I was thinking. I should be writing but all in good time. I think it was Every Grain of Sand that got me depressed and made me take my pencil and burn it and never want to write again because….well never mind.
Anyway my buddy Kris Kehr opines on Sir Bob…..(and sends along an awesome pic too)
I’ve always been a day dreamer- perpetually unhappy with where I was and the ‘real’ world around me, and an only child living in the country can force that upon you; living inside your own Technicolor head. Something about music warmed me early on and started projecting three dimensional feelings inside said head, and I’ve been chasing that dragon ever since.
Learnt guitar to start making my own projections and, growing up in the 70’s like I did, became drawn to the vast guitar revolution going on inside the music business at the time. Hearing Dire Straits’ Sultans of Swing’ constantly on the radio filled me with grand happiness; I could not get enough of that song. The Straits second album was darker and even more to my liking. There was also something about the clean strat tone, and so I became a life-long Mark Knopfler fan.
When I read in Rolling Stone that Mark was producing albums and had just finished helping legendary songwriter Bob Dylan complete his comeback album Infidels (after his right turn into christiandom for a few years) I traveling to Reading’s Record Revolution and, after holding the vinyl in my hand at the store and reading all that could be seen on the outside cover, purchased said album and took it home. I strapped on my headphones in my solitary bedroom at the end of the hall and spun that thing endlessly. There was a lot of heavy shit there that my young mind was not equipped to wrap itself around. You could teach a course on the opening track, Jokerman, and the video that accompanied was filled with even more rabbits to follow. But Sweetheart Like You, the second track, was something my young mind and heart could readily dive into. For me, it’s a cautionary tale for a female friend or lover – there has been some argument over this song but at the time I just saw it for its sweetness, and still do.
A couple of heavies came next, world view songs with lyrics that served to momentarily distract me from the awesome guitar tones of Knopfler and ex-stone Mick Taylor. Eventually I would circle back around with a more worldly-informed mind to gather deeper understanding from those songs, but more on that later.
But then there was I & I, still one of my favorites. What only/lonely child at home with his headphones on could not follow that ‘duality of personality’ path in their imagination? Listening to that song still leaves me awestruck, staring at the sunset trying to comprehend the meaning in its mysterious beauty, but the beauty easily enjoyed on its surface. Actually many of Bob’s songs (and others) leave me with that feeling. The final song, one of longing called Don’t Fall Apart on me Tonight, was perhaps the culprit in starting me on a life of living relationships out in my head. Or at least a youth full of them: “I need you, yes I need you!”
And so I picked up the thread or followed the rabbit down the hole into the vast, deep universe that is Bob Dylan’s music. It was the beginning of a life-long involvement, a pure well that always quenches my thirst when I need or want to return. I spent years and years just circling that place, picking up the pieces as they illuminated themselves to me, at just the right time for me, I suppose, one bread crumb to the next. That depth to his work is an endless source of various types of inspiration to me. And like all great works of art, the longer you stare at it the more you see.
Oh, there were plenty of other musical things I picked up on after that- mostly about magic and mystery amongst the lyrics and songs. When I started recording my first album ‘Long Year’ with producer Tom Edmonds he took me to his old haunt of the Woodstock area of New York to record with Band guitarist Jim Weider. I was pelted with many stories about that slice of Americana and American music – Tom started his Woodstock days as Levon Helms lawn boy and eventually took care of the guys, running them for various supply runs and eventually worked with many creative souls up there before becoming an engineer under Todd Rundgren at the infamous Bearsville Studios. He took me to Big Pink and snapped the photo you see of me here. Right around this time I was really getting into my album/disc collecting, going to the Village in NYC and buying all manner of oddball recordings in any of the string of cool record stores the blotted the area, when I found a new bootleg release called A Tree with Roots. Greil Marcus’ book Invisible Republic came out around this time too and together, my mind was blown further. The complete collection of all known Basement Tapes and a book about what they mean only served to mystify the man, and drew me into the world of the Band as well or at least further in. But it was this peek behind the curtain that also taught me about process, how songs come to be and how you can record together with friends over time and climb to new heights through that kind of process. There was a point in my career when I lived with Stone Poets’ keyboardist James Harton where our house was fashioned around this creative ideal, and we were far from alone.
