A rather rare version of the Basement Tape gives one some idea of what this invention is like. Aside from the well-known fourteen songs, this copy also includes two particularly worked-out versions of "Tears of Rage," two of "Open the Door Richard," one other of "Quinn the Eskimo," and a hilarious version of "Nothing Was Delivered." As Dylan and the Band move from setting up to fooling around to the finished product, the songs are changed. "No," someone says after giving up on "Tears of Rage," "it's got to be in rock tempo." And the lyrics are altered to fit the beat, the phrasing changes, Robbie Robertson chooses a new riff, Manuel and Danko try out the high notes they muffed the first time around. Sometimes, as on the rejected "Nothing Was Delivered," something special happens. On this take, the tempo is speeded up, making the song less like the dirge of the final take and more like the theme song of a fun-loving gang leaning hard on a burn artist. Dylan steps out with an extravagant Elvis Presley riff: "You must provide some kind of answer — you must — you must do that! — you must provide those answers!" Dylan's Fats Domino piano work makes the cut a hilarious delight. The lyrics are not the same as on the better-known version; they change from take to take, as they do on the alternate versions of "Quinn the Eskimo," "Tears of Rage," and "Open the Door Richard."
The fact that these songs were not released by Dylan is indicative of a couple of things. First of all, this was music worked out — and in some cases written — with the Band; it was music, most likely, that would have been commercially recorded with them and not with the Nashville musicians of Blonde on Blonde or John Wesley Harding. Why Bob chose not to record with the Band is pretty obvious; it was time for them to try and make it on their own, to see if they could cut it without help. Secondly, this material was clearly not what Bob wanted to present to his audience when he returned to public life — something "older," something with more restraint and with superficially more clarity was what he had in mind. Like any artist, Dylan chooses what to reveal and what to keep for his own. That such a choice has, in this case, been taken out of his hands is something about which most must feel ambivalent. Garth Hudson's magnificent organ pushing Dylan's unmatched vocal on "This Wheel's On Fire," the kicks of "Tiny Montgomery" (a Southern dragster champ, word has it), or the still water of "I Shall Be Released" are moments that few would trade for anything. The Basement Tape is the album that almost never was.
Live Performances — "I Expose Myself Every Time I Go Out On The Stage"
Dylan's first live recordings appeared in 1963, on Vanguard and Broadside Records — and while Columbia and Leacock-Pennebaker have recorded reels and reels of live material, only one cut of it has even been released. There are, of course, the movie "soundtracks," which some have taped: Don't Look Back, with it's brilliant, shining hotel-room "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"; Festival, showcasing Dylan's first electric performance with pieces of Paul Butterfield's band ("Maggie's Farm" was included in the film — "Tombstone Blues" and "Like a Rolling Stone" remain in the can); the film shot and the sound recorded for the movie to be made of the Guthrie Memorial Program, at which Dylan and the Band recorded "Mrs. Roosevelt," "Grand Coluee," and "Ain't Got No Home"; and the completed and unreleased film of Dylan's 1966 tour of Europe with the Hawks. The tapes made by Dylan's appearance at the Isle of Wight have been killed.
* * *
Dylan's earliest live recordings are of mostly academic interest. They include two LPs made from the Newport Folk Festival, 1963: Evening Concerts at Newport, Vol. I, 1963, Vanguard VSD 79143 (Dylan sings "Blowin' In the Wind") and Newport Broadside (Topical Songs), Vanguard VSD 79144 (Dylan sings "Playboys and Playgirls" with Pete Seeger, "Blowin' in the Wind" again with the whole gang). Dylan also appeared at the 1963 March On Washington, singing "A Pawn in Their Game," which was preserved on the Broadside LP that commemorated the event: We Shall Overcome, BR-592.
Then in 1964 Columbia recorded Bob's first solo concert at Carnegie Hall. They wantetd a live album, and apparently so did Bob, but disagreements over what songs were to be included doomed the project. The LP did reach the acetate stage, however (Job No. 77110), and the list of cuts seems to indicate that Columbia was trying to capitalize on Dylan's new fame as "the conscience of the nation's youth," while Dylan may, by this time, have become disillusioned with singing songs "written for other people." The album itself is not all that impressive, mostly due to the poor programming, for much of Dylan's weaker material was included: "When the Ship Comes In," "John Brown" (a bitter war story about a kid with a patriotic mother who doesn't recognize her boy when he returns home from the battlefield, mutilated and shattered; a theme taken from many resentful Irish songs about English conscription), and the anti-boxing pure-protest grind-it-out guilt-cruncher, "Who Killed Davey Moore?".
The LP opens with what Columbia calls "Poem To Woody." "Woodie Guthrie is really something more than a folk-singer," Dylan says, introducing his poem. "And this is called 'Last Thoughts On Woody Guthrie.'" That chilling title leads into a long, stream of consciousness reading, very simply the story of a boy looking for himself, down the road, on the street, in the fields. Somehow, Bob is saying, Guthrie was a companion on that road, in the "trash can alleys."
Then Dylan moves into a compelling "Lay Down Your Weary Tune," and then lets loose with a rare song, "Dusty Old Fairgrounds," a charming number about carnivals and arcades, perhaps a memory of the annual Minnesota State Fair, always an important day for a town like Hibbing. After the three cuts mentioned in the paragraph above comes "Percy's Song." A friend has been involved in a fatal accident, sentenced to 99 years in Joliet Prison, and the singer meets with the judge to plead for a lesser sentence. The judge, inevitably, orders the young man from his chambers, and there is nothing to be done. "I played my guitar through the night and the day/But all it could play was the cold, the cruel, rain and the wind." It is a musician's song of stolen friendship. The Fairport Convention performs the composition on their new A&M LP, Unhalfbricking.
Then comes "Bob Dylan's New Orleans Rag," and the LP closes with "Seven Curses," a brilliant song in the old English manner, with an appropriately dramatic melody. In mood, the number is not all that different from Joan Baez' magnificent "Matty Groves" from her In Concert LP. Dylan sings of a horse thief who can escape death if he allows the judge a night with his daughter. He refuses, but the girl insists. The deal is made and the deed is done — and the hanging takes place. The daughter hurls seven curses on the judge: " . . . that five walls cannot hide him; that six diggers cannot bury him; and that seven deaths will never kill him." Dylan's timing in the delivery of these verses is extraordinary, and the song provides a chilling, desperate close to the album.
Later that same year Columbia recorded Dylan's Halloween concert in New York City — 17 songs, four with Joan Baez. The performances are not all that different from the studio recordings on the same tunes, with the exception of the show-stopping "If You Gotta Go, Go Now" and the performance of the unrecorded "Mama/Daddy You Been On My Mind," with Joan. The concert is refreshing; it reminds one that Dylan was able to take his songs far less seriously than much of his audience. "This is a sacrilegious lullaby in G-minor," he says, introducing "The Gates of Eden." And later, that classic line: "Well, hope you're all having a good time . . . it's Hallowe'en, and uh, I've got my Bob Dylan mask on."
To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here
CULTURE 14 Gonzo Masterpieces
Picks From Around the Web
blog comments powered by Disqus