Sunday, May 9, 2021

Bob Dylan at 80


Note:
This is an updated version of my essay, Bob Dylan at 75, which was an updated version of my essay, Bob Dylan at 70.

Bob Dylan turns 80 on May 24 – 60 years and a few months after he first arrived in New York City with a repertoire of folksongs learned from Odetta and Woody Guthrie records.

Within a relatively short time, Dylan was one of the premier folk artists in Greenwich Village and was well on his way to becoming, arguably, but certainly in my opinion, the most important and influential songwriter ever.

I’m reminded now of something the young Dylan said.

In 1963, talking to Nat Hentoff for the liner notes to The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan about his ability to pull off a song as difficult as “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” Dylan said, “It’s a hard song to sing. I can sing it sometimes, but I ain’t that good yet. I don’t carry myself yet the way that Big Joe Williams, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly and Lightnin’ Hopkins have carried themselves. I hope to be able to someday, but they’re older people.”


Dylan was all of 21 years old when he made that statement. Woody Guthrie – hospitalized with the Huntington’s disease that would kill him in 1967 – and Lightnin’ Hopkins were both then around 50. Big Joe Williams was about 60 and Lead Belly had died in 1949 at 61.

Dylan now is significantly older than Williams, Guthrie and Hopkins were then – and older than Lead Belly was when he died (as am I, for that matter). The young Dylan was highly influenced by those legendary artists who had come along decades earlier – his own influence would soon surpass all others. He changed what was possible to do in the context of a song.

And, yes, he does carry himself with all of the musical gravitas that Williams, Guthrie, Lead Belly and Hopkins had then.

Dylan’s music has been part of my life for most of my life. I bought Dylan’s first few LPs in 1967 when I was 13 and have listened intently to everything that he’s released over the past 60 years (and a fair bit of what’s never been released). I’ve seen him in concert many times and I’ve read most of the good books (including his own Chronicles Volume One), and maybe a few too many of the bad books, that have been written about Dylan over the years.

I was even introduced to him once – in 1975 – for about half a second. “Pleased to meet ya,” he said. I was 21, he was 34, ages that now seem so young.

I’ve written about a bunch of Dylan albums and books over the years in newspapers and magazines (and here on the Folk Roots/Folk Branches blog), I’ve produced and hosted a bunch of radio specials on him and his songs, but I don’t know Dylan. He is easily the most enigmatic, the most unknowable, person I’ve ever encountered.

As I noted in my book review of Bob Dylan in America by Sean Wilentz in a 2011 issue of Sing Out! magazine, I’ve long thought that one of the reasons I so appreciate so much of Bob Dylan’s oeuvre is that (I think) we’ve listened to so much of the same music. To the traditional folk and blues songs, and to so many of the musicians who played them. When Dylan sang, “no one can sing the blues like Blind Willie McTell,” I knew what he was talking about because I’ve listened to all those old Blind Willie McTell records. When he borrows lines or settings from Woody Guthrie or Lead Belly or others, I know where they come from. Dylan’s music is rooted ever so strongly in what Greil Marcus termed the “old weird America,” the folk music and the folk-rooted blues and country music that developed in particular regional locations and began to spread everywhere in the first half of the 20th century.

This leads me to the point I wanted to make when I started writing this little essay. Even before Dylan went electric at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965, there have been commentators who’ve said that Dylan left folk music behind. I don’t think that’s at all true. To this day, Dylan’s songwriting continues to be rooted in the “old weird America.” Dylan didn’t leave folk music behind when he embraced rock ‘n’ roll, he changed what was possible in a folk music context; both in how it’s played and how it’s expressed. I hear folk music at the heart of so much of Dylan’s songwriting – from his earliest work to his most recent.

As I noted last year when Dylan released Rough and Rowdy Ways, “On his first album of new songs in eight years, Bob Dylan, at 79, has given us his some of his most fascinating songs in decades. From the opening song, “I Contain Multitudes,” an exploration of complicated identity, to the final, epic song, “Murder Most Foul,” ostensibly about the assassination of John F. Kennedy, but also much about iconic music, cinema and literature, Dylan continues to use a musical foundation drawing on folk music, blues and the Great American Songbook composers to complement his often-spellbinding lyrics.

