Bob Dylan Revisited Part 1: Self Titled

An introduction to this can be found here:
https://bradytighe.wordpress.com/2018/01/26/bob-dylan-revisited/

PERIOD 1:

1. (1962 – 1964)

– Bob Dylan
– The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
– The Times They Are A Changing
– Another Side of Bob Dylan

New York Troubadour/Folk activist/Baby Faced Mouthpiece of Strife/Woody Guthrie Disciple/”The Voice of a Generation”/Freewheelin’ and Datin’ Suze/Playing on the tailgates of pickup trucks with Joan Baez/Pre-electric/Civil rights activist/a harmonica holder and a chambray shirt/a cold winter/playing in the village/home recordings and demos/the boy from Minnesota in the big city/a typewriter with a broken “B” key/The folk scene/Newport/Stealing folk records from record collecting friends/and the newspaper, a pack of cigarettes, and a typewriter.

The early Dylan albums have a nice balance between being both a portrait of the artist as a young man, and a portrait of a country in total upheaval. For some reason, singing about things that happened fifty years ago seemed to tie into things that were happening right then and there in America. At the same time, the early Dylan albums manage a personal touch that he seemed to never find in such surplus for the rest of his career. That touch might come from the fact that the early records are very stark, and lack any instrumentation besides Dylan and his guitar. Even the lyric sheets from this time period seem to look like poems and thoughts from a young man trying to comprehend everything in his life up to that point, and everything happening around him at the point explicitly.

My personal images of Dylan at this time period is him sitting at a typewriter in a sparse apartment, or in a studio with his guitar and his harmonica; perched among the ashtrays and microphones, or with a cigarette in his hand as he strolls around New York City in one of the coldest winters on record, or looking all of 12 years old on stage at The Gaslight.

There is nowhere to go from here but up.

The balance between young poet/singer-songwriter/spokesperson of a generation is all over these early records. The only exception would be Bob Dylan’s first album, the self-titled one. This early album is a rough sketch of covers and a few originals by someone who has yet to find their voice. It wasn’t a massive hit, and sold something like 2500 copies, probably because Dylan and folk music weren’t yet synonymous with mountains of sales and popularity. There was also his voice, which was a raspy, reedy, nasally whine that sounded like something you’d hear in the living room of an apartment party, and not on a Columbia Records release.

However, in hindsight, the quality of the singing and the sparseness of the recording come off as a strength. When one looks back on this section of Dylan’s career, there’s a kind of lo-fi majesty to it: you can almost picture and feel the cold empty rooms where these songs are being recorded. There’s nothing drowning out the message or the tunes, and some of them even sound like they’re being played fifteen minutes after they’ve been written, after a drag on a cigarette and a quick wash of the harmonica.

***

Bob Dylan (1962)

Original Track Listing:

1. You’re No Good
2. Talkin’ New York
3. In My Time Of Dying
4. Man of Constant Sorrow
5. Fixin’ To Die
6. Pretty Peggy-O
7. Highway 51 Blues
8. Gospel Plow
9. Baby, Let Me Follow You Down
10. House of the Risin’ Sun
11. Freight Train Blues
12. Song to Woody
13. See That My Grave is Kept Clean

Excerpts From Original Liner Notes:
(pulled from bobdylan.com)

“Columbia records is proud to introduce a major new figure in American folk music — Bob Dylan.”

“Excitement has been running high since the young man with a guitar ambled into a Columbia recording studio for two sessions in November, 1961. For at only 20, Dylan is the most unusual new talent in American folk music.”

“Bob Dylan first came East in February, 1961. His destination: the Greystone Hospital in New Jersey. His purpose: to visit the long-ailing Woody Guthrie, singer, ballad-maker and poet. It was the beginning of a deep friendship between the two. Although they were separated by thirty years and two generations, they were united by a love of music, a kindred sense of humor and a common view toward the world.”