It was around this time that I discovered the Genuine Bootleg Series, from the same bootleg label that gave us Tree with Roots (Scorpion), a 4 volume set that collected out takes and unreleased gems from Dylan’s recording career, spawned on by the vast wealth of this stuff and perhaps Columbia’s inclusion of some outtake on 1985’s Biograph, which included such things from the prismatic black hole that was the Blood on the Tracks sessions. The fact that these immense, incredibly magnetic albums had a process and that things were left along the way had been leaked, and for those of us personally touched by Dylan’s’ works this added a new dimension to the whole saga.
In 1991 Columbia succeeded in releasing the first in what would be an on-going official collection of such things, The Bootleg Series. The first three volumes were released together and included early works, middle period works (the 70’s) and later works (at that time), including some incredible gems from the Infidels sessions. Also included were more gems from Blood on the Tracks and a few other great albums from the period, although Biograph included probably the best example, Up to Me. Always around were the tracks of already released songs with markedly different lyrics or feels, or both but the real gems for me were the unreleased songs Mr. Flannery has been talking about. I think trying to be empathetic with a songwriter/recording artist, there is a goal of carving out a piece of art that ages well and you have to keep an open mind and keen connection to your gut as to which songs work best together and form some kind of linear truth, or goal, or complete painting. During this process things are disposed of, perhaps in some cases set aside for future use, sometimes not. I don’t think any artist thinks about legacy during this process, certainly not pre-Dylan, the muse continues moving forward and the eye remains on the ball. The record company saw an opportunity in the wake of the vast bootleg market with guys like me and started compiling and officially releasing.
“What is it about guys your age and Dylan?” – Ronna Beckman, character on the West Wing
While Tom and I were having our late night Dylan discussion about this stuff recently he sounded exasperated at the thought that someone could write such incredible music and leave it off the album. I think it’s simpler than that. I think it’s a path you follow as an artist, no looking back, always moving forward. The fact that not only myself but Tom, and many, many others thirsted for more of a perspective on the incredible art this guy was making created this importance, or even a vacuum; daydreamers, at home at their windows contemplating the great meaning of things. And so we all have this to listen to and contemplate anyway despite not on the original album releases. I don’t think Bob was sacrificing anything by leaving that stuff off the albums, just trying to do what he does as best he could at the time, following his instincts and perhaps some other outside forces at times to make the best album he could. What he couldn’t see at the time, but we eventually could, is the importance of this stuff in the end. The thirst really was started with the first bootlegging of the Basement Tapes, ‘demo song’ acetate leaked and eventually reviewed in RS. But Dylan is so good that this legend took on a life of its own, and got its own album series. These releases now are on par with any new material albums he releases. The value of this outside work has reached at last come to fruition.
The fact that Dylan has created this aura of mystery around a bunch of his works only further proves what an incredible recording artist the man is. Dylan has started several times that while growing up in Minnesota he lived inside his own head, the lyrics to old folk songs and early roots, blues and rock & roll fueling his imagination and creating his inner world and moral structure. I have rifled through those things and while enjoying them on a deep level and understanding where bob is coming from, that world becomes Technicolor for me through Bob’s prism. Bob drew on all those things to inform his world, and soul, and in turn has left this endless landscape of the same, interpreted for us. I guess that makes him my patron saint.
Yea. I do this from time to time. Nothing specific triggers it. It just happens. Last night around 1am I sent a text to my friend Kris Kehr, asking how somebody could write songs as staggering as Abandoned Love and Up to Me and Blind Willie McTell and leave them OFF records. I knew Kris would understand. He responded immediately of course. Not with an answer, because there isn’t one. But with the complete understanding of a fellow songwriter who would give his right arm to write something as good as these songs…songs with Dylan deemed disposable. Yea, he’s that good when he’s good.
