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Band from Dylanland: Big Pink in Quake City

“Big Pink in Quake City: Respite for the Restless”

SAN FRANCISCO — Darling Dolly Dane, a rachitic teenie waif from the wilds of Petaluma (“Egg Basket of the West”), was rattling off her semi-pro panhandler’s hype at the intersection of Post and Steiner, while up the block at Winterland, the reclusive band from Big Pink was making ready to strike up some sweet country funk, and rock mojo-domo Bill Graham, after his own emotionally hemophiliac fashion, was sidling up to the mound to strike o-u-t OUT.

“Don’t be a tacky cunt, hon,” Darling Dolly coaxed a sailor in the stream of ticket-holders pressing toward the entrance. “Do me some good with your spare change.”

Dear, darling Darlin Doll she wasn’t alone — the tribal rock hounds and stone guerrilla hippies of the Bay Area had turned out in force for the occasion. Flapping along the sidewalks, preening and shrilling, they soared into the cavernous recesses of the old ice-skating rink-turned-rock ballroom like flocks of bright, demented birds.

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The mood of expectancy ran high; “This will be a stoning thing,” a mustachioed kid from Berkeley promised his chick in sepulchral tones.

Promises, promises. From the outset, The Event that had been broadsided for weeks in advance as sure to hang heavy, heavy over our collective long-haired heads turned out to be — with a brief respite to be noted — merely onerous.

The spooky vibes began in the lobby. Poker-faced security guards — a lot of them, all looking like Tac Squad reservists — swarmed through the foyer and along the hall’s aisles, barking at people to move along, seemingly at whim. After being shooed away a couple of times, I managed to buy a coke at the refreshment stand and started working my way through the crush toward the stage, where the house sound system reared up out of the darkness like a massive and sinister radar installation. The Ace of Cups, a local all-femme group who occasionally generate an ambience of pure physical fun because they’re such fetching chicks to look at, played listlessly. The acoustical reference in the room was muddier than Vic and Sade on an Atwater-Kent table model.

I ran into one of the Family Dog people, an acquaintance from Texas, and we watched silently as the Sons of Champlin, another local group, set up onstage. They would play an overlong and uncharacteristically lackwit set. After the first couple of numbers, the crowd stirred restlessly; the smell of burning weed was stronger than a ten-minute egg.

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A kid in a smudgy, buttonless tunic, his face pocked with scabies pimples, wandered through the crowd, obviously stoned. He kept running his fingers through the flame of a lighted candle and mumbling what must have started out as a chant. A half-hour later, when I caught sight of him a second time, his hands were black and literally smoking.

My friend groaned; “Jesus, that dude must’ve been shooting up the Chronicle Sporting Green for days. He’s gonna wake up in the morning — some morning — and feel everything but good.”

After the Sons had bowed off to polite but disinterested applause, there was a lengthy delay of a type that telegraphed to the audience: Something Has Gone Stone Wrong. Then Bill Graham popped up at the mike, earnest, thin-skinned, a-stammer, attempting to apologize for the apology he was about to tender —

“Fuck you!” someone yelled distinctly from the balcony.

Graham winced as if he’d been slapped, but, gathering his aplomb about him with the equanimity of a wino wrapping up for the night in a bundle of Moral Rearmament pamphlets, he bore grimly on to relate that Robbie Robertson, the band’s lead guitarist, had been ill with the flu for two days, and was having a little trouble getting together, but if the audience would only be patient, the whole band’d be there, Graham guaranteed it —

“A 15 minute delay at the latest,” he promised, and scuttled off the stage into the shadows.

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Promises, promises. We waited — 30 minutes, an hour, ultimately an hour and a half. A few in the crowd waited merely for the chance to red-ass Graham when he worked up the nerve to reappear; others were determined to dig the young musical gunfighters from Woodstock at any cost, even if they had to invade Robertson’s hotel room and give him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.

Finally, straggling onstage one by one, the members of the band assembled, Robertson assisted to his place by a man named Ralph Gleason later identified as the guitarists’s personal hypnotist. At last they were on.

The respite mentioned earlier lasted 35 minutes. The band from Dylan Country played only seven songs, only two of these new, but it’s not inconceivable to me that during that brief session, a few hearts and heads and lives might have been turned around for the better. The band’s sound and stance were flawless. From the strength of their personal decency and dedication, the musicians summoned up an oceanic passion, a commitment to the true experience of their materials that short-circuited the hair on the back of one’s neck. For a little better than a half-hour, the band didn’t redeem the morbid vibes that had been going down all evening, but simply transcended them.

Then, in a wink, the players were gone, and the howl for an encore went up. “Come back to the raft a’gin, Huck honey!” a male voice boomed from the floor. A volley of boos greeted Graham as he worked his way back to the mike. He stood visibly shaken in the rain of catcalls and curses until the yelling and stomping gradually subsided.

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“Well,” he drawled pouty, “there must be a lot of tourists here tonight, because San Francisco people just don’t act that way —”

The crowd groaned in unison, a long-drawn-out wail of derision and contempt that must have chilled Graham’s deep soul, for he stepped back from the mike, his mouth working silently. “TAKE THE MONEY AND RUN, GRAHAM!” somebody cried from the press of bodies at the edge of the bandstand.

In small eddies and surges, the audience began to disperse. “The band got it together,” I heard a college girl saying philosophically, “but Bill Graham kind of bombed, didn’t he.” Outside Darling Dolly Dane collared my friend and me at the corner. “Don’t be a tacky cunt,” she began, but he put a quarter in her palm and gently closed her palm and gently closed her bony little fingers around it in a ball. “Take a load off, Fanny,” he told her gravely, and we strolled on, somewhat armed against the night’s chill.  ■


The Last Waltz: Martin Scorsese’s Elegy for a Big-Time Band 

Marty Scorsese is laid back. Literally. It is 5 o’clock of a Sunday afternoon and Marty is leaning all the way back into a Hotel Pierre couch. The television is soundlessly beaming Lonely Are the Brave into the suite’s living room, while one of the various sound-producing machines that travel when and where Scorsese does is playing Italian popular mu­sic — preparation, perhaps, for Mama Scor­sese’s birthday celebration later that night. As the rest of the city is coming out of lazy Sunday, Marty is having his wake-up cup of coffee. “I hope the caffeine works,” he says. 

One expects everything of Marty Scorsese: He is that peculiarly American phenomenon, the mass-cult figure. Scorsese occupies a unique niche in the Hollywood hierarchy: He is revered by both the industry and the crit­ics, as an extremely personal, highly idiosyn­cratic director who is still somehow in touch with the street. Scorsese is always mentioned as part of the New Hollywood litany, but he is also, almost inexplicably, apart: Despite a filmography that jumps over genres and styles with deliberate eclecticism, his movies always read autobiography. If New York, New York failed dismally at the American box office, it is not because the picture over­whelmed Scorsese: It is because a particular­ly abrasive part of Scorsese overwhelmed the movie. Musical fans simply could not go in and have a good time. 

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What one didn’t expect is The Last Waltz. The Last Waltz is a rock-concert film, a cine­matographic record of the Band’s final stand at San Francisco’s Winterland in the fall of 1976. Before it only hacks were supposed to do rock-concert films. The last time Marty touched the stuff was back in his NYU days, when he edited first Woodstock and then Medicine Ball Caravan. He may talk about how important these two projects were for his artistic development, but the line on opening day was that The Last Waltz just wasn’t the sort of thing a Great American Director should do. It’s not Important enough. It could only have been done as a lark. 

“I shot the whole thing incognito,” Marty says. “I was supposed to be resting, taking time off between shooting and editing New York. It was all very secret. Irwin Winkler [New York, New York’s producer] didn’t know I’d done it until it was over, and then, when he found out, he was furious. But all during the concert, it was like a rumor — he’s here shooting, he isn’t here shooting. I’d shot 22 weeks on New York, New York, prepared this film in three weeks, shot one day, and then I sat down. I just sat, for four hours, downstairs at the Miyako Hotel. I couldn’t get up. It was perfect. 

“We went in thinking, we’ll document the Band’s last concert and maybe we’ll get something, maybe we won’t. Then when the footage came back and we looked at it on the KEM, I just said, ‘Wow. This is fantastic. We’ve got a movie.’ ” 

Things do not always work out as planned. Between Thanksgiving of 1976, when the Band played at Winterland, and the release of The Last Waltz this April, just about noth­ing Scorsese planned on did. New York, New York failed in the States. (Recent indications are that the film is doing quite well abroad, and will probably recoup its investment.) The Act, Liza Minelli’s stage vehicle that Marty attempted to direct as a sequel to his dark, ferocious musical, floundered on the road, and Scorsese was replaced by an un­credited (but highly publicized) Gower Champion. Worst of all, his marriage to writ­er Julia Cameron broke up shortly after the birth of their daughter.

“The movie was therapy,” Marty says. “It was the only thing that held me together.” 

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The Last Waltz was not just work; it was a special kind of anchor. Scorsese’s love affair with rock and roll, his commitment to music as a form, is at least as deep and abiding as his love and commitment to film. He has always used music in his films, knowing just what the kid would listen to in Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, manipulating the track of Taxi Driver with disc-jockey ease. The cultural conflict in Mean Streets is most directly expressed as a war between two styles of music, Italian and rock. Indeed, until Jay Cocks read him the Raymond Chandler quote from which he drew the final title, Mean Streets was called Season of the Witch

“The music was just always there,” Marty says, and when he says it, he means just about all the music there is. His traveling tape collection includes Don Giovanni, his ra­dio is tuned to rock and roll. 

The Last Waltz was conceived as “an op­era.” Scorsese borrowed the set of La Tra­viata from the San Francisco Opera, and he and head cinematographer, Michael Chap­man, sat down with a set of lyrics to each of the songs, scripting line by line color changes intended to emphasize the content of each musical moment. If Scorsese’s fiction films have musical structure, then The Last Waltz, with its meticulous script and preplanned camera angles, was constructed in the same manner as his narratives. 