“The young man from the provinces began to make friends very quickly in New York, all the while continuing, as he has since he was ten, to assimilate musical ideas from everyone he met, every record he heard. He fell in with Dave Van Ronk and Jack Elliott, two of the most dedicated musicians then playing in Greenwich Village, and swapped songs, ideas and stylistic conceptions with them. He played at the Gaslight Coffeehouse, and in April, 1961, appeared opposite John Lee Hooker, the blues singer, at Gerde’s Folk City.”

***

Introduction: 

The first Dylan record is a mishmash of covers and two originals. It’s hard to listen to it and see at all what would come after. Dylan is still leaning on all of his influences very hard, and the distinctive song writing isn’t there yet. The most interesting songs from this period seem to be home recordings and demos that show an artist just barely beginning to dip his toe in the water. They combine into something you would almost expect to find on a cassette tape someone made. In fact, some of the tunes from this era were recorded on cheap home tape players.

The lack of polish on these home recordings is redeeming, and gives them a certain life and urgency that seemed stripped away with the studio. Bob Dylan gives a hell of a vocal performance on that first record; screaming and belting out folk songs in a way that he never seemed to do again. However, the cleanliness of the recordings when compared to something recorded in a hotel room in Minnesota, do something to remove the intimacy you want from a record with one man and his guitar.

While listening to the first studio album, it’s hard to know how one would feel upon hearing it back in 1962. Would you think to yourself, “oh, the new voice of a generation has arrived and we all will hear about him 50 years from now, and one day bored nerds will write thousands of words about how they can reorder the track listings on his albums?”

Doubtful.

More likely, this first Dylan album was released in a sea of similar sounding folk albums, and it was only on his second record that he managed to distance himself from any other jackass with an acoustic guitar and rumpled clothing.

These feelings fit into how I have re-imagined the first Bob Dylan album: Feelings of a sparse talent just starting, barely there in both sound and scope, and feelings of something starting; the shadows of a world class talent emerging from handfuls of tapes and a couple of studio sessions: Presenting a ragged glory from the opening shots, and not yet heralding anything immense, but calmly showing you the building blocks of something of forever.

Bob Dylan New/Revised Track Listing:

1. When I Got Troubles (Home Recording)
2. Rambler, Gambler (Home Recording)
3. I Was Young When I Left Home (Home Recording)
4. Walkin’ Down The Line (Demo)
5. Standing on the Highway (Demo)
6. Hard Times in New York Town (Hotel Room Recording)
7. Motherless Children (Live at the Gaslight Café)
8. Man on the Street (Fragment)
9. Man on the Street (Demo)
10. House of the Risin’ Sun
11. He Was a Friend of Mine (Outtake)
12. Suze (The Cough Song) (Outtake)
13. Talkin’ New York
14. Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie (Spoken Word)
15. Song to Woody

Breakdown of Selection:

“Wait, where the fuck are all of the hits?”

There isn’t any. Most of the songs on both the original track listing, and the one that I have created above, are folk covers, because the song writing side of Dylan had yet to emerge. All of these things would be changed and remedied on the second record. For now though, at the time, all that the Bob Dylan self titled record was, was a collection of folk covers by a young 20 year old talent, with one or two originals that leaned heavily on the influences that he was covering.

It is in this spirit that I have drawn from the rawest Dylan outtakes and originals from this period of time, in an effort to show more of the building blocks of the first few albums, but with more of a personal touch, and with the additional benefit of hindsight.

This reordering is basically an entirely new first album, as it contains only three tracks from the original album. I pulled heavily from The Bootleg Series Volume 7: No Direction Home, Bootleg Series Volume 1, and Bootleg Series Volume 9: The Whitmark Demos. These collections were the best way to find all of the superior scraps of early Dylan.

The best place to start is the very beginning, and the opening two songs are the two first pieces of recorded music Bob Dylan ever set to tape. A childhood friend of his had bought a home tape recorded, and Bob wanted to try it out. It is this friend that you hear say, “okay, start,” on “When I Got Troubles.”

From here we move through more demos, showing off the stripped bare basics of folk Bob Dylan: his cadence, his singing voice, the harmonica passages, the way he elongates the words at the ends of his singing lines, and the haphazard guitar strumming. Almost nothing of these early elements will change over the course of the first few albums. Refined maybe, but not changed.

