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the insider one daily report

Monday, Sept. 4, 2001

Old Crank With Some Poetry And A Bottle

Neumu's Michael Goldberg writes: Love and Theft, Bob Dylan's first album of new songs in four years, will be released in a week. I'm excited.

I haven't heard it yet, but I understand that it's a very bluesy album (hey, all of Dylan's best albums were bluesy albums) -- and that Dylan's in good voice for this one. Yay!

I hope I'm not fooling myself - again. Building up my expectations, only to be disappointed, as I've been with so many of the albums that Dylan has released since his last major work, Blood On the Tracks. (Which, actually, kinda pales next to any of his first eight albums, ending with John Wesley Harding.)

Still, my expectations are high for three reasons. First, Dylan's last album, Time Out of Mind, was pretty damn good (not quite Blood On the Tracks, but still pretty damn good). Second, Brian Wise, who hosts the popular Australian radio show, "Off The Record" (which I guest on once a month), has heard it and thinks it's the best album he's heard this year. "It is mind-blowing!" Brian wrote me in a recent email. "I don't know how he manages to keep re-inventing himself. Some of the songs sound as good as anything he has ever done." (Well, actually, I'll be happy for songs as good as some of the ones on Blood On the Tracks, or even Time Out of Mind.)

Finally, Greil Marcus wrote a review of the album that is mostly a short story, which appeared in the New York Times this past Sunday. Imagine! Probably a 1000 words of fiction, in the New York Times Arts & Leisure" section, presented as part of a review of the album. I thought that was damn cool. Hard to imagine another publication as mainstream as the Times doing something that risky and, well, just plain eccentric. Somehow, since the subject is Dylan, this makes sense.

If you didn't see Marcus' piece, "Sometimes He talks Crazy, Crazy Like a Song," I suggest you find it and read it. It begins: "There's an old man who lives in your neighborhood, drinking away his days as if they were bottles..." Marcus goes on to describe this crazy-like-a-fox old guy, who lives in a place that's mostly old-fashioned, but not entirely (there's a " '65 Mustang in the garage" and a " '59 Cadillac at the curb," plus a CD player and hundreds of CD's, "though most are of blues and country tunes recorded in the 1920's and 1930's.").

Marcus talks, within his fiction, about some songs, which I figure, are actually on this new Dylan album. One is called "Po' Boy," which is set to the tune of the folk song "Cocaine." He quotes this line, which is pretty funny, especially if you imagine Dylan singing it: "Call down to room service, say send up the room."

Dylan himself seems to have become something of a crank over the past, oh, ten years. He's said things that sounded incoherent more than once on national TV, and, on occasion, sung in a voice that sounded like a caricature of himself. I recall him leading a bunch of rock stars in a version of "Like a Rolling Stone," that may have been the low point of his career.

Yet just when I've been ready to write him off, he'd come back with an album that almost made me forgive him for all the mediocre albums like Street Legal or that one that Don Was produced.

And then there were these reports of wonderful live performances. What to make of those. I always wonder 'cause I know there are these fans who are true Dylan freaks. Are they just self-deluded, was that show they would rave about really good?

People would rave about these shows. They said that all the endless touring had really whipped the band into shape and that Dylan himself was quite amazing.

From Marcus' review, I gather that Dylan has drawn on old country and blues and hillbilly music and come up with something mythic and mysterious. Marcus never says outright if the album is any good. I figure if it wasn't he wouldn't have written a strange tale for a review. Well, in a week we'll know.

The InsiderOne Daily Report appears weekdays at 9 AM PST, except when it doesn't.

by Michael Goldberg

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