Unlike most rock-concert pictures, The Last Waltz is an extremely formal film. Com­ing off New York, New York, Marty shot the movie with the same dark, totally interior look. This is a movie in which daylight is never seen, in which the world is totally artificial, limited to stages and studios. Scorsese managed to put crab dollies on the Winterland stage in places that would not obscure the audience’s view. With Bill Graham’s per­mission, he dug through Winterland’s floor to anchor a tower that could hold Vilmos Zsigmund’s position at the back of the hall, providing wide-angle long shots Scorsese was afraid he would otherwise not be able to get. Each of the cameramen on stage had specific instructions, including tracking directions, although little more than six inches of track­ing space were available. Only David Myers, who can be seen periodically floating around the stage, had hand-held mobility. Scorsese gave Myers a single, simple instruction: Nothing Myers shot could look hand-held. 

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As important as the highly polished shoot­ing style was the decision, made early on, to refrain from cutting back to the concert audi­ence. Indeed, the audience is almost ab­sent — we hear them applauding, and every once in a very long while one of Zsigmond’s long shots includes silhouettes of the front rows. This is no Woodstock: The point of The Last Waltz is the music, not the listeners. 

“I had the feeling,” Marty says, “that the movie audience could become more involved with the concert if we concentrated on the stage. Besides, after Woodstock, who wants to see the audience anymore?” 

The result is a movie that is about music and musicians, about living the life of rock and roll. In addition to the concert footage, Marty interspersed three studio-shot num­bers, which gave him a chance to practice his pyrotechnics, as well as his own interviews with members of the Band, which give the film its rough balance. Although he never met any of the Band before agreeing to shoot the concert, he and Robbie Robertson almost immediately became close friends. Robertson actually moved into Scorsese’s Los Angeles house. 

Scorsese denies that his friendship with Robertson greatly influenced the film, but The Last Waltz does make clear that Robbie Robertson was the leader of the Band. For one thing, he’s an articulate musician. For another, he has a ton of stage presence, which translates perfectly onto the screen. And, of course, he does play lead guitar. 

“Levon Helm looks great,” Marty says, “but he’s trapped behind those drums.”

True. But it is also true that Marty, who may be right when calls himself “the world’s worst interviewer,” functions best as a documentarian when dealing with subjects he knows intimately.

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It is not just that Scorsese knew where his cameras could go but he was not embarrassed to let unkind moments intrude upon the general celebration. (Compare, for example, the treatment of Ronnie Hawkins in Last Waltz with his treatment in Renaldo and Clara: In Scorsese’s film, Hawkins is clearly a man far out of his depth when trying to front the Band he formed. There is no question, watching him, that he doesn’t belong in this company. In Dylan’s disaster, Hawkins is taken at false face value. At the same time, while this is ostensibly a film about the band, Scorsese’s editing makes no bones about how much a Dylan event it becomes the moment the singer walks on stage. Everything else disappears behind his presence, and Scorsese, despite his friendships and commitments, does nothing to hide or minimize this effect. It is not merely the best rock-concert movie ever made; it is as intensely personal as anything Scorsese has done.

Late in the film’s editing, at editor Jan Roblee’s suggestion, Scorsese placed the footage of the Band’s last song — Holland-Dozier-Holland’s “Don’t Do It” — at the beginning of the film. The concert thus becomes a flashback, while the interviews and studio shots are a meditation on the half-life of collective efforts and the weariness 16 years of road life can bring. Marty says the entire movie is about “Stage Fright,” but a more appropriate metaphor is suggested when the Band, obviously stoned, attempts “Give Me That Old Time Religion.” The improvised version is at once completely a Band song in its modalities, harmonics, and instrumental breaks, and a lethargic failure, falling apart before anyone can finish. “It’s not like it used to be,” someone says, and that seems to be the point of the film. Having become the Band, the members are, at the point of breaking apart, undefined by their success. They are no longer able to produce the work that sustained them. 

“I’m slowing down,” Marty says. “I mean, I have projects, but none of them are ready yet. They’ll have to wait until I am ready or else they won’t get done. I want to get away from big budgets. I don’t know what I’m going to do next. But I can’t keep up the kind of thing I’ve been doing the past two years. I mean, I’ve even read in The Village Voice how I left New York. I never left. I’ve just been out there working, and then on the road with The Act, and then editing this one. I’ve got to find a place here, now. I mean, I can’t keep living in hotels…”

Marty Scorsese is no longer laid back. He is standing up now and serious. “I really have to think very carefully about what to do next. Because I’m convinced I have very little time left — physically. I just believe it. And I’ve got to do what’s important — whether it’s a rock-concert film… or a 16mm documentary… or nothing.”

He turns and looks at the television. 

“In L.A., when we were editing, we watched too much daytime television. We’d get up so late, so wiped-out, that’s all we could do. I’m not going to watch daytime television in New York.

“I don’t know what there is to write about me anymore. Just where I am, now, I guess. It’s like the Band — just because the Band broke up doesn’t mean the music’s over. It’s just a hiatus, a stopping, before something different, more complex, the next step.”

Martin Scorsese looks out the window. He is waiting for the night. 


The Basement Tapes: Bob Dylan Goes Public

It might be said that over the past few weeks Bob Dylan has gone public. He has shown up to see Paul Smith and Muddy Waters and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; he has sat in at the Other End; he has hung out. One night around three in the morning, after Bobby Neuwirth’s club set, Dylan sat and performed new material for over an hour at the Other End bar — a song about Joey Gallo, a song about marrying Isis — and except for Muddy Waters all of the aforementioned musicians were part of an audience that included more than one journalist and several hundred gawkers. Also present was that old Dylan imitator, Ian Hunter, who was having his head blown off — not only had Dylan identified him as a member of Mott the Hoople (which he’s not any more, as if Hunter could care) but he’d known all the tracks on Hunter’s (or was it Mott’s) first album. Unbelievable.

This is news. For almost a decade, Dylan’s need to armor himself against the attentions of his admirers has played a large part in the way we think about him — even though sightings have been common sine early 1968, it has been the alarming 18-month period of complete seclusion just before then that’s stuck in our minds. Of course, all that began to change subtly after his 1974 tour with the Band. If it’s going too far to say that Dylan has been demythified, then at least what remained of his divinity has dissipated, with all his party scenes and benefits and rumors reduced to the goings-on of a Major Rock Star who can almost keep his co-stars’ groups straight. But since for his acolytes from the folk days these hootenanny visitations seem to portend a New Eden, old friends singing songs of innocence and experience together once again, it is well to remind ourselves that the beginnings of the change were quite unelevated — commonplace almost by definition, since they served to reintroduce Dylan to the commonalty.

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The process began with the tour itself, a Major Rock Event of a familiar kind, and was accelerated by reports of breaches in that magical domestic fortress that had long separated Dylan from ordinary mortals. But it has also involved a fact that is arguably as much economic as it is artistic: a sudden profusion of recorded material following three years of near-drought, years that yielded a total of eight new tracks, a movie score, and a corporate rip-off. In contrast, the past 18 months have brought forth five discs (not counting two halves by the Band) — four albums, two of them doubles: Planet Waves, Before the Flood, Blood on the Tracks, and the newly released Basement Tapes.

The critical front-runner among these albums is clearly Blood on the Tracks. I myself called it Dylan’s best since John Wesley Harding when it came out in January — and then didn’t play it three times before I began to write this piece. Listening now, I am stirred once again by the tact and persistent musicality of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” and by the dovetailing delicacy of “Tangled Up in Blue” (lost love recalled) and “Buckets of Rain” (love’s loss foreseen) — stirred, in fact, by the sheer craft of the whole endeavor. Dylan has never been a confessional writer, but this control of aesthetic distance on Blood on the Tracks is a small coup: “Tangled Up in Blue,” which cannot describe the facts of his life, and “You’re a Big Girl Now,” which can, are both enlivened by the same seemingly autobiographical intimacy, but both are without question comely objects first and foremost.

That’s the critic in me talking, of course, the same fellow who’s always making deadline judgments before the listener in me has a chance to live with the music. The listener admires Blood on the Tracks, likes it a lot, but he thinks: it’s meaningless to call it Dylan’s best album since John Wesley Harding when he never feels like putting it on. To the listener, Blood on the Tracks sounds suspiciously like product, and when it comes to product he happens to prefer Steely Dan to Dylan just as he prefers Hydrox to Oreos or Lorna Doones.

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Not that Dylan is capable of putting out product in the manner of a Major Rock Professional. He has always resisted that. It has been his practice to just go into the studio and cut, so that a lot of what gets onto the LP you buy in the store is first and second takes. Chuck Berry and the early Beatles were recorded this way, but over the past decade it has become customary (if not compulsory) to put more quality control into the manufacture of rock and roll, and Blood on the Tracks sounds as if it consents to what is best about such standards. It has pace, flow, variety; it tolerates few if any gaffes; it is well made. This is partly because Dylan decided to re-record some of the original Eric Weissberg sessions with other musicians in Minneapolis, which enabled him to combine two different musical moods on the same disc. Much more telling, though, is the way the record shifts vocally, from a mock-callow whine to variants on the rounder and juicier rock and roll voice of New Morning and Greatest Hits Volume II.

Dylan’s alacrity in the studio hardly commits him to spontaneity, especially to spontaneity as it is commonly understood — the free play of the undefended self and so forth. On the contrary, Dylan is always guarded — he knows almost exactly what will happen when he records. Each release is intended to objectify a preordained concept that is both quickened and preserved for posterity by his instant studio technique. Particularly since Blonde on Blonde, the vehicle of each concept has been a voice that in some way exemplifies it, the most extreme example being the high lonesome tenor of Nashville Skyline. This is to say that Dylan has continually and deliberately remodeled his singing voice, with a dual purpose: to project himself into the world and to armor himself against it. For him to relax this control on Blood on the Tracks is yet another kind of going public. But it also relinquishes the obsessiveness that makes eccentric records like Planet Waves and Before the Flood so compelling for me.

Unlike many people I admire, I’ve never played my Dylan records repeatedly or even regularly. Their conceptual strictness has discouraged both easy listening — even Nashville Skyline, for all its calculated pleasantness, never fit smoothly into my days — and full personal identification. And so the listener in me subconsciously vetoes the critic; there are times when I crave a specific Dylan record with a fervor of the will no other artist can arouse in me, and I value him immensely for that, but only rarely can he just be part of a stack. Lacking the totally committed professionalism of meaningful/listenable masterpieces like Layla and Exile on Main Street, Blood on the Tracks fails to achieve what I suspect was intended for it — a place in the stack with just such records, all of which it melts or freezes just because it is so distinctively Dylan. I could make up reasons explaining why it’s as precise conceptually as anything he’s done — the many voices of love, something like that — and there’s no way it won’t rank high in my year-end top 10. But it’s a half-measure.