Tracks 5, 6, and 7 have been chosen to tell a bit of story: 20-year-old Dylan hitting the road from Minnesota and hitchhiking to New York City. Hence the choice of “Standing on the Highway.” The track following this, “Hard Times in New York Town” was recorded in a Minnesota hotel room, but no other song in the Dylan catalogue seems to capture the feeling of someone coming to the great city, with nothing in their pockets, and nothing to their name but a battered guitar case and a couple of harmonicas. Track 7 is a live recording from The Gaslight Café, a joint in the village where Dylan managed to become an on-stage regular, and where he gained the first exposure of his career.

From there, we move into the studio, where Dylan, in possession of a massive repertoire of songs, seemed to lay everything down onto tape and hoped to see what stuck. I stacked an unfinished take of “Man on the Street” onto the front of a completed version from Volume 1 of the Bootleg Series, because I thought it seemed to make the finished version more personal, as if you were sitting right beside a young artist who’s playing his first couple songs, as he fucks up the verses and tries to feel his way through the material.

It is on the next few songs where I felt that he managed to nail what it was he was attempting. These are the songs where I feel that he is in the most command of the material, even when he manages to ruin a take of a song about his girlfriend Suze by coughing. “Talkin’ New York” finishes this section off; an original from the first album, it seems to summarize the Dylan adventure up to this point. It is biographical in the same way that “Hard Times in New York Town,” was biographical, only to that song has been added experience and miles walked on frozen streets.

The last two songs on the album are a pair; one is a spoken word piece about Woody Guthrie that Dylan read at a concert in 1963. It is not from this exact period, as the venue it was recorded in, The New York Town Hall, was a bit bigger in stature than a hole in the wall folk bar, but I think it’s inclusion to this remake was necessary, as nothing else manages to display a mainline into Dylan’s thoughts on his biggest hero as this piece does. It’s poetry without the guitar, and it shows that the writing side of Dylan was powerful, more powerful than the music; he just hadn’t found a way to meld the two together yet.

“Song For Woody” closes this reworked first album; a melding of the words and thoughts from the track before it, but to music. It was proof that it could be done, and Dylan would demonstrate how well he could do it on his next record.