The first song I ever learned on the guitar was “Girl From the North Country”. I was in college. I knew nothing but was smart enough not to pretend otherwise. I figured if you wanted to learn how to write songs you listened to Dylan. Common sense really. Then and now.
I don’t know how he wrote the songs he wrote. I have no idea where they came from. I can’t pretend to know what a song like Visions of Johanna means. I had a good friend back in the day who knew all the lyrics to Just Like Tom Thumb Blues. I thought he was a complete freak and told him I doubted even Dylan knew all the lyrics to Just Like Tom Thumb Blues. My friend’s name was Bob too. I admired the shit out of him. Still do. A few months ago I was playing a solo acoustic show in a local bar and he showed up. Haven’t seen him in 20 years. I sang Like a Rolling Stone in his honor. I would have done Just Like Tom Thumb Blues but I can’t remember the fucking words.
Tonight in the car I was taking my daughter and her friend home and I had the song It’s All Good from one a Dylan’s recent records blaring. It’s a non-sensical lyric set to a ordinary blues-shuffle….but it charms the shit out of me. Ask my why and I can’t tell you.
Even now first timers will say….”that guy can’t sing”. Us vets know better. Dylan is only the best white blues singer of all time. It’s All Good is the kind of song that Dylan can probably write in his sleep. It’s a complete throwaway…..like his song Dark Eyes from the 1980s, which he freely admits he wrote just to fill out a record with an acoustic song…..which he figured was what people wanted. Most songwriters have never written a song as good as Dark Eyes,
Dylan did what he did before anybody else did what they did. That should make sense but if it doesn’t you should probably listen to what he and his band were serving up in 1966….a time when the Beatles were playing Shea Stadium with a sound system that would shame any modern bar band. Tell Me, Mamma was the song that kicked off those long ago electric sets…and it’s no wonder that fans nearly lost their collective minds. Nobody had ever sounded like this before. Nobody had ever had the BALLS to sound like this before. Everything that followed….be in the Who or the Stones or the Sex Pistols…. sounded tame in comparison. Remember when Hemingway said that the great American novel was already written? This was Huck Finn with Telecasters. Loud.
So yea. That’s Dylan to me. After a while he’ll fade from my playlist. Maybe for another year. Then he’ll creep back in. And I’ll hear something like She’s Your Lover Now and just shake my head while reaching for the volume. He’ll release a new record eventually. It will contain some shit (like his endless Titanic ballad Tempest from his last record….which I’m convinced was a joke) and some songs that make me shake my head like It’s All Good….the old man can still cripple you with a couplet. Whenever I run out of things to say all I need to do is listen to Groom’s Still Waiting At the Altar to feel young again. I’m actually one of the crazy people who feel that, if anything, Dylan is underrated as a songwriter. Imagine the landscape without him. Can you? Throw away your Van Morrison and your Marvin Gaye and your Springsteen and your Prine and your Petty and your U2 and your Clash and your Public Enemy and your Nirvana and your Pearl Jam and your Alica Keys and god knows who else. Rubber Soul and Revolver and Sgt Pepper? Blowin’ in the Wind.
I’m glad I don’t know what brings on these Dylan jags. I’d hate to be able to predict the next one.
In a bit..
Once again I missed out on a trial….this time an arson case. But I’ve fulfilled my civic duty and cannot be called again for 3 more years. At least that’s what they tell me. I’ll believe that bit in….well…3 more years.
Most of the experience was of the hurry up and wait variety…..but there’s a part of me that really wanted to see, from the inside, how these things work. I wanted to be a good juror……or perhaps fulfill some sort of liberal Henry Fonda 12 Angry Men fantasy. Dammit anyway.
