More Paul M. on Bob D. Part Three.
Paul Morley’s own ‘Dylan trajectory’ bears some comparisons with mine (he is one year and a half years younger than me): he was introduced to BD around 1971 with the then-new release of New Morning, at a time when critic were suggesting that “his star power and greatest songs were behind him” (Morley, p.184). Little did he (or we) know what lay shortly around the corner…Planet Waves acted as an humble-but-honest broker for his soon to be resurrected career behemoths, the 1974-8 'second triumvirate’ of Blood on the Tracks, Desire and Street Legal.
It seemed like a long furlough after the infamous motorcycle 'event’ of summer 1966, but it should be born in mind that Time was elastic for Dylan fans at that point: the previous triumvirate, Bringing it all Back Home (recorded in January 1965), Highway 61 Revisited (July and August 1965) and Blonde on Blonde (January-March 1966) were all recorded in just over ONE YEAR!! I can’t think of any equivalent 'wild mercury’ period by any other pop/rock artist/band, even by the Fab Four? (One would surely have to be forced to refer to such contemporary jazz giants as Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman and John Coltrane to experience such a compressed period of excellence in vinyl output.) No wonder the relatively gentle pace of the John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline, Self Portrait and New Morning sequence (1968-71) seemed pedestrian in qualitative comparison, even though, with the benefit of hindsight, this was clearly a questionable equivalence (don’t forget to factor in the Little White Wonder bootlegs on top of these others!) The fact that he fathered five kids in the same amount of years may have contributed to a feeling of exhaustion. Perhaps?
It’s funny how Morley, for all his love of prolix detail and his oppressive piling up of names and numbers, makes a few factual howlers. Whilst any author can do this (guilty as charged!), Morley’s Alexandrian and encyclopedic approach to his material can render his misnomers rather compelling. For example, he repeats one faulty misidentification in particular, on several occasions, and it is one that a critic of his depth of knowledge and experience simply should not make: the 'Judas shout out’ gig in Manchester was part of the 1966 tour, NOT of the 1965 Don’t Look Back itinerary. The two tours are potentially easily confused - D. A. Pennebaker’s initial ultra-hip documentary has given its 1965 events an indelible historical sheen, but any equivalence for its 1966 sister, Eat the Document, has been obviated by the latter’s opaque and obscure history. Ultimately, Eat the Document was so cool that it was itself swallowed by its own sense of significance (Beat will Eat Itself?) On the other hand, the fact that Dylan insisted on controlling the editing process undoubtedly hastened its ultimate deliquescence; just look at how Tarantula turned out, what looked cool on the back of an LP cover was decidedly uncool when unspooled over multiple pages. I clearly remember how Tarantula appeared on most of my peer group’s bookshelves, but no-one seemed able or willing to give it any sort of thumbs-up. (The same fate met the albums from that period, until Planet Waves finally gathered a gradual tide of tentative approval in early 1974, to the sound of gratefully expired critical breath. I still think that it is Dylan’s 'punk’ album, by the way, and gave us all reasons to be hopeful at the time.)
Morley’s misattributions do seem somehow appropriate in a book that suggests that its subject’s hallucinatory, multivalent work renders Time fragile and uncertain? (I worry here, that I am straying into pretentious, moi? territory, but this does seem somehow inevitable at some points.) Dylan’s The Bootleg Series perform an a-temporal function, just as Miles’ Legacy Series does for the trumpeter, a palimpsest and a laminal layering of the artists 'classic numbers’ that present them as fundamentally protean and unstable (yet fundamentally immutable?) Dylan and Miles helped to free us from the fragile tyranny of the 'perfect version’, whether it be Miles’ 1959 studio cut of 'So What’ on Kind of Blue ,or 'Stuck In Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again’ on Blonde on Blonde. (Thus liberating them and us from the 'originals’.) The concept of 'classic’ and/or 'ur’ recordings can dissuade other interpretations of same. Dub reggae’s 'versions’, however, offered one take on innovative sound and mixing that helped to make the idea of the inviolate and untouchable 'take’/'mix’ a thing of the (very recent?) past.
Bob Dylan made a considerable contribution to the idea of music-as-flux, an “everchangingneverchanging” flow, as James Joyce had it. He has never stood still, and I think that Paul Morley’s book, in its own idiosyncratic way(s), helps us understand just why Dylan’s work is so radically transformative. for its author and for his listeners