***

Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie

By Bob Dylan

When yer head gets twisted and yer mind grows numb
When you think you’re too old, too young, too smart or too dumb
When yer laggin’ behind an’ losin’ yer pace
In a slow-motion crawl of life’s busy race
No matter what yer doing if you start givin’ up
If the wine don’t come to the top of yer cup
If the wind’s got you sideways with with one hand holdin’ on
And the other starts slipping and the feeling is gone
And yer train engine fire needs a new spark to catch it
And the wood’s easy findin’ but yer lazy to fetch it
And yer sidewalk starts curlin’ and the street gets too long
And you start walkin’ backwards though you know its wrong
And lonesome comes up as down goes the day
And tomorrow’s mornin’ seems so far away
And you feel the reins from yer pony are slippin’
And yer rope is a-slidin’ ’cause yer hands are a-drippin’
And yer sun-decked desert and evergreen valleys
Turn to broken down slums and trash-can alleys
And yer sky cries water and yer drain pipe’s a-pourin’
And the lightnin’s a-flashing and the thunder’s a-crashin’
And the windows are rattlin’ and breakin’ and the roof tops a-shakin’
And yer whole world’s a-slammin’ and bangin’
And yer minutes of sun turn to hours of storm
And to yourself you sometimes say
“I never knew it was gonna be this way
Why didn’t they tell me the day I was born”
And you start gettin’ chills and yer jumping from sweat
And you’re lookin’ for somethin’ you ain’t quite found yet
And yer knee-deep in the dark water with yer hands in the air
And the whole world’s a-watchin’ with a window peek stare
And yer good gal leaves and she’s long gone a-flying
And yer heart feels sick like fish when they’re fryin’
And yer jackhammer falls from yer hand to yer feet
And you need it badly but it lays on the street
And yer bell’s bangin’ loudly but you can’t hear its beat
And you think yer ears might a been hurt
Or yer eyes’ve turned filthy from the sight-blindin’ dirt
And you figured you failed in yesterdays rush
When you were faked out an’ fooled white facing a four flush
And all the time you were holdin’ three queens
And it’s makin you mad, it’s makin’ you mean
Like in the middle of Life magazine
Bouncin’ around a pinball machine
And there’s something on yer mind you want to be saying
That somebody someplace oughta be hearin’
But it’s trapped on yer tongue and sealed in yer head
And it bothers you badly when your layin’ in bed
And no matter how you try you just can’t say it
And yer scared to yer soul you just might forget it
And yer eyes get swimmy from the tears in yer head
And yer pillows of feathers turn to blankets of lead
And the lion’s mouth opens and yer staring at his teeth
And his jaws start closin with you underneath
And yer flat on your belly with yer hands tied behind
And you wish you’d never taken that last detour sign
And you say to yourself just what am I doin’
On this road I’m walkin’, on this trail I’m turnin’
On this curve I’m hanging
On this pathway I’m strolling, in the space I’m taking
In this air I’m inhaling
Am I mixed up too much, am I mixed up too hard
Why am I walking, where am I running
What am I saying, what am I knowing
On this guitar I’m playing, on this banjo I’m frailin’
On this mandolin I’m strummin’, in the song I’m singin’
In the tune I’m hummin’, in the words I’m writin’
In the words that I’m thinkin’
In this ocean of hours I’m all the time drinkin’
Who am I helping, what am I breaking
What am I giving, what am I taking
But you try with your whole soul best
Never to think these thoughts and never to let
Them kind of thoughts gain ground
Or make yer heart pound
But then again you know why they’re around
Just waiting for a chance to slip and drop down
“Cause sometimes you hear’em when the night times comes creeping
And you fear that they might catch you a-sleeping
And you jump from yer bed, from yer last chapter of dreamin’
And you can’t remember for the best of yer thinking
If that was you in the dream that was screaming
And you know that it’s something special you’re needin’
And you know that there’s no drug that’ll do for the healin’
And no liquor in the land to stop yer brain from bleeding
And you need something special
Yeah, you need something special all right
You need a fast flyin’ train on a tornado track
To shoot you someplace and shoot you back
You need a cyclone wind on a stream engine howler
That’s been banging and booming and blowing forever
That knows yer troubles a hundred times over
You need a Greyhound bus that don’t bar no race
That won’t laugh at yer looks
Your voice or your face
And by any number of bets in the book
Will be rollin’ long after the bubblegum craze
You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
You need something to make it known
That it’s you and no one else that owns
That spot that yer standing, that space that you’re sitting
That the world ain’t got you beat
That it ain’t got you licked
It can’t get you crazy no matter how many
Times you might get kicked
You need something special all right
You need something special to give you hope
But hope’s just a word
That maybe you said or maybe you heard
On some windy corner ’round a wide-angled curve
But that’s what you need man, and you need it bad
And yer trouble is you know it too good
“Cause you look an’ you start getting the chills
“Cause you can’t find it on a dollar bill
And it ain’t on Macy’s window sill
And it ain’t on no rich kid’s road map
And it ain’t in no fat kid’s fraternity house
And it ain’t made in no Hollywood wheat germ
And it ain’t on that dimlit stage
With that half-wit comedian on it
Ranting and raving and taking yer money
And you thinks it’s funny
No you can’t find it in no night club or no yacht club
And it ain’t in the seats of a supper club
And sure as hell you’re bound to tell
That no matter how hard you rub
You just ain’t a-gonna find it on yer ticket stub
No, and it ain’t in the rumors people’re tellin’ you
And it ain’t in the pimple-lotion people are sellin’ you
And it ain’t in no cardboard-box house
Or down any movie star’s blouse
And you can’t find it on the golf course
And Uncle Remus can’t tell you and neither can Santa Claus
And it ain’t in the cream puff hair-do or cotton candy clothes
And it ain’t in the dime store dummies or bubblegum goons
And it ain’t in the marshmallow noises of the chocolate cake voices
That come knockin’ and tappin’ in Christmas wrappin’
Sayin’ ain’t I pretty and ain’t I cute and look at my skin
Look at my skin shine, look at my skin glow
Look at my skin laugh, look at my skin cry
When you can’t even sense if they got any insides
These people so pretty in their ribbons and bows
No you’ll not now or no other day
Find it on the doorsteps made out-a paper mache´
And inside it the people made of molasses
That every other day buy a new pair of sunglasses
And it ain’t in the fifty-star generals and flipped-out phonies
Who’d turn yuh in for a tenth of a penny
Who breathe and burp and bend and crack
And before you can count from one to ten
Do it all over again but this time behind yer back
My friend
The ones that wheel and deal and whirl and twirl
And play games with each other in their sand-box world
And you can’t find it either in the no-talent fools
That run around gallant
And make all rules for the ones that got talent
And it ain’t in the ones that ain’t got any talent but think they do
And think they’re foolin’ you
The ones who jump on the wagon
Just for a while ’cause they know it’s in style
To get their kicks, get out of it quick
And make all kinds of money and chicks
And you yell to yourself and you throw down yer hat
Sayin’, “Christ do I gotta be like that
Ain’t there no one here that knows where I’m at
Ain’t there no one here that knows how I feel
Good God Almighty
THAT STUFF AIN’T REAL”
No but that ain’t yer game, it ain’t even yer race
You can’t hear yer name, you can’t see yer face
You gotta look some other place
And where do you look for this hope that yer seekin’
Where do you look for this lamp that’s a-burnin’
Where do you look for this oil well gushin’
Where do you look for this candle that’s glowin’
Where do you look for this hope that you know is there
And out there somewhere
And your feet can only walk down two kinds of roads
Your eyes can only look through two kinds of windows
Your nose can only smell two kinds of hallways
You can touch and twist
And turn two kinds of doorknobs
You can either go to the church of your choice
Or you can go to Brooklyn State Hospital
You’ll find God in the church of your choice
You’ll find Woody Guthrie in Brooklyn State Hospital
And though it’s only my opinion
I may be right or wrong
You’ll find them both
In the Grand Canyon
At sundown