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The Basement Tapes, on the other hand, is no kind of measure at all, and that is its secret. These are the famous lost songs recorded with the Band at Big Pink in 1967 and later bootlegged on The Great White Wonder and elsewhere. Of the 18 Dylan compositions included, 12 have by now been heard in legitimate commercial versions by other artists, and another, “Down in the Flood,” was recut by Dylan himself for Greatest Hits Volume II; one of the remaining five, “Going to Acapulco,” has never ever been bootlegged, and neither have any of the six Band songs, which I would adjudge to be among their very best work. Sound quality has been greatly improved. Greil Marcus, who wrote the notes, tells me he hears instruments that are entirely inaudible on his second-generation tape. All of which begins to sketch in the complicated recording history of work that was never meant to be reproduced at all.

Well, not quite. The Band songs are relatively polished; it is said that the scaricomic “Yazoo Street Scandal” was presented as a demo to Clive Davis, who rejected it. But the Dylan songs are work tapes at best, first stabs at arrangements barely roughed out, preliminary even by Dylan’s abrupt standards. The main reason they were taped was so that they could be transcribed and copyrighted by Albert Grossman’s office. They weren’t ever supposed to go out to other artists, much less be circulated among the faithful as proof that the avatar was alive and creative in Woodstock. So the music is certifiably unpremeditated, a candid shot from a hero who has turned to his friends and coworkers after coming too close to death to enjoy the arrogance of power any longer. The concepts that are to arise from this interaction among equals will eventually take form as the dry, contained John Wesley Harding and the supercharged, eccentric Music From Big Pink; at this juncture, however, artist and group have arrived at a more moderate synthesis, merely simple and quirkish, and couldn’t care less whether they’re only passing through. No organizing principle keeps the music in line.

The basement tapes were the original laid-back rock, early investigations of a mode that would eventually come to pervade the whole music. Not that they suggested any of the complacent slickness now associated with the term — just that they were lazy as a river and rarely relentless or precise. In 1967, this was impermissible. Even the Grateful Dead, who were also trying to meld individualistic musicians into a rocking flow while rummaging through the American mythos with an antirealistic aesthetic, were so fixated on the triumph of Sgt. Pepper that they forsook the sweet relaxation of their debut album for Anthem of the Sun, a technologically brilliant failure. An inspired artificiality was the rule. I suspect that both Dylan and the Band were afraid, if not consciously then instinctively, that their concepts had to be strong and pure if they were to survive this heady competition. So instead of nurturing the basement music, they transformed simple into dry and contained and quirkish into supercharged and eccentric. And maybe they did right. Remember that the bootlegs didn’t show up until 1969; I wonder how they would have been received in late 1967.

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But I wonder primarily for purposes of argument. I find this music irresistible, and I can’t believe that any slicking up to which Dylan and his boys might have succumbed would have harmed it. Like a drunk falling out of a first-story window, it’s just too loose to break much. Over the years it’s been the more writerly “serious” songs that people have talked about — not only “I Shall Be Released” (omitted here), but “Tears of Rage,” “This Wheel’s on Fire,” “Too Much of Nothing,” “Nothing Was Delivered” — and to this group can now be added “Going to Acapulco,” which I would describe (roughly) as the lament of the singer-songwriter as gigolo, so mournful about “going to have some fun” that he anticipates the watchtower: “Now when someone offers me a joke I just say no thanks/I try to tell it like it is and keep away from pranks.”

Like the others, this is a richly suggestive piece of work, and like the others — especially “Tears of Rage” — it’s all the richer for being surrounded by pranks. The many nonsense songs here are unequalled in Dylan’s work; even Greil Marcus’s comparisons to the likes of “Froggy Went A-Courtin'” falls a little short. Could Pecos Bill boast: “I can drink like a fish/I can crawl like a snake/I can bite like a turkey/I can slam like a drake”? Could Carl Perkins tell Sam Phillips: “Gonna save my money and rip it up!”? What are we to make of Turtle, “With his checks all forged/And his cheeks in a chunk”? And why don’t you get that apple off your fly?

These songs are too contemporary to be subject to pop notices of timeliness. Just as “Going to Acapulco” is a dirge about having fun, so “Don’t Ya Tell Henry” is a ditty about separation from self, and when the complementary irony of these two modes combines with the Band’s more conventional (“realistic”) approach to lyrics, the mix that results can be counted on to make as much sense in 1983 as it did in 1967. The power of melody-lyric-performance transcends petty details of sound levels (which vary enough to shock any well-respected studio technician) and shifting vocal styles. We don’t have to bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975. It would have been the best album of 1967, too. The music is so free I bet it can even be stacked, but I’ve been playing it too repeatedly to find out.

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What is most lovable about the album, though, is simply the way it unites public and private, revealing a Dylan armed in the mystery of his songs but divested of the mystique of celebrity with which we has surrounded his recording career for almost a decade. It would be impossible to plan such exposure, and however much the album’s release has to do with generous royalties from CBS or the supposed sagging of the Band, it’s nice to know that he feels secure enough to do it. There he is, folks. When he giggled at the beginning of “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream” he was just being coy; the mishap ceased to be a mishap once it was pressed and released. But when he almost breaks out laughing in the middle of “Please, Mrs. Henry,” he’s really there.

The night after Dylan’s impromptu bar concert, I checked out the Other End, not so much for the listener in me as for the critic/journalist, who didn’t expect Dylan to show and would have felt like an asshole to miss him. What all of us got instead was some good music — Jack Elliott and Mick Ronson backing Patti Smith on “Angel Baby” qualifies as a blessed event — and much okay music and Bobby Neuwirth scratching his own back. I found the vibes insular and self-satisfied. But Dylan is reported to be happy to be back on the street again, and if it makes him happy then I’m happy too. Good music happens there.

When I talk about Dylan going public, though, that won’t be what I mean. I’ll be talking about The Basement Tapes, the singer-songwriter exposed in front of hundreds of thousands — I hope millions — of listeners. What a friendly thing to do.

This and other classic Voice stories can also be be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published in 2018.


Bob Dylan Comes Back From the Edge

Wandering through the crowd during intermission at The Concert last Wednesday night, one got a sense of why it must have been an agonizing decision for Bob Dylan to go on tour for the first time in eight years, of why “the Big Apple” has been dreaded as much as looked forward to. Old friends of Dylan were there, and so were many who remember him from basket houses on MacDougal Street and Gerde’s Folk City over 10 years ago.

The things Dylan must like about New York City — he has mentioned it in nearly every interview he has given — were here to haunt him as well as help him. He can walk through the Village without being noticed, and if he is recognized, no one makes a big deal out of it. He can jam with John Prine at the Bitter End without being mobbed or driven crazy by autograph-glom­mers or teenyboppers. Here he can raise a family in the same old ten­sion and peace and quiet and noise of the city which gave him the images and experiences for songs like “Visions of Johanna,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” and “Like a Rolling Stone.”

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But the peculiar schizophrenia of stardom has a way of coming back around like a death-dealing boomerang. The city that ignores Bob Dylan on the street is perfectly capable of leaving him equally high and dry on a stage. And though that did not happen on Wed­nesday night — he had the crowd on its feet, screaming, stomping, and clapping at the end — there were those among his friends and long­time admirers, among those who hold him most dearly, who were, if not disappointed, at least a bit deflated after their first evening in years with Bob Dylan. It was great to see him again, but the years had taken their toll. There was something missing — maybe in us, maybe in Dylan — and no one knew exactly what it was.

Dylan said, “I’m honored to be here,” and sang six classics: “Everybody must get stoned” drew screams and more lighted joints from an already grass-soaked audience. Even the youngest of those present could remember the many weeks “It Ain’t Me Babe,” sung by Cher, was number one on the top 40 charts. And Time and Newsweek have printed that great line. “There’s something hap­pening here/and you don’t know what it is/do you/Mr. Jones?” so many times, it is probably imprin­ted permanently on the American psyche.

Yet Dylan’s stage fright, as the Band reminded us in its first solo number, was painfully evident. “Lay Lady Lay” which reviews of the Chicago and Philadelphia con­certs have described as taking on the old “Dylan Edge,” was simply rushed, hurried through and cast off like the last tune in a long, tedious rehearsal. Dylan was scared. What appeared at first to be new sparkles and flourishes on a laid-back country song was really his nervousness showing through.

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Dylan attacked the mike, his brow furrowed, mouth working madly from side to side, and “It Ain’t Me Babe” was coughed out between gritted teeth. On “Ballad of a Thin Man,” Dylan’s insistent, pounding grand piano work rushed the song to the point of impatience. Garth Hudson’s organ fills disappeared in a bad sound mix. Dylan rose up and banged down, running wildly along the keyboard, driving the Band brilliantly, forcefully, but just too goddam fast.

But it was on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” that whatever was bothering Dylan came through most clearly. The song is a beautiful one, ablaze with painful autobiographical images and self-­exploration. On record, Dylan’s voice searches its way through the lyrics, finding one color here another there. The emotional con­tent of the song is as much in the way Dylan sang it — in the depths of his voice — as in the depth of the words. And listening to the song as I write this, I am reminded that Dylan’s magic was in large part this: the mix of lyrics and vocal coloration. The galaxy of emotions he could plumb between the boundaries or one song was greater than any rock and roll artist who came before him or has come along since. His voice is truly [one] of the great rock and roll instruments.

On Wednesday night, the song was rushed through, along with the others, so much chaff to be brushed aside in search of solitude. Dylan struck a pose — tough, defiant, almost mean in its intensity — and sang without searching. His emphasis — or was it reliance — on highs permeated the song. He would raise a verse to a fever pitch, drop it, then raise another, screaming into the mike, he gazed above the heads or the crowd intent and serious, then he’d back off. It was automatic, studied. Dylan wouldn’t let the song carry him as much as he carried the song. He refused to search back through the lyrics for the experiences and feelings which gave it birth, allowing him to bring it back to life again.