I won’t name names, but yesterday’s jury selection was for a sexual abuse case……a prominent older man and a (then) 15-year-old girl. Nothing about the case is not ghastly. Rumors and innuendos have been rampant since even before the charges were filed (jurors, of course, instructed to pay such things no mind. Easier said than done). Lots of people who should know better have behaved badly….and now there’s a big mess with future’s at stake. It promises to get uglier still. The case opened this morning. Before the day ended I slipped in the back of the courtroom to listen, I don’t know what I was expecting. But here are some random observations on what I saw…
- A lawyer should not chew gum. You are trying a criminal case before a distinguished County judge. You look pretty young to be doing so already…..but don’t accentuate that fact by chomping on a piece of Wrigley’s Spearmint like you’re a junior varsity cheerleader. It was distracting to me, and I was sitting in the back row of a crowded room. Instead of me thinking, “wow, what an excellent cross that was”….I kept saying….”is she really chewing gum?” Memo to the Lackawanna County DA’s office…..re “gum”. Nothing screams “this is the B team” louder.
- Trying to poke holes in the story of a young woman who is alleging sexual abuse is a no-win for a lawyer. A male is going to look like a sexist dick….and a female is going to look like an unfeeling shrew. Intellectually as an observer you know they are merely doing their job. But sometimes your gut trumps such distinctions and you just feel awful about the entire charade.
- I always thought lawyers were way smarter than me because…..well…..they’re lawyers and stuff. But in little over an hour of observation I heard mangled English, inane questions, basic misunderstandings of the rule of law, and enough long pauses (of the “what do I do now” variety) to totally change my mind. They’re as dumb as the rest of us. Even the judge seemed annoyed at what he (and I) clearly took to be a lack of basic preparation. At one point the defense wanted to admit a photo as evidence, but had to abandon the request because they couldn’t find it. This sort of thing never happens on Law and Order. You owe it to yourself to visit an actual criminal courtroom and listen in at least once. The awe factor goes away. Quickly.
- If you are the defendant and you or your lawyers think it’s a good idea to have your wife in the courtroom with you, make sure she doesn’t perpetually look like she wants to drive a hatchet into your head. Based on the charges people are not going to think you are very likable to being with. Don’t reinforce this perception.
- I always wonder how somebody in a public position (in other words….one in which your low salary is printed in the paper) can afford high-priced legal teams. Can’t be cheap. Where’s the money coming from?
- Is there really such a thing as a “jury of your peers”? I mean…..what if you’re an asshole?
- Local TV stations have to get the obligatory suspect/accuser walking into/out of court news footage come hell or high water. The TV trucks were literally waiting around all day long. Meanwhile, I’m guessing, actual news was happening somewhere.
- Why do all judges sorta look and sound the same? White-haired parochial statuesque figures with perpetual tans who look like they could be 50 or 75 depending on your viewing angle, all with deep confident voices and a no nonsense demeanor. Kinda central-casting gone haywire. It’s like one large Kenesaw Mountain Landis look-a-like contest.
- When both sides seem to be cherry-picking the truth, how can justice be parsed correctly?
- A courtroom is a regal place. I can’t really think of a more apt word. Even if justice gets perverted sometimes, I just think the locale sort of evens the dirt a little bit. Barriers that divide us don’t disappear, but they seem more to scalable.
So that’s it for now. Back to the real world, where justice is meted out in quite different ways. And perhaps more effective ones as well.
In a bit…
There are probably rules about blogging while on a jury. But I’m not actually on a jury yet. I’m sitting around the courthouse with maybe 200 other lost souls awaiting the wheels of justice to start creaking. We’ve all been told that we may or may not be picked and that we may or may not know in an hour or six hours. So we sit and stare at each other and read jagged paperback books and search in vain for restrooms, which are somewhere around here but seem well hidden.
