota; in a way, this single act of propulsion toward reinvention by a 19-year-old is braver and more interesting than all his later tall tales of travel. He arrived in New York on the coldest day the city had seen in many years.

He was a prodigy, with a natural affinity for a medium that would, unexpectedly, afford a few people like him international acclaim and a permanent place in the cultural firmament, and lots of money too. His uncanny musicianship—producing enduring melodies and lovely harmonica solos—included an ability to effortlessly transpose keys that would impress professionals throughout his career. He also had a first-class mind, quick (almost too quick) of wit and relaxed enough to let inspiration flow without forcing it, yet also wiry, retaining permanently the complex wording of many hundreds of tunes. He soaked up the songs and the lore of folk and blues, cobbling together a shtick—an Okie patois, a shambling affect, and a fixation with Woody Guthrie, the socialist troubadour of the ’30s and ’40s and the author of “This Land Is Your Land,” who at the time was dying in a New Jersey hospital. It all served to disguise, at first, a mysterious charisma—with eyes, as Joan Baez remembered them later, “bluer than robin’s eggs”—and an apparent ambition that left a few damaged friendships, and egos, in its wake.

Baez, stentorian and humorless, recorded her first album in 1960 and was a star the next year. (She moved to Carmel and bought a Jaguar.) Dylan got an early rave in the New York Times, which led to his record contract. His second album contained several tracks that became standards. One, “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” was a strikingly imagistic portrait of a child returning from a journey to impart wisdom to an older generation. It’s the place where Dylan’s self-definition begins to merge with his songs. On his third and fourth albums, Dylan showed he was capable of increasing nuance. “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” the compellingly told true story of a barmaid carelessly killed by a moneyed young drunk, still able to make one’s blood boil, never mentions Carroll’s race.

At the same time, his mash-up of influences was creating deeper, subtler work, producing mysterious moments like the end of “Boots of Spanish Leather.” The song, spare and lulling, is a dialogue between the singer and his lover, who’s going on a journey. The woman wants to bring the guy back a present; the guy keeps saying he wants nothing besides her return. She finally says she won’t be coming back for a while—at which point the guy asks for a gift: some “Spanish boots of Spanish leather.” It’s not clear why the word Spanish is repeated. Maybe the guy’s heart was broken, or maybe the woman was right—he did just want something from her. But there’s a self-referential meaning to the song as well: Dylan’s own journey. Stars, after all, promise devotion to their fans and then disappear, leaving a simulacrum of their former selves that fans can never get something authentic from.

Beginning in 1965, in a 14-month rush, Dylan released three albums—Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde—each with two or three (very) major songs, three or four relatively minor (but still mind-blowing) efforts, and some doggerel and fun for leavening, all in a great spew of poetic verbiage. Dylan’s voice had deepened and matured; it rang with clarity, snickered with derision, led us compellingly, at its best hypnotically, through nightmares and fever dreams. “Subterranean Homesick Blues” introduced a modern, rock-and-roll Dylan, blasting off political aphorisms softened with absurdities—“Don’t follow leaders / Watch the parking meters.” Lacerating new epics made his old epics seem trite. Take “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”; the title, and a potent Cold War reference in the first line, fixes our narrator seemingly as a wounded soldier, who then spends the rest of a very long song reflecting on the society he’s dying for. “Like a Rolling Stone” captured the second half of the decade in advance, a Scud missile of mockery directed at an entire pampered generation adrift. When Dylan howled the words “no direction home,” it was hard to tell if his tone was exultant or pained; it was a conundrum he and his audience have gnawed at ever since. In a telling example of how Dylan’s words can leapfrog meanings across decades, the song’s final silky lines—“You’re invisible now / You’ve got no secrets to conceal”—capture precisely the predicament of a new generation paradoxically rendered faceless by electronic connectivity and yet entirely without privacy.

Bob Dylan in Bratislava, Slovakia, 2010.

Dylan’s remarkable work from this period is sometimes trivialized by stories about how he freaked everyone out by “going electric.” In I’m Not There, his cubistic cinematic portrait of Dylan, Todd Haynes represents the moment with the singer and his band mowing the crowd down with machine guns. Please. There were some boos at the Newport Folk Festival when Dylan and his electric band played there. But at least some of the reaction came from the high volume and poor sound quality of the performance, which was, after all, at a folk festival. Meanwhile, “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was Dylan’s first Top 40 hit, and “Like a Rolling Stone,” an unprecedented six minutes long, went to No. 2. Dylan’s move to electric is of course a key moment in his musical growth, and an interesting footnote in the history of 1960s American folk; but it was not a thumb in the eye of propriety. Everyone liked it!