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Dylan was afraid, that was for sure. But “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” showed he wasn’t afraid of us, the audience. It was himself he feared — the process or going back over those songs which bore the pain of becoming Bob Dylan, the highs, the lows, all of that life, which was living on the edge. He seemed unwilling to go through it all again in song, dredging up that which was better off left behind. The funny thing was, one could hardly blame him.

The Band played alone to a warm reception, and then Dylan returned to sing “All Along the Watchtower,” “The Ballad of Hollis Brown,” and “Knocking on Heaven’s Door.” He wore a black tuxedo and a silver and black ruffled cowboy shirt. The trousers of the tux hung loosely — almost baggy — giving him the appearance of a young Charlie Chaplin, legs spread wide, elegant in his awkwardness.

After intermission, Dylan return­ed alone to sing five acoustic numbers. “The Times They Are A-Changin” ran fast, and brilliantly embellished harmonica breaks drew extended applause. “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,” and then “Gates of Eden.” Like “Tom Thumb…” the latter was sung with an intensity which bordered on anxiousness: My notes made toward the end of the song read: “What made song great on record — he was calling on something w/in him, bringing it out… in performance he leans on drama… teeth gritted, lips contorting 2-3 times on one vowel, bitten off… overdramatized.”

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“Just Like a Woman” followed, and it was sung slower, more con­fidently. “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” was done with lovely, hypnotic speed, sung up and out and proud and sane. It seemed that Dylan had hit a stride, that he had found his voice, a way to cope with standing naked before 20,000 pairs of eyes. “It’s Alright Ma” was markedly different from the original, but for the first time all night I had the sense that the song had grown, not shrunk. Dylan’s comfort came through nobly, he dropped his tough front, and even in the clippedy clip way he ran down the words one could feel him feeling his way, wringing the song, and himself, almost dry. He must have felt good, because he swag­gered a bit when he took his bows, lifting his hands in a triumphant wave.

The Band came on again for several numbers. They took no chances with the crowd. Every song sounded just like the record, and they sustained the tension of each song right up until the last chord. The tone of Richard Manuel’s voice, I have in my notes, was “precise and coarse, as op­posed to Dylan — changing, unpredictable, solitary, weird.”

Dylan returned and ran through a slow version of “Forever Young,” from his new album, as well as “Something There Is About You.” Then he and the Band broke into “Like a Rolling Stone,” the lights came up, and all hell broke loose, kids in the aisles, all the magic and madness of one of the all-time great rock and roll songs. They didn’t rush the song, but didn’t loaf either. It came off perfectly, a real New York song bringing back everything the crowd had come to hear: all about innocence and discovery, self-imposed hardship and coping, a romantic vision or a romantic period in the lives of many in the crowd. Jesus, it was great.

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Dylan’s appeal was always, and still is, to the white middle class. The concert crowd came dressed shabbily, elegantly, all the ways that people who can afford the choice turn themselves out. They lit up $40 an ounce grass, snorted coke, flashed gold rings and fancy boots, wore pre-faded jeans and ex­pensive Indian jewelry, snapped pictures with the most expensive photographic equipment money can buy. Any Dylan fan who griped about the $9.50 high ticket, or who called on millionaire Bob for a “free” concert is guilty of not having listened to the songs they were screaming for all night. For the songs of Bob Dylan are thick with all the contradictions, all the weirdness and schizophrenia of growing up middle-class, of looking for romance in poverty, on the highway, or bumming around and returning to from whence he (and they) came.

Dylan told Rolling Stone magazine, “Now it’s the me again.” If there is one thing true about Bob Dylan over the years, it’s that he is in never ending state of flux. There is no new Dylan or old Dylan or country Dylan or Edge Dylan. There is simply Dylan, and listening to him live gives one some idea of the dimensions of his brilliance, fallibility, strength, weakness, pain, and triumphs. He has been constantly growing and expanding, just as he grew in concert from a faulty, un­certain start to an incredible, fiery end. If he at times disappoints his critics, he never has ceased to amaze them.

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And finally, watching and listening to Dylan the other night — and on records since then — has made me realize how desperately we want our heroes to be self-destructive, as if only by living recklessly can they show us their essential humanity, their impermanence and mortality. I remember when “Nashville Skyline” and “Self Portrait” were released, how the critics and the fans seized on them to prove that Dylan’s long absence from the scene, his retreat to Woodstock, had mellowed him out, left him without the old edge he showed in “Blonde on Blonde” or “Highway 61 Revisited.” God, how they moaned and groaned, as if Dylan had somehow deserted, never to return. Here was Dylan singing country — which had roots in racism and bigotry, the critics chanted. And here was Dylan on “Self Portrait” rhyming “moon” with “June.” All of it was inex­cusable, without redeeming value. Where was the old Dylan, with his moral lefts and protest rights, his haunting images and incisive social criticism?

It’s an old story. We read about Zelda and Fitzgerald now, and shake our heads and say, Christ, what a shame, but what a life they led! And we read about Jackson Pollock, and shake our heads and say, gee, too bad about his drinking and his craziness, but look at all the fantastic art he produced! Now the same sort of head-shaking and tongue-clucking appreciation is being shown for Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. One figures everyone would be more happy with Dylan’s extensive, if uneven, body or work if he, too, were dead. Then we couldn’t lean back, turn up the volume, and talk among ourselves about all the speed and acid he must have done, back in the days when he wrote the songs we remember him best for.

Well, life sometimes doesn’t work out that way. Despite the morbidity of hero worship, our expectation is that the great should live up to our worst fantasies and best lies. Bob Dylan has simply settled down with a wife and kids. He eats vegetables. He drinks wine. By all counts, he dotes on the goodness and wholeness of family life. In his most recent songs, he appears to thank his wife for saving his life.

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One can hardly blame Dylan for having opted for life, for having quit his life out there on the Edge — all the late night craziness and running around, the terrible manic existence he is said to have before his motorcycle accident. On Wednesday night, he seemed skit­tish, of the past which stares him in the face every time he runs back through the stark chronicle of his life in song. And so some of those songs were performed, not sung.

“But who can blame him?” said one old friend of his. “At least he took his chances, pushing things, letting it go. The Band just did their records. Dylan wouldn’t settle for that.”

So as usual, Bob Dylan is growing in his own way, at his own speed. The songs on his new album, the laid-back celebrations of being a father, life at home, and his ongoing love ballad to his wife, they all seem so calm, so content and full. The craziness, the pain, the weirdness — all are missing. Perhaps someday we’ll catch up. And maybe then, we too will stop acting forever young, and have it within us to wish it on someone else.


Rock & Roll: The Music of ‘Easy Rider’

Rock & Roll: Movie Music
July 24, 1969

In the second scene of the Peter Fonda–Dennis Hopper film Easy Rider there is a cameo part for Phil Spector. The scene takes place at a small airport and involves a silent transaction in which Spector buys an enormous quantity of dope from our two cycling heroes — some white powder that can be sniffed, probably cocaine. Spector, looking freaky as ever in a huge Rolls — one reviewer commented that he looked very gangsterish — ducks every time a plane takes off. Then he tests the merchandise and seems to relax. Apparently, his ears have taken over: the roar of the engines, which has always been present, suddenly seems oppressively loud, filling the theatre and, incredibly, even the screen, dominating the visuals in a Phil Spector apotheosis, an almost literal wall of sound. Spector looks safe as milk. Cut to Fonda and Hopper on their motorcycles, winding away from the scene of their financial triumph as a familiar guitar line comes over the soundtrack. Soon, John Kay of Steppenwolf is singing “The Pusher.”

Fonda and Hopper are rock fans and they are friendly with rock musicians. But neither could be described as a music head — Hopper, who took most of the responsibility for the music, doesn’t even collect records — and that is interesting, because Easy Rider is the only film I know that not only uses rock well — though that is rare enough — but also does justice to its spirit. Clearly, the spirit of rock — and now I am talking about the American variant; that the English usually refer to it as “pop” is significant in this context — is not so much the culmination of a form as of a subculture. It would be difficult if not impossible to understand this subculture without intelligent reference to the music. In fact, Easy Rider is a double rarity — not only does it use rock successfully, it also treats the youth-dropout thing successfully. You can’t have one without the other.

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So few movies use rock correctly because the people that make movies, who are even more avaricious and ignorant than the people who sell records, lust after the extra profits of a soundtrack album, which means commissioning one composer, or group, to do a mostly instrumental score. Rock composers don’t work well on order and aren’t good at background music — when they try (John Sebastian on You’re a Big Boy Now or Harry Nillson on Skidoo!) their results are even more insipid than those of the pros. (Booker T. Jones was able to write a superb score for Uptight! because the M.G.s are not a vocal group — though Booker’s vocal debut in the film was suspicious — and because his experience in the Stax studios prepared him for such an effort.) The results have been somewhat better in theme songs (Roger McGuinn’s “Child of the Universe,” Paul Simon’s “Mrs. Robinson”) but even in that area the same strictures apply; songs-to-order are a drag. Thus far, I know of only two cases in which a rock composer has hired out to do an even passable score. Both were English and both, properly, used at least half a dozen songs and a minimum of la-dee-daa: Mike Hugg (of Manfred Mann) on Up the Junction, and Spencer Davis and Stevie Winwood on Here We Go Round the Mulberry Bush. The music for Wild in the Streets, by Gerry Goffin and Carole King, both music industry pros rather than inspired amateurs, was also pretty good, but the performances (remember Max Frost?) were lousy. (It was better than Privilege, though.)

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Movies can use rock in other ways, of course. There have been a number of good music movies — the Beatle flicks and Monterey Pop (which has a much superior rock and roll predecessor, The TAMI Show, released in 1965 and starring — get ready — the Beach Boys, Marvin Gaye, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, James Brown, and the Rolling Stones; it was shot black-and-white on videotape and has either disappeared or disintegrated; if the former, someone should find it and exhibit it. Some underground film-makers have used rock well without paying for it (no profits, no lawsuit): the Everly Brothers can be heard in the background of Andy Warhol’s Poor Little Rich Girl, and Warren Sonbert has juxtaposed the naïve formalism of the various girl groups to his own young-jaded formlessness. Antonioni in Blow-Up and Lester in Petulia have misused rock to epitomize some vague aspect of our Decaying Culture, but at least they had the taste to choose good rock (the Yardbirds, Big Brother, the Grateful Dead). But in Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets, a scrupulously realistic movie which involves considerable driving around the freeways in a Mustang with the radio blaring, the radio station apparently programs directly off an 87-cent dance party record picked up at Rexall.