Gone apparently are the days when everybody just lied to get out of jury duty. There are so many here this morning we’re spilling out into the hallway. All kinds too. Young. Old. Rich. Poor. Flashy jewelry and more tattoos than I can count. Guys in suits and a plethora of John Deere caps. (Poor buggers have already been told they must remove them if they are summoned to a courtroom)
Interesting that there are no African American or Hispanics here. Everybody as white as Julius Caesar.
There’s a tv in the “lounge”, but since the only seats are the kind we all know from grade school…..writing desks that discriminate against lefties….you know the ones…..people are filling up the standard chairs in the hallway.
This whole business seems much more romantic on TV.
We’ve also been told that we are not allowed to leave. Contempt of court awaits anyone who does a runner. Smokers are permitted to get periodic fixes, however. Trips to the bar are discouraged. Smokers always bitching about discrimination. How about guys who want a beer?
The judge came down to give us all a pep talk, which was a nice touch. This being a small town, probably half the people in the room know the guy personally. I’m not sure how this might affect justice. I’m pretty sure I’m gonna know at least a few lawyers too. Being a criminal in this town is tough, as a “jury of your peers” is bound to include drinking buddies of courtroom personages.
The guy sitting next to me is sound asleep. Whatever trial he gets assigned to better not drag. A group of women have changed the tv station and are laughing like hyenas to an episode of “Ellen”. Women love Ellen the way they used to love Oprah. There were some grumbling from a few SportsCenter aficionados, but nobody has the guts for a tv coup. At least not this early in the day. And not against this crew. They seem intense.
We get $9 a day for this, plus 17 cents a mile. Not the distance from our homes but from our local post offices. These amounts were set in the 1950s and in true American style have not been increased since. That’s not to say that jurors don’t have it better in some ways. Used to be if a judge didn’t like a verdict he could toss the jury in jail and starve them. Now we get free coffee. I don’t drink coffee. I have to pay for soda. No drinks are allowed in the courtroom. I’ll deal with this calamity later.
Guy next to me still sleeping. Snoring away. The peppy jury guy just came by saying things were gonna start happening “pretty soon”. I thought about waking my neighbor but will let him doze. He may need his strength for this afternoon. We’ve been here over 2 hours already. The natives are beginning to get restless. A prosecutor’s dream.
As the world turns. Me and 50 others herded together and brought into a courtroom. All the lawyers look 12 years old. We’re being studied like prize livestock. Looking for something in the eye or body language that screams “hang the bastards”, or perhaps “who am I to judge?” It’s all incredibly tedious stuff, as the court tries to weed out the crazies and everybody with ties to law enforcement, which around here is almost impossible. I might be the only person in the room not related to a cop. Still, it’s impressive that there are no shirkers. Plenty of chances to get out of it with an obvious word. But folks seems to be treating it with enormous respect. All want to do the right thing if called. The closer you get to the process the better it looks. It may not be perfect but I really can’t think of a better way. The only true loon is the guy who said he can’t judge another ’cause “that is the job of Jesus.” The judge pointed out that Jesus hasn’t been around in a while so human entities will have to do for now.
And after all of this gibberish I didn’t get picked. One side thought I looked too much like sociopathic avenger and the other thought I veered too close to an unpaid tie-dyed social worker. I tried hard to appear neutral. And I stayed awake. Which is more than I can say about the guy next to me.
And I have to report and do it all over again tomorrow.
Probably a good thing I didn’t get picked. That guy was guilty as hell. I could just tell.
In a bit….
Read all our updates on our collaboration here. This is the latest from Kris….
There, up there, is a beautiful mountain…I love it, so beautiful and majestic. Re-energizes me, makes things clear again, when things start to fog up. Only on special days can I find the energy and will to climb the winding path by myself all the way to the top. Some days it seems easy, I’m barely noticing the footsteps I’m placing up hill; others it takes a few stops and breaks, even days & weeks before I trudge on, knowing the payoff is much greater than the toil.