Dylan is intensely private. More than almost any star I can think of, our understanding of his personal life is occluded and disjointed. His first wife was Sara Dylan, née Sara Lownds, née Shirley Noznisky. When they met, she was married to a guy in publishing in New York; early in their relationship, Dylan mentioned to an interviewer that he’d met a woman named Sara and that she was one of only two truly “holy people” he had ever met. (The other was Allen Ginsberg, though Ginsberg had never done a stint as a Playboy bunny.) “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” is widely seen as a tribute to Sara; it has a title that suggests the name Lownds and other lyrical hints (“Your magazine husband / Who one day just had to go”) and is placed ostentatiously to fill up the entire final side of Blonde on Blonde. Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume 1, some of which may be true, is at its most dyspeptic when the singer describes the hordes of hippies impinging on his and his family’s life by the mid-’60s. Using a motorcycle accident as an excuse, Dylan retreated in 1966 and began releasing country-flavored albums at long intervals to dampen his celebrity. In the meantime, he and Sara raised an eventual family of five in peace. The names and number of his children were widely misunderstood until the publication ofDown the Highway, a powerful, definitive biography by Howard Sounes, in 2001. (The children are Maria, from Sara’s first marriage; Jakob, whom you know from the Wallflowers; Jesse, a Hollywood and new-media guy, director of Will.i.am’s “Yes We Can” Obama music video; Anna, an artist who stays out of sight; and Samuel, a photographer who keeps a low profile as well. This is not to mention his second, secret wife and at least one other acknowledged child, but that’s a tale for another time.)

Dylan emerged in the mid-’70s to tour with the Band, release two of his strongest albums (Blood on the Tracks and Desire), and embark on a nutty and hilarious gypsy-­caravan tour dubbed the Rolling Thunder Revue. His relationship with Sara was strained at this point, though she came along on the tour and even starred in his bizarre four-hour movie, Renaldo & Clara. But in the end, Dylan’s womanizing fueled what became a bitter divorce. His most plainly personal album is Blood on the Tracks, a lancing portrait of a romantic death spiral. (Jakob has said he gets no pleasure from listening to it: “When I’m listening to Blood on the Tracks, that’s about my parents.”) Among (many) other things, Blood on the Tracks is an exercise in emotional intensity, from self-pity and anger to ruefulness. There are obvious references to his wife in the wrenching “Idiot Wind” and also at the beginning of “Tangled Up in Blue” (“She was married when we first met / Soon to be divorced”). Blood on the Trackswas recorded in bizarre circumstances, first in New York and then more than half of it rerecorded in Minneapolis with a pickup band; yet its shuddering atmospherics and controlled, specific writing combined to make it the most organic and emotionally fulfilling work in Dylan’s canon.

The Rolling Thunder Revue saw the return of the lovely Baez; she sang “Diamonds & Rust,” her greatest song, a poison­-­pen love letter to Dylan, and did the frug behind Roger McGuinn during “Eight Miles High.” A decade on, in the ’80s, she and Dylan toured again, this time in Japan, with what was supposed to have been shared star billing. Baez inevitably became an opening act and eventually told the tour to fuck off, as she later told the story. Granted an exit audience with Dylan, she found him an aged version of the immature ragamuffin. He was tired but slipped his hand up her skirt for old times’ sake.

The next two decades were tough for him artistically; as Greil Marcus has put it, Dylan was essentially committing a “public disappearance.” Beginning in 1979, he tested his audience’s expectations and goodwill more tellingly than any punk by releasing three albums of unimaginative Christian-themed songs, along with two tours in which he plowed stolidly through this material. The problem was not Dylan’s beliefs, though they leaned to the crackpot; lots of acts had religious leanings—Van Morrison among them. It was how Dylan articulated those beliefs. To listen to the albums today is to enter a (not very) fun house of mediocrity and intolerance.