The reason Bogdanovich couldn’t have real music is that his budget is small and re-use rates tend to be prohibitive. Yet I wonder. Bogdanovich is a hip young guy, not some disciplined brassiere manufacturer, and his movie was honest and interesting. I feel certain he could have screened the movie for enough groups to find a few who were willing to give him a break. On a higher level — he used songs by Steppenwolf, the Band, the Byrds, Jimi Hendrix, and the Electric Flag, and he needed specific songs, not just snatches of background music — that was Hopper’s method, and only the Band soaked him a little (in their warm Woodstock way, of course). He took the trouble because he knew it was worth the trouble. (He didn’t take the trouble with billboards, which also can’t be reproduced without permission, and the film is doubtless worse for it; I am a billboard freak as well as a music freak). He resisted pressure to commission a soundtrack because he understood the profound emotional value of known songs. He knew he could not make his movie honestly without real music.

In many respects, Easy Rider is similar to Nothing But a Man which contracted its music from Motown. Both films are low-budget treatments of oppressed subcultures that rely on music for cohesion and spiritual succor. In both films, the music references are somewhat literary; in Nothing But a Man there is a mock fistfight during Mary Wells’ “You Beat Me to the Punch,” and in Easy Rider“Born to Be Wild” plays as the heroes hit the road. That’s okay even if it is romantic and unsophisticated. The music is romantic and unsophisticated, too, finally, and it would take a convolutionist who would make Warren Sonbert look like Sam Goldwyn to deal with the Byrds in as carefully distanced a way as Sonbert has dealt with the Supremes.

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It’s also okay because the message of the movie — like the message of the music — is itself romantic and unsophisticated. American rock has always had a love-hate thing with technology (its message is so often pastoral, but its medium is intractably electric) and with America itself (the message once again negative and the form positive). Easy Rider, with its central image of two longhairs on gleaming chrome motorcycles, one decorated with stars and stripes, following the road through an otherwise unspoiled American West of buttes and deserts and benevolent patches of green, embodies the same dichotomy with reference to the same subculture. It has the same youth romanticism, too, glorifying the outcasts and detesting and fearing the straights. You could even say that its dark side was anticipated spiritually by all those teen death songs that don’t seem quite so funny after all. Think about it: isn’t Tom Hayden the leader of the pack?


Bob Dylan’s Opening Night

CHICAGO – Brother Spider and his Side Buster. That’s what the hand-lettered sign on the fork-lift truck says. It’s 2 o’clock Thursday afternoon when Brother Spider, the man at the wheel, drives the Side Buster through the backstage gate of the Chicago Stadium with half a ton of red carpeting on his fork.

Brother Spider is part of the regular Chicago Stadium work crew. Most the winter they wax the floor for the Bulls or ice it for the Blackhawks. This afternoon they’re laying down red carpet for Bob Dylan.

And the Side Buster?

“The brother call it The Side Buster because one day someone don’t open up the gate fast enough for him and he bust a hole through it,” one of the stadium security guards explains to me.

I’m hanging around with the security guards in the backstage perimeter of the Stadium hoping they’ll think I belong so I can be around when Dylan arrives for his final rehearsal.

Workmen shoulder cases of fine wine into the dressing rooms on the left. The Side Buster passes through the gate with a fork-lift full of blue velvet.

And over the to right stands a strange cubicle looking fresh and delicate amidst grimy Bull and Blackhawk apparatus. The red carpet and the blue velvet were faded rental items, but this snow-white cubicle looks freshly built and freshly painted. TUNING ROOM says a sign on the side of the boxlike little room. The door is slightly open and inside I can glimpse tables set with white tablecloths.

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I’m edging over to see what else is in the TUNING ROOM when the normal stadium din is pierced by the articulate roar of Bill Graham, Dylan’s guardian angel for his tour.

“I SAID I WANT ALL PRESS TO GET THE FUCK OUT OF THIS BUILDING UNTIL 6 P.M.,” says Graham, pursuing two camera men and a reporter he’s flushed out from the stage area.

“THAT MEANS STAY THE FUCK OUT TILL 6 P.M. IN ENGLISH,” Graham explains, pointing with outstretched arms the way out Gate 3 1/2.

Unwilling to jeopardize my lone hard-won press ticket (I had to stab at least one other Voice contributor in the back to make sure I got it), I retreat from the TUNING ROOM door and slip out Gate 3 1/2 myself.

That’s when I met Adam.

Adam Knyght is his performing name and once he sang with Bob Dylan. Well, not exactly.

Adam is a back-up musician. Last August down in Muscle Shoals, Alabama, Adam played back-up harmonica and sang back-up vocals for Barry Goldberg who himself does back-up work for Bob Dylan. Dylan was down in Muscle Shoals helping produce Barry Goldberg’s first solo album, and that’s where Adam met him, he says.

Adam became close to Dylan that summer, he says. Dylan tried out some new songs for him, Adam says, got high with him in his van. They had some heavy raps together last summer, says Adam.

This afternoon Adam is waiting outside the Chicago Stadium Gates in 12 degree cold, hoping to get inside to see his old friend Bob. He’s driven 1000 miles from his tem­porary home in Montreal to be here for the start of the tour, and it’s not hard to see he’s dreaming that Bob will invite him along.

When he sees me scurrying out of Gate 3 1/2, Adam asks me if Dylan is inside.

“No, the rehearsal won’t start for an hour or so, but Dylan’s asked Graham to keep all outsiders out,” I reply.

“That’s okay,” says Adam, “Once he sees me, Bob’ll remember me from Muscle Shoals. He’ll probably let me in,” says Adam. Adam is 20 years old.

Adam suggests we drive around in his van listening to Dylan tapes until rehearsal time. Adam’s van is equipped with a powerful cassette machine and a powerful lid of dope.

Adam turns on “Blonde on Blonde” and “Visions of Johanna” comes on. The van turns on Halstead Street and the dope comes on.

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Adam turns out to have some interesting, if not entirely believable, first second and third hand tales to tell about his old friend Bob.

First the third hand story, because it’s the biggest if it’s true. There’s been a rumor going around that Dylan plans to give all his profits from this tour, every cent to Israel.

“Down in Muscle Shoals I remember Dylan tellin’ me how Israel is the only civilized place in the world,” Adam says.

“Civilized, that’s the word he used?”

“Yeah,” says Adam, “he told this story about how he was at this kibbutz and he would stand around outside and listen to them chant the prayers in the evening and wish he could be part of it.”

“He didn’t take part?”

“He said he stood outside and listened.”

Now for The Second Hand Story. It starts with organ boxes and ends with love, but it’s really about Dylan’s wife Sarah.

“Sarah is wonderful,” Adam says rapturously, “She has such an aura. You know she’s the one who pulled him through after the accident. She’s got some incredible aura. She’s so mystical, and she’s into everything. I remember in Muscle Shoals she was talking about getting him one of those boxes for collecting cosmic energy — what do they call them?”

“You don’t mean an orgone box?”

That’s it,” says Adam.

“You know,” says Adam continuing, “that he’s writing all his songs for Sarah now. There was one he tried out for us in Muscle Shoals — it was the best love song he ever wrote — a new one, and when he finished singing he looked around and said ‘I wish she coulda heard it.’ ”

“What’s it called?”

“I can’t remember if it had a name then,” says Adam.

Finally the first hand story. Adam and Dylan were getting high together in the van at Muscle Shoals. “He opened up to me about his religion,” Adam says. “He’s getting into being Jewish and Bobby Zimmerman and all that, but he said his real religion was the sun.”

“The sun?”

“Being like the sun. Getting up every day. But then he said something about how his real religion was getting into himself, that he’d gone you know so far into himself to escape from being a star, he was so scared of being a star, wheels on fire and all that, that he’d gone so far into a hole in himself that he’s finally come out the other side.”

“Like a black hole in space,” I said.

“What’s that?” says Adam.

“A black hole is what happens when a star collapses.”

“A star collapses, huh?” says Adam.

“Some people say it’s a hole into another kind of universe. I don’t think it comes out a star on the other side, but then again maybe it comes out another kind of sun, or son but the sun is still a star and—”

“You been smoking too much, man,” says Adam. “Maybe we ought to head back and see if we catch Bob.”

He turns the cassette machine up. We start singing along at the top of our voices. By the time the van finds its way back through the West Side ghetto to the Chicago Stadium again we are hoarse from singing the rest of “Blonde on Blonde” and the entire “Greatest Hits Volume I” tape, the one that ends with “I Want You,” “Positively 4th Street,” and “Just Like a Woman.”

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Adam and I stumble around the back of the stadium and head for Gate 3 1/2. As we round the corner we can see the gate itself has been rolled down shut, but two huge vehicles have drawn up flanking.

On the near side of the gate a glossy black Fleetwood Limousine sits silent and immobile. On the far side of the gate stands a huge gold and white “Recreational Vehicle.”

A sign on the door of the big mobile home says “The American Camper: America’s Largest Indoor Showroom.”

“Bob’s in there,” says Adam.

I’m skeptical, but the camper does have California plates (306 GLC) and Dylan and the Band have been living in Malibu lately.

“When he comes out I’ll let him know I’m here,” says Adam.

The door of the camper opens. A couple of familiar looking musicians jump down and walk into the stadium through a small door beside the closed gate. No Bob.

But the camper door remains open, and there’s some shadowy movement in the interior recesses.

“He’s scared to come out, he’s petrified of doing this tour,” says Adam.

A figure steps out into the door­way of the camper. It’s Bob Dylan. He seems to be fiddling with his guitar case. He looks out. He seems to notice he’s being watched. He disappears back into the “Indoor Showroom.”

“He hates performing,” says Adam.

Finally Dylan steps out into the wintry sunlight, blinks his eyes, and heads for the gate, carrying his black guitar case. He’s wearing brown corduroys, he got a brown knit scarf hanging around his neck like a tallish, and he looks like shy and sulky little Bobby Zimmerman, trudging off to Hebrew school to rehearse his bar mitzvah speech.

“He don’t look happy,” says Adam.

He don’t look up. He don’t look back. He don’t look at Adam either.