And anyone who thinks that folk music is necessarily defined by acoustic guitars does not understand folk music.

Even the three albums celebrating the Great American Songbook that Dylan released between 2015 and 2017, in my opinion, are less a homage to Frank Sinatra, than they are a recognition that those classic songs somehow form part of that “old weird America.” It’s not so much the circumstances of how and when they were written as the context in which they are interpreted.

When jazz musicians like Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie developed bebop, they weren’t leaving jazz behind, they were changing it; even though some of the traditional jazz greats like Louis Armstrong were slow to accept or understand what Parker and Gillespie were doing. Just like some in the folk establishment of 1965 were slow to accept and understand what Dylan was doing. Bob Dylan changed folk music in much the same way Charlie Parker changed jazz.

As far as I’m concerned, Dylan playing his folk-rooted songs with rock musicians in his time is not very different from the Weavers playing folksongs with the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra in theirs.

Anyway, real rock ‘n’ roll, is a folk-rooted form. Just listen to the Sun-era recordings of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis. Listen to Wanda Jackson’s 1950s records, listen to Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly, Bill Haley or Little Richard. The folk and blues roots are there in that music.

By the way, Louis Armstrong was a folksinger, too.

Happy Birthday, Bob!

I will be hosting a series of three radio specials “The Times They Are A-Changin’: A Nod to Bob Dylan at 80,” on CKCU in the week surrounding Dylan’s birthday.

            Part 1 will be on Stranger Songs on Tuesday May 18, 3:30-5 pm (EDT).

            Part 2 will be on the Saturday Morning show on Saturday May 22, 7-10 am (EDT).

            Part 3 will be on Stranger Songs on Tuesday May 25, 3:30-5 pm (EDT).

All of those shows can be heard at 93.1 FM or ckcufm.com at the time of the broadcast and will also be available 24/7 for on-demand streaming. I will update this post with links for each show’s stream here as soon as they are available (a few days before each broadcast).

Find me on Twitter. www.twitter.com/mikeregenstreif

And on Facebook. facebook.com/mikeregenstreif

–Mike Regenstreif

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Stranger Songs with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Tuesday May 11, 2021


Stranger Songs with Mike Regenstreif finds connections and develops themes in various genres. The show is broadcast on CKCU in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoons from 3:30 until 5 pm (Eastern time) and is also available 24/7 for on-demand streaming.

CKCU can be heard live at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and https://www.ckcufm.com/ on the web.

This episode of Stranger Songs was prerecorded at home and can already be streamed on-demand by clicking on “Listen Now” at … https://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/595/51907.html

 

Theme: Songs from the Pandemic, some of the songs inspired by the COVID-19 pandemic that have been written and recorded over the past 14 months.

Paul Kaplan- These Are the Days
We Shall Stay Here (Old Coat Music)

Danny Schmidt- 2020 Vision
2020 Vision – single (Danny Schmidt)
The Accidentals- Anyway
Time Out Session #1 (The Accidentals)
Crowes Pasture- Quarantine
Quarantine – single (Crowes Pasture)
Sloan Wainwright- In Times Like These
Red Maple Tree (Sloan Wainwright)

Paul Mills- 45 Weeks from Now
Unreleased parody of Stan Rogers’ “45 Years” with new words by Shelley Posen – used with permission
Shelley Posen- Long, Long Tunnel
Long, Long Tunnel – single (Well Done Music)

Tim Grimm- Gone
Gone (Vault)
Mike Goudreau Band- Isolation Blues
The Isolation Blues (Mike Goudreau)

Reggie Harris- My Working Bones
On Solid Ground (Reggie Harris Music)
John McCutcheon- Front Line
Cabin Fever: Songs from the Quarantine (Appalsongs)
Crys Matthews- Selfless
Changemakers (Crys Matthews)

Craig Werth- Things That Bring Hope
Things That Bring Hope – single (Craig Werth)
Emma's Revolution- Celebrate You (Happy Birthday)
Celebrate You (Happy Birthday) – single (Moving Forward Music)

