Monday, August 31, 2009

Isle of Mississippi River Festival ?

Just yesterday here in Radioactive Dylan, I was waxing philosophic about how Dylan did his career a favor merely by staying home from the Woodstock festival. He thusly spared the epic film Woodstock a Dylan appearance which would likely have resembled his disastrous performance at the Isle of Wight.

Dylan's festival-finishing, problem-plagued and cornpone-chucking Isle of Wight performance took place precisely 40 years ago tonight. In that momentous summer of 1969, August 31st fell on a Sunday, as you'd expect since Dylan's appearance climaxed a weekend of major acts that attracted 200,000 onlookers, including some musically-prominent names such as three of the Fab Four.

I based this supposition on the fact that Woodstock's final day was but 14 days before the Isle of Wight. I mean, does even the protean Dylan change so much in a single fortnight? (The actual answer to that question is: Yes, of course he does. But that's a separate discussion.)

Or is it? For my picking the Isle of Wight a couple weeks after Woodstock could be an almost arbitrary choice. For I could just as easily supposed that Dylan's would-be Woodstock set would have resembled a reportedly spirited one delivered just before the fabled festival, one which, as it happened, was part of another festival, this one stateside. I'm talking about that rarest of all Dylan surprise appearances, his sit-in during the encore of The Band's appearance at the summer-long Mississippi River Festival on July 14th.

It was on a Monday night just two days before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would blast off for the moon that Dylan popped up onstage in suburban St. Louis. Now, the audience never did hear his name—Band leader Robbie Robertson introduced Dylan as "Elmer Johnson", a local they'd met that afternoon. But much of the crowd—and all of posterity—was not fooled.

This all went down in that very corner of the planet where I grew up. I was 30 miles to the southwest that night, a 14-year-old cluelessly whiling away another St. Louis summer Monday night in anticipation of the Apollo program's greatest feat. Dylan and the Band weren't in Missouri, however, for the Festival tent shrouding the stage of the outdoor venue was pitched over on the Illinois side of the river in Edwardsville, on the southern edge of the campus of Southern Illinois University about 14 miles northeast of The Gateway Arch.

Only his third public stage appearance anywhere since his 1966 accident and just eleven weeks after his Johnny Cash Show TV appearance, Dylan performed four cover tunes that night. Included were Leadbelly's "In the Pines" and Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'", and also "I Ain't Got No Home", which Dylan had performed twice in New York at the Woody Guthrie tribute 18 months prior.

I know a fellow—and fellow Dylanologist—who actually witnessed the Edwardsville spectacle, being such a Dylan fan that he'd attend the concert of any Dylan-associated group, even without expectation of a surprise Dylan appearance. My magazine Zimmerman Blues proudly placed on its back cover a dramatic shot of Dylan fronting The Band and adjusting his microphones that evening 48 nights before the Isle of Wight. He appeared somewhat fairer than usual while attired in a work-shirt, but was typically bearded and shaded, behind wire-rim sunglasses.

As for what kind of sound Dylan had for that 12 or 15 minutes, my acquaintance reports Dylan's lead singing was terrific—but he would think that. In fact, this guy is one of those few people who think Dylan actually soared at the Isle of Wight.

There remains faint hope we'll sometime be able to hear for ourselves what the elusive 1969 St. Louis appearance sounded like. That's due to the fact that the sound engineer on duty that night, whom Zimmerman Blues interviewed eight years after the concert, insists that right after his final song, Dylan swung by to request—and claim—the master tape the crew had been rolling on the encore.

I don't normally tell Dylan no, but I know I would have responded, "Uh...I'll make you a copy, Bob".


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Isle of Wightstock ?

There has been understandably less hubbub about the 40th anniversary tomorrow of Dylan's much-discussed Isle of Wight performance than there has been about the Woodstock anniversary.

And much of the discussion about the Bethel, New York rock festival concerned various theories as to why Dylan didn't appear there, especially since he was living in those days nearby in the town of Woodstock, New York. That of course was the original intended site of the festival which would eventually end up being staged on Max Yasgur's dairy farm spread an hour away to the southwest.

But for a specific reason, I've always been glad Dylan didn't make the three-day affair. For had Dylan done a set and been thusly memorialized in the film, his performance would likely have resembled what was on display just two weeks hence in the south of England. To put it politely, you have to search far and wide for anyone who considers the Isle of Wight a solid Dylan performance. As one critic put it, Dylan sang his tunes as if he were one of that generation of bad Dylan imitators who when covering his work always put the emphasis in all the wrong places.

So just a fortnight earlier at Woodstock, the result likely would have been similar to the Isle of Wight performance disaster. And thus that peculiar variation of Dylan's endless changes would be the one cemented in the mind of the general public at large as supposedly "classic" Dylan.

Fortunately, today merely a few Dylan afficionados lament decades later about how lousy the Isle of Wight performance was—or at least how few moments besides "Wild Mountain Thyme" ever found Dylan in the groove that entire night, and in front of three-quarters of The Beatles, for Heaven's sake! So how would you like having every Woodstock viewer conjuring that as their default image of Dylan?

But, I suppose, that would ultimately have been de fault of Dylan himself.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Prematurely-Published Dylan Obituary FAQs

Several readers of the e-book posted below [Like a Rolling Tombston, two postings below on May 12, 2009] have reasonable questions about this mega-posting, which I'll try to address for the benefit of all:

Q Why did you publish Dylan's obituary while he's alive?

A Because for about 35 seconds while listening to Coast-to-Coast AM with Ian Punnett on Sunday night, March 29, 2009, I had truly good reason to believe Dylan's death had been announced.

