It is never a good time to be a shelf in the home of a rapacious Bob Dylan collector — as if there were any other kind — for you will buckle under the strain of the most recent “gotta have it” box set heaped upon your back. The latest collection to fit that bill is The Cutting Edge: 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, which you likely have in one of three forms now that the Christmas season is over: the two-disc version, the six-disc whopper or the 18-disc mega-whopper containing every note of music Dylan made in the studio over those two galvanic years, retailing in a limited edition set of 5,000 for $600.
Is there any way on earth such a purchase is worth it? Two points: We’re talking a period here when Dylan was at the level of Shakespeare in 1599, Mozart in 1787, Keats in 1819, the Beatles in 1963, Monet in 1916. Which is to say, an all-timer level even for the all-timers. And consider this: Purchasers of the ultimate shelf-buckler box received another box of sorts, this time in the form of a link that gave you 208 live cuts from 1965 to download.
The fidelity varies massively, from “I just heard a musician’s boot squeaking on the floor” quality to making you feel like you’re out there with Alan Lomax in the 1940s as he sets up his microphone in a shack to get Son House’s latest musical thoughts on tape. The material spans 14 concerts. Some of the gigs are all acoustic, with others in the second half of the year mixing in a goodly helping of electric medicine, too. That this digital box is its own kind of museum piece naturally imbues the 18-disc set with better value, and makes a purchase more justifiable if you’re fortunate enough even to be considering the outlay of cash. Better move spryly, though: Only 125 copies or so remain. But let’s pick through the treasures of the in-concert add-on, manna to be had a long ways off from those studio walls.
“She Belongs to Me”: May 8th, Savoy Hotel, London
A live song, after a fashion, but very informally so. This is Dylan in a hotel room. There’s something about travel, and living for a spell in a room not your own, that inspires some wistfulness. The title is a cheat; this woman clearly doesn’t belong to the singer at all, but in this performance, you can hear just how much her essence is twined with the singer’s heart. A different mode of belonging, then. Various hangers-on are there to sing along. After the first couple lines, though, Dylan is gone, off on his own journey. At which point everyone shuts up and lets the man do his thing. It is his reverie. You simply listen in.