“Bob,” Adam calls out softly from six feet away. Bob doesn’t seem to hear. In fact he seems to shy away from the sound, and hurry faster through the door in the gate. A p.r. man appears from out of nowhere, hurries through behind Dylan, and signals us not follow.

Adam and I take turns pressing our noses against the small glass window in the gate-door, but all we can see inside are security guards and fork-lifts.

Adam and I stand outside the gate. Adam is at a loss. He’s trying to explain to himself why his old friend Bob didn’t take him in. Then Adam decides why.

“I know why,” he tells me. “It’s because of you. He hates the press. That’s why he turned away. He’s conditioned to look away when people say his name.”

But Adam is still optimistic. He takes out his ticket for the concert tonight.

“Look,” he says. “I got a box seat. Section B. That must be close enough. I hope it’s close enough. ’Cause if I can make eye contact with him during the concert, he’ll see me, he’ll give me a signal. All I gotta do is get his eye.”

Adam gives me a lift back to the Holiday Inn LSD, which is where we meet The Kid. The whole Dylan entourage except for Dylan himself is staying at the Holiday Inn LSD. (LSD stands for Lake Shore Drive, but several signs inside advertising the “Pinnacle Room” Rotating Rooftop Restaurant and the “Shake Rattle and Roll Revue of the ’50s and ’60s, featuring Las Vegas–style Tabletop dancing by Pierre and his Be-Be girls,” call the place “Holiday Inn LSD,” and the Maine restaurant is called “Mrs. Leary’s Barn,” so there’s reason aplenty to call it the “Holiday Inn LSD.”)

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Adam is playing “Greatest Hits Volume I” on his cassette machine in the elevator (we have decided to play more tapes and smoke more funny cigarettes to get ready for the show) when The Kid walks in.

The Kid says he’s come all the way from Boston for the concert. He asks to listen to the tapes with us and promises he’ll bring some coke to my room.

The Kid is so young and clean-cut Boston Irish looking we’re not sure if he means the stuff you snort or the stuff you drink, but 10 minutes later he shows up with the real thing.

The Kid tells us he’s 18 years old and just about the only Dylan freak he knows among kids his age. He sent away for tickets to the Boston concert, but didn’t get his letter postmarked in time.

“I was goin’ crazy thinkin’ I’d never get to see him, then my old lady somehow gets me a ticket to the opening concert and puts it in my stocking for Christmas, and it was like a dream come true.”

“So how come your girlfriend didn’t come along with you?” I ask the kid.

“What do you mean, my girlfriend?” the kid asks.

“You said your old lady put the ticket in your stocking and—”

“Yeah,” he said, “my old lady, my mother.”

“Your mother? I thought you were using that dumb California term for girlfriend, old lady.”

“No,” he says, “my girlfriend isn’t into Dylan. It’s my mother who is.”

We’re getting ready for the show. “Highway 61 Revisited” is careening through the cassette machine, and we’ve decided to leave for the stadium at the end of “Desolation Row.”

We’re all feeling great childlike rushes of anticipation. We all agree “Highway 61” is the best Dylan album of all. We all agree we want Dylan to do “Like a Rolling Stone” for his final encore. We all disagree over which is Dylans best love song (the Kid says it’s “Just Like a Woman,” I say it’s “I’ll Keep It with Mine,” Adam says it’s the mysterious song no name he heard Dylan sing down in Muscle Shoals). But we all agree we are the three greatest Dylan freaks of all time.

Halfway into “Highway 61” the Kid begins to freak with anticipation.

“It’s not gonna last. It’s not gonna last. I snorted this coke too soon. I’m getting this great rush now — Jesus — but it’s not gonna last till we get there. We gotta leave early enough. Dial the time number. We gotta make sure. We don’t wanta get caught in traffic.”

The Kid explains how lonely it’s been for him, the only Dylan freak his age among friends who are all into Quaaludes and Deep Purple, how he discovered old Dylan albums, how he tried to tell everybody but could not get across.

“Yeah,” says Adam to the Kid, “you became a Dylan freak when it looked like you’d never see him in the flesh. Like he was dead for you, and now suddenly you get to see him.”

“It was like a dream come true when I saw that ticket Christmas morning. I still can’t believe it’s gonna happen.”

“Yeah,” I say to the Kid. “For us it’s like going to see the Second Coming but for you it’s like you never saw the First.”

“Hey why don’t we get going. It’s almost 6. We gotta beat the traffic.”

“Yeah,” I say. “It can’t hurt to be early.”

“We gotta stay through the end of ‘Desolation Row.’ All the way to the end,” says Adam. “Dylan did.”


There’s no big brass bed on stage, but there is a double decker bunk, the kind that sleeps two, separately. There’s a comfy-looking over-stuffed sofa up there too, and an old-fashioned roll top desk, and a nice little wine-cooler type refrigerator.

There’s a crystal ball resting on top of the organ, candles flicker tastefully around it; Tiffany lamps illuminate it with a stained glass glow; and except for three tons of electronic amplification equipment the stage inside the Chicago Stadium looks like an intimate little living room. Or bedroom.

It’s like two ex-lovers planning to spend a night together for the first time in seven years, this reunion of Dylan and his American audience tonight. Do they act their ages for each other or do they revive aging acts?

Dylan comes on acting about three ages at once. He chooses to begin with a song he wrote 10 years ago when he was 22. It’s called “Hero Blues” and it’s about a woman who’s “the screaming end,” a lover who keeps demanding him to go out and perform more and more heroic feats for her, keeps pushing him closer and closer to the grave to provide her with entertainment.

It’s a song from Dylan’s acoustical folk day, but backed by the Band, he does it like a hard rock number from his pre-Accident electric period when he was 25. And behind it all is the sensibility and confidence of a 32-year-old post-Accident father of five warning his audience that no amount of screaming on their part is going to drive him to his screaming end again.

As for the audience, well, not even yours truly Mr. Jones here is paying attention to any of that shit about warnings at the time. The song’s obscure, we can barely make out the words, but we’re all sighing with relief and exhilaration: It’s really Dylan — he may have become an entirely different being in the past seven years but he can still remember the old times fondly enough to do a good imitation of himself back then. We begin to relax.

Then he does an electric “Lay Lady Lay” and the sighs of relief turn into sighs of pleasure.

He continues to play with his ages. He’s not singing “Lay Lady Lay” in the laid-back countrified way he did as a 29-year-old back in 1970. He’s doing it as a hard-rocking “Highway 61” type song, the kind he did when he was 24. It’s a lovely synthesis that lets him have his country pie and eat it too.

But having made his swift and effortless conquest of the audience Dylan suddenly seems to get cold feet. (A good part of the audience was also beginning to get cold feet about that time, but for a different reason: The main floor had been laid down over the hockey rink and if seems they don’t bother to melt the ice first.) Back to Dylan’s cold feet. As soon as he finished “Lay Lady Lay” he withdrew from the spotlight, retired to the rear of the stage near a hat rack, and played inconspicuous back-up guitar for several numbers by the Band.

After a while it began to look like Dylan had decided to do the rest of the concert as if he were just one of the boys in the Band. Having been promised so much by the first two numbers, the audience began to act a little restless, peering into the shadows to see if Dylan had disappeared. He was wearing black, and was hard to see back there. Scattered calls of “Where’s Bob?” could be heard.

Then something very nice hap­pened. The Band chose this moment to sing “Stage Fright.”

It’s a song about the fear “deep in the heart of a lonely kid/who suf­fered so much for what he did”; about how ever since the kid won “fortune and fame/Since that day he ain’t been the same.”

When they reach the refrain The Band seems to lean in and sing in the direction of the hat tree, where Dylan appeared to be hiding out:

Now see the man with the stage­ fright
Just standin up there to give it all his might
Now he got caught in the spotlight
(©Copyright Canaan Music)

The whole thing might have been ­staged for all I know, but I thought it was wonderful and whatever it was, it worked. Dylan steps back out front and center and starts singing again. And the song is “It Ain’t Me Babe.”

If it ain’t him, who is it? It ain’t shy little Bobby Zimmerman who’ stepped out of the mobile home this afternoon. It ain’t even the frightened tough guy Bob Dylan who wrote “It Ain’t Me Babe” when he was 23. It ain’t the “Win­terlude” dude of his most recent “Self Portrait” either. No it’s all of these rolled up into one 32-year-old guy who finally seems to know enough about who he is to play with who he was. After all, he was so much younger then, he’s older than that now. )

At this point the music starts to get very good and the whole evening begins to take off. Having warned us not to demand too much of him, Dylan proceeds to give us more than enough.

He does a short crackling version of “All Along the Watchtower” that’s meaner and rougher than the harmonic whine version on the “John Wesley Harding” album, but retains enough restraint to distinguish it from the thunder­storm abandon of the electric “Watchtower” Jimi Hendrix did before he died.

Then Dylan strides over to the electric piano and does a breathtaking version of “Ballad of a Thin Man,” the most wrathful melodramatic version I’ve ever heard. He seems to be reveling in the sheer malevolence of the song, piling snarl upon sneer into every­ curl of a line, looking like the Phantom of the Opera standing hunched over the piano pawing at the keys, overdoing it just enough to let you know he’s fooling around a little too, so that despite the anti-audience, anti-reporter, anti-per­former viciousness (“You hand in your ticket/And you go watch the geek…”) it’s impossible not to love him for the sound of it alone.

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Intermission time. The lights are up and I’m standing in the aisle talking to a magazine reporter. She says there’s something wrong with the audience, but she can’t figure out what. She says they don’t seem to be responding very passionately to Dylan, at least they aren’t making much noise.

I argue that what’s happening is that the audience is so passionate about Dylan they don’t want to let it show and scare him off the stage for another seven years. The audience is being tender and protective, not unresponsive. He’s warning them to keep certain distance and they’re responding with a kind of impassioned restraint. No need for yelling and wailing and wallowing when something like “Ballad of a Thin Man” stuns you into entranced silence.

She’s not convinced. She thinks the audience has outgrown Dylan or Dylan has outgrown the audien­ce.

Dylan must have visited the TUNING ROOM during intermis­sion: Or maybe an orgone box. He’s taken off his black sweater and put on a snow-white jacket. He looks a little like the ghostly Dylan who appeared in white at the Isle of Wight Festival back in 1969.