Dylan began to produce his own albums. He wasn’t dogmatic about it; he would once in a while bring in an outside ­producer—Mark Knopfler helped on ­Infidels, and Daniel Lanois superimposed a decent setting (and demanded a suite of coherent songs) for Oh Mercy. Other albums from the ’80s and ’90s were weirdly inconsistent in the quality of both the songs and the production values. Even weirder is the fact that Dylan was actually writing and recording some of his best work during this time. “The Groom’s Still Waiting at the Altar, “Blind Willie McTell,” “Caribbean Wind,” “Foot of Pride,” “Series of Dreams” … Authoritative and undeniable, they were better than anything his contemporaries were then releasing. Unfortunately, they were also better than anything Dylan was releasing and only turned up later on compilations albums.

In 1997, Lanois returned for Time Out of Mind. The critics went nuts over this work and the four regular releases since. I think these albums are woefully overrated, but they have sold well, and with the critics behind them, too, I’m willing to acknowledge the disconnect may be mine. But deep down I know that it’s hard to find, over the past ten or 15 years, more than three or four songs you’d stick on a mix tape to try to convince someone of this singer-songwriter’s greatness. Too many of his recent songs start with a pleasant-enough (or, more often, serviceable) riff—which is then beaten into the ground by his backing band. My hunch is that Dylan, producing in the studio, nods in inscrutable approval when he hears something he likes. The band, nervous but eager to please, obliges and starts playing the damn riff continuously. There’s no outsider around to tweak it or vary it or add dynamics.

In the folk-blues tradition, older songs were reappropriated and built upon; in his later years, Dylan has played with this tradition and found himself in mini-controversies when researchers find that some words in his songs first appeared somewhere else. Amateur sleuths discovered that his album “Love and Theft” had a pattern of lines seemingly taken from a fairly obscure Japanese writer, Junichi Saga. More recently, some obsessives started looking at passages in Chronicles and found lines taken from an astonishing variety of places, from self-help books to The Great Gatsby. The pickings seem to be phrases bouncing around the ragged mind of a guy with a photographic memory. On the other hand, some of the inner workings are plainly mischievous, like an in-passing list of news stories; the headlines were all from a mocking take on the press in John Dos Passos’s U.S.A.

To tweak the purists again, he’ll once in a while appear in a TV commercial—­distracting from the subtle attention he pays to how posterity will see his work. He goes out of his away to appear on awards shows when they beckon; he’s shown his artwork and sells it online; his memoir, while odd, was nonetheless transfixing and reminded us that he was once a young man groping for a future and placing his bets on a very long shot indeed. The Dylan camp is readying an extraordinary digital archive of his songs, recordings, and paraphernalia. Dylan owns a coffeehouse, it’s said, in Santa Monica; unprepossessing and iconoclastic, it has an extremely friendly staff and no Wi-Fi. There’s not much on the walls, but you notice the references contained in what’s there: Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, Muhammad Ali, Leonardo da Vinci. There’s one big oil painting behind the counter, one that looks a lot like Dylan’s own work, silent and content in the company it keeps.

And then there’s the touring. In Chronicles, Dylan details, with seeming frankness, the aimlessness that brought him to a slough of despond at the end of the ’80s. He may have been facing what all rock stars who survive face, which is how to grow old gracefully in a medium cruelly tied to youthfulness. He resolved to get out and play his songs—and went back on the road in 1988 with a small, seldom-changing backing ensemble, with whom he delved into his back pages, including many songs he’d never played live before.

Here’s the odd thing—26 years on, he hasn’t stopped. He’s been playing about 100 shows annually ever since, growling through a set of songs old and new with a small band. It’s an endeavor that for a good chunk of each year keeps him on a private bus and, in the U.S. at least, in relatively crummy hotel and motel rooms. (He’s said to prefer places that have windows that open and allow him to sleep with his pet mastiffs. Beyond that, they are places fans wouldn’t expect to find him.) The shows at first may have been a tonic, but over time they revealed themselves to be a panacea. It must have struck Dylan: How could he look foolish if he just kept doing the same thing? If he were an artist, he would continue to create and show his art publicly. If he were a celebrity, he would appear in public. And if he were a seer, a prophet, or even a god, well, he would let folks pay and see for themselves how mortal such figures actually were. And far from saturating the market, he has created a new industry for himself as a touring artist. On a good night he makes some of his best-known songs unrecognizable, and on a bad one you come out wondering what it was, exactly, you’ve just seen. So far this year, the 73-year-old has played in Japan (17 shows), Hawaii (two), Ireland, Turkey, and nearly 20 other cities in the hinterlands of Europe; he’s headed now to more than a dozen shows in eight different cities in Australia and New Zealand—and this is before what should be a fall run through the States. Robert Shelton, the New York Times writer who first noticed Dylan, labored on a biography for more than 20 years; seeing the star’s unstable arc on its publication in 1986, he titled it, grandly, No Direction Home. Dylan hadn’t even begun not to go home.