Paul Kaplan- Little Boxes (2020)
We Shall Stay Here (Old Coat Music)
Skinner & T’witch- Working from Home
Working from Home – single (Skinner & T’witch)

Cliff Eberhardt- Mr. Lucky
Knew Things (Tin Pan Ally)
Jamie Anderson- Six Feet Away
Songs from Home (Jamie Anderson)
Anne Hills- Accidental August
Accidental August (Hand & Heart Music)


John McCutcheon
- When All of This is Over
Cabin Fever: Songs from the Quarantine (Appalsongs)
Sloan Wainwright- Help Each Other Through
Red Maple Tree (Sloan Wainwright)
The Accidentals- All Shall Be Well
Time Out Session #1 (The Accidentals)

Next week – The Times They Are A-Changin': A Nod to Bob Dylan at 80, Part 1 (The Times They Are A-Changin': A Nod to Bob Dylan at 80, Part 2 will be heard on the Saturday Morning show on May 22; The Times They Are A-Changin': A Nod to Bob Dylan at 80, Part 3 will be heard on Stranger Songs on May 25)

Find me on Twitter. www.twitter.com/mikeregenstreif

And on Facebook. facebook.com/mikeregenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Stranger Songs with Mike Regenstreif – CKCU – Tuesday May 4, 2021


Stranger Songs with Mike Regenstreif
finds connections and develops themes in various genres. The show is broadcast on CKCU in Ottawa on Tuesday afternoons from 3:30 until 5 pm (Eastern time) and is also available 24/7 for on-demand streaming.

CKCU can be heard live at 93.1 FM in Ottawa and https://www.ckcufm.com/ on the web.

This episode of Stranger Songs was prerecorded at home and can already be streamed on-demand by clicking on “Listen Now” at … https://cod.ckcufm.com/programs/595/51831.html

Theme: The Second Stranger Songs Fantasy Concert, a whole show of music recorded live in concert. We will have a "Stranger Songs Fantasy Concert" on our first show of every month until it’s safe for us to return to live music in person.

Big Daddy Wilson- Stranger
Live in Europe: From Bremen to Paris (Phamosa)

Sneezy Waters & His Very Fine Band- Walkin’ Round Town
Live (Sneezy Waters)
James Talley- Down on the Corner
Journey – The Second Voyage (Cimarron)
Penny Lang- Jailer, Bring Me Water
Penny Lang & Friends Live (She-Wolf)
Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues Band- Corinna
Live from Kauai (Kuleana)
Odetta with The Holmes Brothers- This Little Light of Mine
Gonna Let It Shine (M.C.)

Mike Regenstreif & Barbara Dane (2017)

Arlo Guthrie- St. James Infirmary
Here Come the Kids (Rising Son)
Barbara Dane- Mama Yancey’s Advice
Hot Jazz, Cool Blues & Hard-Hitting Songs (Smithsonian Folkways)
Bonnie Koloc- Jazzman
Seems Like Yesterday (Mr. Biscuit)
Eddie Holstein- Back in the Saddle Again
Eddie Holstein (Eddie Holstein)

Norah Jones- (Talk to Me of) Mendocino
Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle (Nonesuch)
Anna McGarrigle, Sylvan Lanken & Lily Lanken- On My Way to Town
Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle (Nonesuch)
Martha Wainwright- Matapedia
Sing Me the Songs: Celebrating the Works of Kate McGarrigle (Nonesuch)

Eva Cassidy- Tall Trees in Georgia
Live at Blues Alley (Blix Street)
Doug McArthur- Black Eyed Susan
Thunder Into Heaven (Patio)
The Wailin' Jennys- Begin
Live at The Mauch Chunk Opera House (Outside)

Mary Gauthier- The Rocket
Live at Blue Rock (In the Black)
Bill Chambers- I Drink
Live at the Pub Tamworth (Universal)
Tom Mitchell- Wasted Rose
1976 live recording – used with permission

Next week – Songs Inspired by the Pandemic

Find me on Twitter. www.twitter.com/mikeregenstreif

And on Facebook. facebook.com/mikeregenstreif

--Mike Regenstreif