Q So why didn't you pull the posting as soon as you learned Dylan is still alive?

A Because then I would have had to jettison a terrific essay premise, a premise that also, not at all incidentally, gave me an exquisitely ideal vehicle for publishing a book I had been sitting on—albeit in vastly different form—for decades.

Q What's the deal with your neverending posting's Neverending Paragraph?

A It's the vehicle—in the form of an extended literary device—for disclosing and detailing, if also deviously discombobdylanulating—each of my dozens of Dylan encounters 1975-1987, not to mention all of my various Dylan-related adventures 1972-1988.

Q Why that 1988 cut-off to the Neverending Paragraph?

A Because the nonfiction dialogue with the fictional "ghost" supposedly takes place on June 7, 1988, following the now-legendary debut show of The Neverending Tour. More precisely a half-dialogue, the Neverending Paragraph is a fanciful dramatization of my mindset in the parking lot following that concert which I did in fact attend, alone, at the Concord Pavilion. The events described in that fictionalized, hours-long rave really did happen, with no embellishment required or desired.

Q Is the Neverending Paragraph now complete?

A Not even close! Indeed, it's as incomplete as The Neverending Tour currently is. That is, I'm continuing to add new vignettes at least weekly, so if you had read the essay a month ago, you missed a lot of additional Dylan encounters since added.

Q Why the out-of-the-blue dedication to Abbott & Costello?

A Because, to state the obvious, the format of the Neverending Paragraph is largely if not entirely a direct theft from their most celebrated routine.

Q Why so drenched in style? That is, why make the Neverending Paragraph into this one-half of an old stand-up bit, instead of just a simple conversation? And why then discombobulate it so?

A Because I've never felt comfortable about ever publicly relating these events, which is also why I never sought publication until now. So if you want to see what happened, you'll have to figure it out. (And hey, it's still a lot easier than following stream-of-conscious Beat prose like that of Kerouac or Burroughs, much less Tarantula.) The toughest part is imagining what the ghost is saying to me, but his words are always reflected in my responses. It's true it's a constantly demanding read, as some e-mailers have complained. I'd reply that demonstrates respect for the reader, and anyway, as the introduction explains, it's thusly designed to deter all but the most Dylanologically determined.

Q Did you make up any of these stories?

A Not in the least! The only fictional aspect to the entire e-book is the ghost; everything else happened, often with numerous witnesses on hand.

Q If you're such a Dylan expert, how come you predicted the tour starting June 7, 1988 and continuing to this day would be a short one?

A That's a joke—on me. Obviously. (As is my later "prediction" that Dylan wouldn't survive to 50 if he didn't slow down. Again, obviously.)

Q What's with that goofball title?: LIKE A ROLLING TOMBSTON-—"Huh?...No WAY! I Don't Even GET Stoned Anymore!"

A That's also a joke, although a considerably more subtle one. The idea there was that, after thinking I heard on the radio of Dylan's demise, I am busily pounding out the title to my Dylan obituary when someone comes along, notices what I'm typing, and interrupts exclaiming "Hey Bryan, Dylan's not dead—what, are you high?!?" And there's also another hidden joke in the subtitle: the fact that the word "stoned" is right under what would have been TOMBSTONE, making for an implicit TOMBSTONED alternate title. (Oh, and the title LIKE A ROLLING TOMBSTON- is especially apropos, given that Tombstone Blues was what Dylan himself pressed me to change the title of Zimmerman Blues magazine to.)

Q Isn't it sophomoric to explain your jokes?

A Yes. But apparently, based on the e-mail, I had to. And I founded Zimmerman Blues as a Boston University sophomore.

Q Why all the colors in the Neverending Paragraph?

A Guess.

Q Aren't you and your cohort a couple of jerks for crashing Dylan's son's bar mitzvah in 1983?

A Well, the event was publicly announced by a Dylan aide, in New York magazine.

Q Who do you think you are, the new A.J. Weberman?

A I've never claimed that, and never would. But Albert Grossman once did.

Q Did you stalk Dylan?

A No! But I did live in West Los Angeles when he was using the nearby leased rehearsal hall facility informally known as "Rundown Studios" as his West Coast headquarters in the early 80s. Accordingly, I found myself more than a few times running into him here and there while he was out and about in the neighborhood, as he often was.

Q How did Dylan react when he would see you?

A To my utter amazement, he usually behaved as if he was glad to see me, perhaps because, unlike Weberman, I wasn't trying to provoke him. Though occasionally, as recounted in Like a Rolling Tombston- , he'd just ignore me.

Q Did you really almost vehicularly kill Dylan—accidentally—in 1981?

A Well, he might have only been seriously maimed in the extremely unsettling incident, but yes, the near-miss really happened. But I also pulled him out of the path of a speeding car a year earlier, if that compensatorily counts for anything.

Q Aren't you just being obnoxiously provocative by prematurely publishing a Dylan obituary, especially one so lengthy?

A The e-book has indeed reached over 35,000 words by now. But you'll note that the Dylan obituary therein, which is in the form of an imagined AM radio obit, is all of 14 words total, situated quite near the epic essay's outset. Then the text immediately takes the reader back to the happy reality that Dylan is still very much alive, and nearly as important, still very much creatively active.

Q Why don't you ever use Dylan's first name?

A Because all the other Dylans—Thomas, Jakob, Marshal Dillon—require a qualifier, whereas Dylan never does, as he has so remarkably earned his single-named status of being just Dylan.

Q Isn't a prematurely-published obituary tantamount to slapping Dylan's face?

A Anyone who reads the first twenty or so paragraphs of Like a Rolling Tombston- knows well that I revere, not scorn, Dylan.