 It strikes me that the one thing all of these bizarre behaviors have in common is that they tend to strip away everything that stands between Bob Dylan’s art and his audience but simultaneously occlude everything else. There was a subtle shift in emphasis in one of his most powerful images, and perhaps a hint of resignation, in the song “Not Dark Yet,” in 1997:

I was born here and I’ll die here against my will

I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still

Every nerve in my body is so vacant and numb

I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from

Don’t even hear a murmur of a prayer

It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there

I can’t even remember what it was I came here to get away from. The exultant cry of “no direction home” derived its power from the fact that, in the end, any place new was better than where we’d come from. In that context, not remembering what you left originally is a remarkable statement of anomie.

Still, we might have focused over the years too much on the word direction, as in “heading toward.”

Maybe “no direction home” means that there’s no guidance home, that you have to figure it out for yourself.

If Bob Dylan is a question, maybe this is the answer. Given the chance, Dylan will give the audience his art, unadulterated, as he creates it, and nothing more. He believes it’s a corruption of his art to be directed by someone else’s sensibility. In its own weird way, isn’t this one sacred connection between artist and audience? It might be nicer if he did things differently. It might be more palatable, more commercially successful. (He might be somewhere by now.) This is what ties together his signal creations, his ongoing shows, and even the wretched albums of the ’80s and ’90s; what he does might be sublime and ineffable or yet also coarse and unsuccessful; it is what it is, defined by where it comes from, not what it should be. Even his remoteness is a by-product; it’s what he deserves after having given his all. Call the work art, call it crap, call it Spanish boots of Spanish leather, but in the end it’s the creation of an artist who defies us to ask for something more.

*This article appears in the July 28, 2014 issue of New York Magazine.

Bob Dylan sneers at his obsessive fans, but he may have more in common with them than he might think.

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The critic Greil Marcus once told an interviewer that, among musicians, Bob Dylan had the stupidest fans. “I think it’s because something in Dylan’s writing leads people to believe that there is a secret behind every song. And if you unlock that secret then you’ll understand the meaning of life,” he said. Dylan himself seems to agree. In 2001, forty years into his career, Dylan said, “These so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing, or have any inkling of who I am and what I’m about. I know they think they do, and yet it’s ludicrous, it’s humorous, and sad.” A decade later, Dylan told an interviewer for Rolling Stone, “Why is it when people talk about me they have to go crazy? What the fuck is the matter with them? … May the Lord have mercy on them. They are lost souls.”

David Kinney’s new book, “The Dylanologists,” is a journey among these so-called lost souls. Kinney is a newspaper journalist and a Dylan fan; his first book, “The Big One,” from 2009, was about a different set of obsessives: the anglers who compete in an annual fishing derby on Martha’s Vineyard. Here, he travels to a Dylan-themed diner in the singer’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota, which catered to visiting fans. (It recently closed, after losing its liquor license; the executive chef explained to the local paper that “people from Hibbing don’t like Bob Dylan as much as people not from Hibbing like Bob Dylan.”) He stands in line in the cold among a group of Dylan’s late-career tour regulars in order to get a prime spot in the front row. And he introduces a cast of Dylan disciples: circumspect keepers of secret bootleg recordings, feuding editors of Dylan zines and Web sites, literary detectives sourcing allusions in his lyrics, and a guy who owns Dylan’s childhood high chair.

There are plenty of creeps. In the mid-sixties, perhaps unnerved by his influence over his fans, Dylan fled upstate to Woodstock, where hopeful acolytes showed up at his house. One guy sneaked into Dylan’s bedroom to watch him and his wife sleep. Later, Dylan recalled thinking, “Now wait, these people can’t be my fans. They just can’t be.” Devotion can turn strange, and sour. After Dylan moved back to New York City, in the late sixties, he was dogged by a man named A. J. Weberman, who created a peculiar translation system to “decode” Dylan’s lyrics—“in Dylan’s language Texas might mean ‘Europe’ ”—and even went through his trash. Years later, still preoccupied by bizarre theories about Dylan, Weberman tells Kinney, “I wasted my fucking life on this shit.” Another parser of Dylan’s songs became convinced that his album “Time Out of Mind,” from 1997, foretold the death of Princess Diana. As Kinney writes, “Any fool could find whatever he wanted inside the vast Dylan songbook: drugs, Jesus, Joan Baez.”