Thoughts:

A tape recorder clicks on:

Someone says to start, and then comes a gentle strumming. Fidelity is bad. Sounds almost like it’s underwater. Like you’re listening from another room with your ear pressed to the wall/a youthful feeling of being too timid/the strumming and the singing held back/a feeling of not wanting to be too loud/to let too much of yourself out/to let go too much/just sing low and slow and hope you don’t fuck up the words.

“When I got troubles
troubles on my mind.”

Before New York City/Before playing in smoke filled rooms/young with wild hair/a cigarette clenched between hands with untrimmed nails/sleeping and dozing in the backseat of the coupe that picked you up on the side of the road.

Like a sponge/trying to absorb everything/trying to find your own voice in a endless history of sound/trying to digest and reorganize/remastered and rethink the things that you’ve taken in/your influences pinned to your chest/obvious to all/and you keep a fire burning for all of them.

An America both new and old/from the downtown skyscrapers to the backwoods whorehouses/travelling hobos and railroad tracks/businessmen on the street corner/small basement rooms slick with sweat and smoke/snowdrifts higher than your head/frozen fingers tucked into your jacket as you make your way arm in arm with your sweetheart/tales of hardship/tales of glory/tales of motherless children and starving farmers/tales passed down through song that land right here at fingertips strumming a beaten guitar.

Walkin’ a path you knew you had to walk/compelled/driven/chosen/and always knowing where you needed to go to make it happen/from the grooves of records endlessly consumed in small rooms with the windows shut/to your voice to the microphone.

A cigarette left burning in a standing studio astray as songs are crossed off a set list/knocking them out one by one and making up the score as you look down a long windswept highway and try in vain to see the future.

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