But he looks incandescent, rather than pale tonight. He appears to radiate that Reichian “light about the body.”

He starts heading backward in time, doing “The Times They Are a Changing,” then an astonishing “Song to Woody” from his very first album (” ’Bout a funny ol’ world that’s a comin’ along/It looks like it’s dyin’ but it’s hardly been born”) and “It’s All Right Ma” ‘(“He not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’ ”) from “Bringin’ It All Back Home.”

If you remember “It’s All Right Ma” from that 1965 album you’ll recall how Dylan barely had con­trol over the torturous path of the overwrought lyrics. I used to hate the song, think it was the worst he wrote. But tonight he has so much control over it, he does it with such rolling, declamatory authority that even the most awkward and pretentious lyrics seem suddenly graceful.

A reporter for the Manchester Guardian has been sitting next to me and we have been sharing dope and scotch throughout the concert. After “It’s All Right Ma” the Guard­ian man slaps his pen down on his note pad and says, “Uh, he is so fucking superb, I can’t write another bloody thing.”

Everything is falling into place now. It all seems so well timed. First the black-garbed, half-seduc­tive half-paranoid opening, acting out his ages and playing with them. Then the white-garbed trip back to his “Ma” and his ghostly Pa (Woody). And finally the new love songs.

He sang three of them, and the last one, I was sure, was the mysterious Song With No Name Adam told me Dylan had sung for Sarah last summer; the song has a name now. It’s called “Something There Is About You” and it’s the best love song Dylan’s written, I think, since “I’ll Keep It With Mine.”

Most of the other new stuff is a little too restrained and mature for my taste now. Maybe five years from now when I’m 32 I’ll like “Forever Young.” Ask me then. I like “Something There Is About You” right now. I don’t know much about maturity but I know what I like.


It almost ended perfectly. For his second encore Dylan put his black sweater back on, came back, and did what everyone had been waiting for him to do all evening. He did “Like a Rolling Stone.”

He didn’t do it as well as he’d done “Ballad of a Thin Man,” but he did it and that’s what counted.

When he finished all that restraint was abandoned. The place went wild.

“I don’t think I’ve ever heard a louder noise,” said the man from the Manchester Guardian.

A totally satisfying climax to the evening. Nothing could top it. Dylan and the Band walked off stage. They should have been al­lowed to call it a night and leave in peace.

But then something spoiled it. That impassioned ovation for “Like a Rolling Stone” began to turn into a demand for another encore. Instead of being allowed to die a natural death it swelled into more foot stomping, more match burning, more compulsive clap­ping — a lot more.

Finally some spotlights came on again. Dylan and the Band walked back on stage. Slowly, this time.

We had put them in a position where they couldn’t refuse — they couldn’t afford to appear ungenerous on the first night of the tour. And yet we were supposed to have grown old enough to know when we’d had enough and when they’d had enough. We didn’t.

They did. They acted slightly sul­len, I thought, as they prepared for their final number. Dylan had trouble strapping his electric guitar back on. And the farewell song they played turned out to be an ill-tempered, discordant, mean-­spirited version of a fairly obscure song from “Blonde on Blonde.”

It’s called “Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way, I’ll Go Mine.”

“I can’t do what I done before,” Dylan sings, but he knows that he will.

“It can’t be this way everywhere,” he pleads, but he knows that it is.

CULTURE ARCHIVES From The Archives From The Archives MUSIC ARCHIVES Pazz & Jop

1975 Pazz & Jop: It’s Been a Soft Year for Hard Rock

As per tradition, let me open this discussion with my own personal top 30 for 1975, arrived at with more travail than seems healthy to me.

1. Bob Dylan/The Band: “The Basement Tapes” 24. 2. Neil Young: “Tonight’s the Night” 11. 3. Steely Dan: “Katy Lied” 10. 4. James Talley: “Got No Bread, No Milk, No Money, But We Sure Got a Lot of Love” 10. 5. Bob Dylan: “Blood on the Tracks” 10. 6. Toots and the Maytals: “Funky Kingston” 8. 7. Elton John: “Rock of the Westies” 8. 8. Bob Marley and the Wailers: “Natty Dread” 8. 9. Patti Smith: “Horses” 6. 10. Bonnie Raitt: “Home Plate” 5.

11. Roxy Music: “Siren.” 12. Bruce Springsteen: “Born to Run.” 13. Lynyrd Skynyrd: “Nuthin’ Fancy.” 14. Neil Young: “Zuma.” 15. Eno: “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy).” 16. The Band: “Northern Lights — Southern Cross. 17. “Fleetwood Mac.” 18. Amazing Rhythm Aces: “Stacked Deck.” 19. Gary Stewart: “Out of Hand.” 20. Manfred Mann’s Earth Band: “Nightingales & Bombers.”

21. Terry Garthwaite: “Terry.” 22. Loudon Wainwright III: “Unrequited.” 23. John Prine: “Common Sense.” 24. Randall Bramblett: “The Other Mile.” 25. “K.C. and the Sunshine Band.” 26. Shirley and Company: “Shame Shame Shame.” 27. Pink Floyd: “Wish You Were Here.” 28. Al Green: “Al Green Is Love.” 29. The Meters: “Cissy Strut.” 30. Leon Redbone: “On the Track.”

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A lot of my colleagues are feeling beamish with power these days; this has been a good year for rock and roll, they tell me, burping contentedly after trying to fit 13 records onto their 10-place ballot for this year’s Pazz & Jop Critics Poll. I disagree, and I think Pazz & Jop illustrates why. Look carefully at the results for a moment; I did not choose the figure 13 arbitrarily. Roughly speaking, that is where the critical consensus stops short. Not that any of the 38 participating critics chose from precisely those 13 records on which the consensus arrived. But those were the possibilities that dominated our collective mind; with the inevitable exceptions (especially vehement on Patti Smith, who is not much appreciated outside of New York, at least not yet; more weary and widespread on Roxy Music, who understandably leave many listeners cold, and the Who, whom even admirers of the present LP suspect of moribundity) people who apply aesthetic standards to “rock” agree that all 13 are “good records” of one sort or another.

In contrast, consider the next three finishers. Paul Simon’s staunchest fans will admit that “Still Crazy” represents a slip — the controversy is over how big a slip. “Red Headed Stranger” is a cosmic cowboy cult record. And while “Fleetwood Mac” is very, very pleasant, as my own list attests, it most certainly garnered its votes as “good listening” rather than “good art.”

Since rock criticism is determinedly hedonistic, that distinction still doesn’t go down with some participants, who insist that what they listen to is identical to what is good. Lester Bangs voted for “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!” and “Metal Machine Music” because he played them more than he did “Blood on the Tracks”; Vince Aletti omitted “Al Green Is Love” because he filed it away after admiring it a few times. But more than ever the results represent a kind of balance. What mattered was not only what we’d been playing, but also how much a record had to give when it did reach our turntables.

Which brings us back to the lucky 13. Look at the titles again — a rather limited selection, wouldn’t you say? Two each from Bob Dylan (numero uno), Roxy Music (critic’s band), and Neil Young (genuine comeback, hooray). An album by numero uno’s band. Old faves the Who, new faves Steely Dan. Token blackness from two of the three single-artist reggae LPs released in America in 1975, one of them a compilation stretching back more than half a decade for its goodies. And two critic’s records, one an enormous — frightening, I’d say — commercial success, the other as yet unproved among people in general. Charley Walters — who voted for “Diamond Head,” by Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera — looks over his list and experiences some disquiet: “It makes me feel as though I spent the entire year listening to Dylan and Roxy.”

In 1974, the top 13 were not so sharply demarcated from what came below, and there were really 13 of them: Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Randy Newman, Stevie Wonder, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan and the Band, Roxy Music, Jackson Browne, Eric Clapton, New York Dolls, Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, the Raspberries.

Admittedly, part of this year’s narrowness reflects nonoutput by Newman, Wonder, the Stones, and Browne, all of whom will be back. But it also reflects the death of Parsons and the break-up of the Dolls (now semi-reunited and looking for a contract) and the Raspberries (a fluke anyway, I suppose — leader Eric Carmen’s solo album of this year received just one mention). And it reminds us of how badly Joni Mitchell (two mentions), Linda Ronstadt (also two mentions, albeit such enthusiastic ones that she placed number 26), and Eric Clapton (one mention for his studio LP, two for his live) let us down this year. Two fine LPs from Neil Young don’t quite compensate for all of that.

Of course, I could be reading too much into this. A certain ebb and flow is to be expected, and I have no doubt that some of the artists who were disappointments in 1975 will surprise me pleasantly in 1976 or 1979. But there’s more reason for my gloom; you can find it in the point values I assigned in my own Pazz & Jop ballot: “The Basement Tapes” 24, “Tonight’s the Night” 11… There were 12 albums vying for my top 10, but only one of them had the earmark of greatness — the same album that also dominated the Pazz & Jop consensus by a wide margin. This album was never intended to be an album at all, which is fine with me — I’m not much of a studiolator myself. But it has to be just a little depressing to people that the accident occurred in 1967.

I made the counterargument myself when the set appeared last summer: it would have been the best of 1967, too. I think so. But it is significant how utterly “The Basement Tapes” dwarfs even the most courageous music to come out of this year, this time. “Tonight’s the Night” and “Horses” — both uncompromising records — sound puny and desperate in comparison. They lack the utopian edge, that hint of cultural possibility, that gives the realism of “The Basement Tapes” its agreeably wry flavor. Realism is narrower now, more personal, and so 1975 produced 13 “good records” by 10 artists plus a lot of (often excellent but nevertheless) personalized taste.

This fact embarrasses critics a little, I think — Jerry Leichtling told me he omitted “The Basement Tapes” to make his list more contemporary, and others commented that they didn’t want to list two records by one artist. Which is to say, the consensus could have been even broader. As I compiled it was not clear for a while which of the top four would pull ahead. I was surprised and gratified by Patti Smith’s strong showing (which came almost entirely from New York in what is purposely a New York-dominated poll — a late vote from Larry Rohter of the Washington Post would have put Springsteen back in second) and slightly embarrassed by Springsteen’s. But I was worried by both, because the two records seem to me to typify the inevitable insularity of criticism.