Yet, despite these unnerving examples, most of the fans that Kinney talks to aren’t fools or stalkers. They have simply developed an usually strong affinity for an artist and his music. And though their ardor seems to make the artist himself uncomfortable, Kinney suggests that Dylan might be partially to blame for it—that his own aloofness and self-made mythologies have deepened his fans’ thralldom. “Dylan created personas and then demolished them, denied they had ever existed, and scorned the people who still clung to them,” Kinney writes. Political folkie, country farmer, travelling gypsy, born-again Christian, rustic dandy—Dylan has cycled through a series of musical characters as if playing all the parts in a one-man vaudeville act. It’s been thrilling and curious, and also—most of the time, at least—deeply persuasive. Can fans be blamed for coming under one of these spells—for believing that Dylan meant what he sang at the March on Washington, or wasn’t just messing around when he recorded “Self Portrait,” or for preferring one incarnation above the others and lamenting or resenting that version’s demolition by Dylan’s own revisionism? Kinney’s own fandom seems to have lapsed a bit into skepticism, yet he never mocks the continued devotion of those who still believe. By getting his subjects to talk about the moment, often years past, in which they were swayed by Dylan’s music, Kinney humanizes the archetype of the pop junkie.

It is risky to be an earnest Bob Dylan fan—the kind of person who is inclined to follow him around on his Never Ending Tour, which began in 1988 and hasn’t stopped, as Dylan plays on past his seventy-second birthday. Or someone like the music critic Lester Bangs, who found himself, in the seventies, using Dylan’s album “Blood on the Tracks” as “an instrument of self abuse”—something he put on after every heartbreak, a personal soundtrack of misery. Dylan might very well sneer at one of the hardcore fans whom Kinney talks to, who describes what he feels when he watches the singer onstage: “I just wanted him to know that I existed and that I loved what he did. But it goes deeper than that. I don’t know why, but if Bob is sad, or his music is sad, I feel sad, and I feel sad for him. When he’s singing and he’s hurting, it hurts me, too.” Another fan, who followed the tour as a young woman, told Kinney that she went out of her way not to meet Dylan on the road; she’d heard about his mercurial, often prickly personality, and couldn’t imagine how she could go on listening to his music if he were to shoot her an icy, dismissive stare.

Like a disappointed father—or an angry God—Dylan seems to lament the foibles of his followers. But Kinney argues that Dylan may have more in common with his obsessive fans than he might think. Like them, he is a collector of cultural ephemera, a hoarder of odd texts and phrases, and an avid, idiosyncratic student of the past.

In the summer of 2003, a schoolteacher from Minnesota was travelling in Japan and happened to pick up a book about the world of Japanese organized crime called “Confessions of a Yakuza.” On the book’s first page, he read a line, about a man sitting like a “feudal lord,” that stood out. He realized that it echoed a line from one of Dylan’s songs from the album “Love and Theft,” which was released in 2001. He brought the book home and found a handful of other, unmistakably reused phrases. Dylan had not credited his strange source, which seemed to have been selected almost at random. In the years since, with the help of Google Books, Scott Warmuth, a fan from New Mexico, has been delving deeper into Dylan’s recent writing and finding all kinds of odd, uncredited borrowings. Passages from Dylan’s memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One” (2004), were taken from disparate sources: from H. G. Wells, Jack London, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald; from Tony Horowitz’s nonfiction book “Confederates in the Attic,” a travel guide about New Orleans, and an issue of Time, from 1961. Listeners of Dylan’s album “Modern Times” (from 2006) found lyrics that came from the work of an unremembered Civil War poet named Henry Timrod. Some have called these plain cases of plagiarism; others have suggested that they diminish or else entirely scuttle the idea of Dylan as an original American voice.

But Kinney takes a different view of these discoveries. Warmuth’s reading of Dylan’s memoir has revealed that Dylan’s “appropriations were not random. They were deliberate. When Scott delved into them, he found cleverness, wordplay, jokes, and subtexts.” The thefts that Dylan made were part of the story—he had, as Kinney writes, “hidden another book between the lines.” Kinney remarks on an especially intriguing section of “Chronicles,” in which Dylan seems to be explaining the method behind his guitar playing. Dylan writes, mysteriously, “You gain power with the least amount of effort, trust the listeners to make their own connections, and it’s very seldom that they don’t.” If this sounds inscrutable as musical technique, that’s because it is lifted from a self-help book about gaining influence over others called “The 48 Laws of Power,” by Robert Greene. This, then, is a cunning bit of dark humor: Dylan purports to explain the magic behind his music, but he’s really just revealing how susceptible devoted fans are to this kind of florid nonsense.

This unpacking of Dylan’s memoir, and the increased scrutiny given to his recent albums, is a reminder that Dylan’s work has always been spurred on by his own fannish, idiosyncratic obsessions. Michael Gray, who has written extensively about Dylan’s songwriting, tells Kinney, “You want him to be this lone genius who came from another planet. He never pretended to be. He’s created something out of something else.” Dylan’s earliest songs borrowed chords and lyrics from traditional folk songs; he has lifted lines and licks from the blues; he has repurposed and reassembled the Bible, press clippings, English poetry, the American songbook, and a half century of cultural comings and goings to create a kind of ongoing, evolving musical collage. Dylan is an archivist and a librarian in addition to being an artist.

Before Robert Zimmerman was Bob Dylan, he was an eager music fan. As a young man, he couldn’t wait to blow out of Minnesota and meet his idol, Woody Guthrie. He was, Kinney writes, “earnest, embarrassingly so. He would talk and talk and talk about traveling east, meeting Woody, making it big.” Dylan, just nineteen years old, visited Guthrie at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital, in New Jersey, where Guthrie, suffering from Huntington’s disease, had been committed. Guthrie was debilitated by the illness—there wasn’t much he could teach Dylan. Perhaps Dylan learned that idols never live up to a fan’s expectations, and so it’s silly to expect otherwise. But Dylan had been a musical pilgrim long before he inspired others to make pilgrimages in his footsteps. Kinney tells another story, of the time when Dylan, years later, in 2009, showed up for a tour at John Lennon’s childhood home. Or the year before, in Winnipeg, when he was spotted at the house where Neil Young grew up. Another time, he was seen at Sun Studios, in Memphis, where Elvis had cut his first records. Someone stopped him and told Dylan what his music had meant to him. Dylan responded, “Well son, we all have our heroes.”

Credit: Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns/Getty.

the Woodie Guthrie Museum -New York

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the Woodie Guthrie Museum -New York

I REALLY DIG WOODIE GUTHRIE AND THIS POST WOULD BE NOTHING WITHOUT A WOODIE SONG-SO HERE GOES “RIDING IN THE CAR”

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Finding Guthrie in Manhattan

A small museum for a wandering minstrel.

By Kathleen Sampey
ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK — Standing before a New York audience in 1963, Bob Dylan gave a rare, spoken tribute to his musical hero: “And where do you look for this hope that you’re seekin’?” he asked. “You’ll find Woody Guthrie in the Brooklyn State Hospital.”
Guthrie died four years later, but his memory lives on at the Woody Guthrie Archive.

In adjoining offices on West 57th Street not much bigger than two cubicles, the archive contains about 10,000 artifacts related to the folksinger, who gave a voice to the down-and-out in the 1930s and ’40s with songs praising labor unions, Jesus Christ, and “Pretty Boy” Floyd.

On every wall, Guthrie’s earnest yet puckish countenance stares down from posters and photos. True to his spirit, you don’t need any “do re mi” to visit — the archive is available by appointment for free. “A lot of young guys show up with their guitars,” archivist George Arevalo said. “They’re interested in mining the song lyrics for inspiration. “We get writers, researchers, journalists, and students doing dissertations. We had one young guy come up who was writing a book on famous dishwashers. And wouldn’t you know, Woody was once a dishwasher.”

Guthrie was plenty more: social crusader, essayist, painter, environmentalist, recording artist, and influence to a generation of folk-rock artists from Dylan to Bruce Springsteen and more.

Born in Okemah, Okla., in 1912, he traveled the country during the Depression, playing a guitar that had the slogan “This machine kills fascists” pasted onto it.

The songs he wrote and sang with his reedy tenor, including “Do Re Mi,” “Dust Bowl Blues” and “Union Maid,” were a testament to the suffering he witnessed among the poor and the powerless. Those and other recordings of Guthrie performing solo and with contemporaries such as Pete Seeger and the Weavers are part of the archive, and can be sampled.

Joe Klein, author of Woody Guthrie: A Life, called Guthrie the patron saint of teenage rebelliousness.