Taking a lead from MIT prof and former Rolling Stone reviewer Langdon Winner, who came out of semi-retirement in the Real Paper to point out that “Born to Run” represents the formalization of all rock’s rebel precepts, I have to believe that neither Springsteen’s sense of history nor his saving vulgarity contributes as much to his popularity as the subliminal promise of aesthetic safety he offers. And while the acceptance of Patti Smith signifies the receptivity of rock’s critical establishment to music that is genuinely avant-garde in roots and intent, that does not obliterate two objections: one, that Smith’s avant-gardism is second-hand, semi-realized, or both — I’m not convinced that many of the critics who like her work are qualified to judge how vanguard it really is; and two, that the popular appeal of Smith’s music may be limited to those who want to think of themselves as avant-garde, critics included. I’m not saying I believe this myself; I don’t think I do. But the possibility remains, and I think it’s much too early to declare “Horses” any kind of masterpiece. The victory of “The Basement Tapes” represents the bitter truth about a year that was equivocal at best; I’ll always settle for that.

This was a bad year for black music, especially on albums; if I’d contacted more critics specializing in black music — next year I will — I’m sure the Harold Melvin album would have done even better, but after that it’s Earth, Wind & Fire, the equivalent of Fleetwood Mac. It was also an excellent year for country music, with four albums making the top 30 as opposed to one last year. In the case of each fringe I think this is largely a matter of care in making the albums inconsistent at best, while country artists are just beginning to catch on to the great “Sgt. Pepper”/Otis Redding album-as-work-of-art tradition.

Pazz & Jop was expanded this year; due to my own bad organization, I didn’t reach as many critics as I would have liked. Critics who don’t know a lot of other critics are the best corrective to critical cliquishness, though a certain penchant for the obvious does tend to result as well. Last year 24, this year 38, next year 52? And maybe someone named Brenda to help me with the tabulations.

Meanwhile, thanks to all voters, plus a few sample ballots below if there’s room: Vince Aletti, Lester Bangs, Patrick Carr, Georgia Christgau, Ben Edmonds, Ken Emerson, Danny Fields, Ben Gerson, Toby Goldstein, Peter Herbst, Robert Hilburn, Stephen Holden, Lenny Kaye, Jerry Leichtling, Greil Marcus, Dave Marsh, Janet Maslin, Ira Mayer, Bruce Meyer, Jim Miller, John Morthland, Fred Murphy, Paul Nelson, Wayne Robins, Lisa Robinson, John Rockwell, Frank Rose, Mitchell Schneider, Bud Scoppa, Tom Smucker, Geoffrey Stokes, John Swenson, Ken Tucker, Mark von Lehmden, Charley Walters, Ed Ward, James Wolcott.

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Other Critics Pick Their Hits

PATRICK CARR: 1. “Red Headed Stranger” 20. 2. “The Basement Tapes” 15. 3. Delbert McClinton: “Victim of Life’s Circumstances” 15. 4. “Natty Dread” 10. 5. “Dreaming My Dreams” 10. 6. “Horses” 10. 7. Allen Toussaint: “Southern Nights” 5. 8. Robert Palmer: “Sneakin’ Sally Through the Alley” 5. 9. Bad Company: “Straight Shooter” 5. 10. “Funky Kingston” 5.

VINCE ALETTI: 1. Silver Convention: “Save Me” 10. 2. Donna Summer: “Love to Love You Baby” 10. 3. Smokey Robinson: “A Quiet Storm” 10. 4. “To Be True” 10. 5. The O’Jays: “Family Reunion” 10. 6. “That’s the Way of the World” 10. 7. “The Salsoul Orchestra” 10. 8. Barabbas: “Heart of the City” 10. 9. “The Trammps” 10. 10. Bohannon: “Insides Out” 10.

TOM SMUCKER: 1. Shirley and Company: “Shame Shame Shame” 20. 2. Evie Sands: “Estate of Mind” 20. 3. “Prisoner in Disguise” 15. 4. “Stacked Deck” 10. 5. Pink Floyd: “Man Shakes Hands With Man on Fire” 10. 6. Commodores: “Caught in the Act” 5. 7. “Horses” 5. 8. “Red Headed Stranger” 5. 9. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 5. 10. The Miracles: “City of Angels” 5.

LESTER BANGS: 1. “Horses” 30. 2. The Dictators: “The Dictators Go Girl Crazy!” 20. 3. “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” 15. 4. “Born to Run” 5. 6. David Bowie: “Young Americans” 5. 7. Lou Reed: “Metal Machine Music” 5. 7. “That’s the Way of the World” 5. 8. Kraftwerk: “Autobahn” 5. 9. “Country Life” 5. 10. “Funky Kingston” 5.

ED WARD: 1. Elvin Bishop: “Juke Joint Jump” 22. 2. “Dreaming My Dream” 20. 3. “The Basement Tapes” 10. 4. Asleep at the Wheel: “Texas Gold” 10. 5. “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” 7. 6. Man: “Slow Motion” 7. 7. “Tonight’s the Night” 7. 8. “Out of Hand” 6. 9. “Natty Dread” 6. 10. Betty Wright: “Danger High Voltage” 5.

GREIL MARCUS: 1. “The Basement Tapes” 17. “Katy Lied” 15. 3. “Blood on the Tracks” 14. 4. “Got No Bread…” 12. 5. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 12. 6. “Siren” 10. 7. “Funky Kingston” 5. 8. “Natty Dread” 5. 9. “Tonight’s the Night” 5. 10. “Born to Run” 5.

GEOFFREY STOKES: 1. “The Basement Tapes” 23. 2. “Tonight’s the Night” 12. 3. “Blood on the Tracks” 11. 4. “Horses” 10. 5. “Funky Kingston” 10. 6. Rod Stewart: “Atlantic Crossing” 8. 7. Bonnie Raitt: “Home Plate” 8. 8. “Stacked Deck” 7. 9. Tut Taylor: “The Old Post Office” 6. 10. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 5.

FRED MURPHY: 1. “That’s the Way of the World” 10. 2. “Revelation” 10. 3. Natalie Cole: “Inseparable” 10. 4. Labelle: “Phoenix” 10. 5. The Pointer Sisters: “Steppin’ ” 10. 6. “Rufus Featuring Chaka Khan” 10. 7. Isaac Hayes: “Chocolate Chip” 10. 8. The Isley Brothers: “The Heat Is On” 10. 9. “To Be True” 10. 10. Roberta Flack: “Feel Like Makin’ Love” 10.

JAMES WOLCOTT: 1. “Horses” 18. 2. “The Basement Tapes” 13. 3. “Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy)” 13. 4. “The Who by Numbers” 12. 5. “Blood on the Tracks” 10. 6. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 10. 7. “Katy Lied” 7. 8. Elton John: “Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy” 7. 9. Born to Run 5. 10. “Beserkley Chartbusters Volume 1” 5.

FRANK ROSE: 1. “Blood on the Tracks” 14. 2. “Horses” 14. 3. “Funky Kingston” 13. 4. “Born to Run” 13. 5. “Zuma” 11. 6. Ronnie Lane: “Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance” 9. 7. Joni Mitchell: “The Hissing of Summer Lawns” 8. 8. Millie Jackson: “Still Caught Up” 7. 9. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 6. 10. “The Basement Tapes” 5.

JERRY LEICHTLING: 1. “Blood on the Tracks” 15. 2. “Tonight’s the Night” 13. 3. Marlena Shaw: “Who is this Bitch Anyway?” 12. 4. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 12. 5. “Katy Lied” 10. 6. Jan Hammer: “The First Seven Days” 10. 7. Melissa Manchester: “Melissa” 9. 8. Larry Coryell: “The 11th House: Level One” 8. 9. Leon Redbone: “On the Track” 6. 10. “Funky Kingston” 5.

LENNY KAYE: 1. “Physical Graffiti” 10. 2. “Tonight’s the Night” 10. 3. “Blow by Blow” 10. 4. “The Basement Tapes” 10. 5. “Natty Dread” 10. 6. Steve Harley & Cockney Rebels: “The Best Years of Our Lives” 10. 7. Albert Ayler: “Witches and Devils” 10. 8. “Beserkley Chartbusters” 10. 9. “Horses” 10. 10. “Siren” 10.

CHARLEY WALTERS: 1. “Country Life” 13. 2. “The Basement Tapes” 13. 3. Phil Manzanera: “Diamond Head” 12. 4. “Physical Graffiti” 11. 5. “Siren” 11. 6. “Katy Lied” 10. 7. “Blood on the Tracks” 9. 8. “Hummingbird” 8. 9. “The Who by Numbers” 7. 10. Mahavishnu Orchestra: “Visions of the Emerald Beyond” 6.

JANET MASLIN: 1. “Blood on the Tracks” 15. 2. “Still Crazy After All These Years” 15. 3. “Katy Lied” 13. 4. “The Basement Tapes” 13. 5. Bee Gees: “Main Course” 10. 6. “To Be True” 8. 7. “Born to Run” 8. 8. “Ian Hunter” 6. 9. Millie Jackson: “Still Caught Up” 6. 10. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 6.

PAUL NELSON: 1. “Born to Run” 13. 2. “Zuma” 13. 3. “Red Headed Stranger” 13. 4. “The Basement Tapes: 13. 5. “Blood on the Tracks” 13. 6. “Tonight’s the Night” 9. 7. “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” 9. 8. “The Who by Numbers” 7. 9. Rod Stewart: “Atlantic Crossing” 5. 10. Elliott Murphy: “Lost Generation” 5.

Top 10 Albums of 1975

1. Bob Dylan/The Band: “The Basement Tapes” (Columbia)

2. Patti Smith: “Horses” (Arista)

3. Bruce Springsteen: “Born to Run” (Columbia)

4. Bob Dylan: “Blood on the Tracks” (Columbia)

5. Neil Young: “Tonight’s the Night” (Reprise)

6. Steely Dan: “Katy Lied” (ABC)

7. Roxy Music: “Country Life” (Atco)

8. Bob Marley and the Wailers: “Natty Dread” (Island)

9. The Band: “Northern Lights — Southern Cross” (Capitol)

10. The Who: “The Who by Numbers” (MCA)

— From the December 29, 1975, issue


Pazz & Jop essays and results can also be found on Robert Christgau’s site. His most recent book, Is It Still Good to Ya? Fifty Years of Rock Criticism, 1967–2017, was published earlier this year.