“There’s always someone who’s sick of the way things are in town who hops a train and heads west,” Klein said. “That is a very classically American image. He and Leadbelly [ Huddie Ledbetter ] together are the fathers of rock and roll and gangster rap.”

The bulk of the Guthrie archives came from the singer’s business manager, Harold Leventhal, who was given numerous boxes of Guthrie’s doodlings, musings and unpublished lyrics by the second of Guthrie’s three wives, Marjorie, in 1961. The boxes sat in Leventhal’s office, where the archive is now organized, until the early 1990s.

Starting with a $100,000 donation from recording artists and companies, Leventhal and Guthrie’s daughter Nora hired Arevalo. With their assistant, Amy Danelian, they began organizing and restoring the works. The archive opened in April.

Among the most requested items for viewing is a framed sheet of paper with the original handwritten lyrics to Guthrie’s most famous song, “This Land Is Your Land.” It shows the original title and chorus, “God Blessed America.” The title and some lyrics were crossed out and reworked, and the piece is signed “Woody G., Feb. 23, 1940.”

For Nora Guthrie, who was 17 when her father died, organizing the archives allowed her to get to know her father, who had been ill all her life.

“You know how you never think your parents are really interesting?” she asked with a laugh. “I knew he was famous, and people liked his songs. But my first impression when going through the archives was that this guy had something, especially in his thoughts about women. For a long time, he had mostly been a ‘guy’ thing.”

She was particularly touched by a poem, “I Say to You Woman and Man,” which her father wrote when the family lived in the Coney Island section of Brooklyn in the mid-1940s, before she was born.

“In it he basically tells the woman that she has a lot of power and a lot of juice and lot of beauty, and that she should go out there and go for it,” Nora Guthrie said. “He says go dance, your life, your politics, your music, your voice.”

The archive is rich with personal glimpses of her father. Some 600 of his artworks, done in marker and watercolor on everything from construction paper to paper towels, can also be viewed. They are so fragile that Arevalo wears white cotton gloves to handle them.

Several are serious studies of the human form; others are bawdy cartoons of the same. Still others are loving portraits, such as the pencil sketch of his oldest daughter drawn in the Guthrie home in Coney Island. “Cathy’s Got the Mumps” was dated 1946, the year the little girl died in a fire. The tragedy was one of many in Guthrie’s life. His sister also died in a fire; a son died in a car accident; his mother succumbed to Huntington’s disease, a genetic neurological disorder that took 15 years to kill Guthrie and, later, two of his eight children.

And in the 1950s, Guthrie was blacklisted, which prompted a typically glib response: “I ain’t a Communist necessarily, but I been in the red all my life.”

Arevalo said that many private collectors and auction houses have approached Nora Guthrie, hoping to buy portions of the archive, but were rebuffed. The archive is a national treasure, and should be preserved as such, he said.

In conjunction with the Smithsonian Institution, the archivists are putting together a Guthrie traveling exhibit to open in Sacramento, Calif., in March. It’s part of a fund-raising effort to expand and preserve the archive.

Arevalo’s wish list includes transferring some of the 8mm home movies of Guthrie to video for use in the traveling exhibit. And he hopes to digitize the 700 photographs in the archive so visitors can call them up on a computer.

As for Guthrie’s social and musical legacy, his daughter wants people to recognize that “in his time he was more of a rolling stone. But that stone has stopped and turned into a foundation for other people to build on.”

Aside

“WHERE HAVE ALL THE FLOWERS GONE”

http://www.washingtonpost.Seeger with his older brother John Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and Tao Rodriguez-S

Seeger, 92, left, marching with nearly a thousand demonstrators sympathetic

Performing at the Bring Leonard Peltier Home concert, in New York, 2012. Pe

Seeger conducts an instrument-making session on Children's Day at the Newpo

Seeger, a banjo slung over his shoulder, with his wife Toshi, arrives at thPete Seeger, left,  with his folk group The Weavers, made up of Lee Hayes,

Seeger being sworn in with his attorney Paul Ross. In February, 1952, Harve

Seeger sings at American Youth Council Rally  in 1940

Seeger performing at a concert in honour of Paul Robeson

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http://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/pete-seeger-legendary-folk-singer-dies-at-94/2014/01/28/36faeec0-c5dc-11df-94e1-c5afa35a9e59_story.html

LEGENDARY PETE SEEGAR DIES AT 94

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