This time a friend says ‘let’s find a different path, I love that place too.” So off we go, machetes and chainsaws in hand, blazing a new trail. Today we cut straight up, other days we take turns hacking away in a more zig-zag direction; others still we cut for a while by ourselves before we meet part way up the hill, then forge ahead together. I’ve often heard it’s not so much the destination but the trip along the way, although more correctly it’s a combination of the 2.
A good partner in such endeavors knows and marvels at that same mountain though he’s enjoyed it’s beauty from his own angle, but loves climbing enough to want to find a new way (or several new ways) with you, to enjoy it in a brand new way.
And of course you have each others’ back along the way.
Now of course I’m not talking literally about mountains and climbing, it’s a metaphor for ice cream sundaes and car restoration and instead of machetes and chain saws I really mean cross bows and garden gnomes. But my point is you learn something about yourself (and your friends) when you brave a new challenge together with a new kind of pay-off and sense of satisfaction.
So I’m off with my cross bow to blaze a new dusty road with my comrade Mr. Flannery, and the view is fantastic!
Kris Kehr – 10/10/13
Technology can be a marvel. Not always of course. Most of the time I find it a pain in the ass but I just spent an hour in the same room with my friend and collaborator Kris Kehr, who happens to live over 100 miles away. We did this on Skype. I know it’s been around for a while but still…..it never ceases to amaze me how small one can make the world.
I’m working on a record with Kris. We’re writing songs together, so we figured we should touch base face-to-face every once in a while. I explained the basics of what we’re doing in an earlier post, and promised myself I’d keep up on developments as they came about. Kris is gonna weigh in from time to time as well. Both of us are used to writing alone…so this is turning into quite the adventure.
We’ve knocked demos back and forth to each other. Maybe 5 or 6 so far. We’d like to make a record with a coherent theme running through it…..like a river that cuts through a town. Or maybe rail-road tracks that divide it. We’re both around the same age. We’re both married. I have 2 daughters. Kris has one. We both stare at the ceiling on sleepless nights worrying about the same things.
Kris will write 10 verses and edit them down to five. I will write 10 verses and end up with a dozen. His melodies flow freely. Mine are dragged into the light kicking and screaming. Kris will labor over a lyric. I’ll write a batch during a lunch break. Neither of us likes being labelled. I’ve often said to him that if I was looking for his stuff in a record store, I’d have no idea which section to start in.
We talked tonight about arrangements and musicians….which generally boils down to what friends we know who will play for next to nothing. Or, in other words, for free. He’s got a lot of friends. I can only hope they owe him favors. I’ve got some talented friends too….but I’m not sure any are indebted to me. A shame really….but that won’t stop me from asking. I’ve got no shame because I don’t mind buying the beer. Such largesse wallpapers over a multitude of sins.
And so onward we go. If you know Kris you know this has the potential to be really really special. If you don’t know Kris it behooves you to make his acquaintance. I’m not sure why I’m digging deep into the thesaurus this evening……but let’s just say that I only feel truly alive when I’m being creative. I don’t do downtime very well. I’ve got way too many bad habits.
There are days. Sometimes I feel like the guitar is a life-jacket……something to keep me from drowning if I fall in the water. Other days I feel like it’s a life-boat……something that keeps me from entering the dangerous current in the first place. The difference appears minute only to those who have never cradled a guitar in the first place.
Come along for the ride. It’s gonna be fun.
In a bit…
Cold snap. Finally. From the top of the mountain you could watch a heavy fog linger over the valley and then obliterate it completely. The wind howled for a few hours and the rain fell a few hours more. Water started seeping under the doors. It was a good day to be inside. Even working inside.
It’s dark by 7 or so. I don’t feel so lazy going to bed early. Or at least threatening to by curling up with a book. It’s a long week and it’s best not to start the rat race too fast. By Thursday I figure I can push it and reach the weekend regardless of conditioning. Any earlier than that you start risking sick days. They must be hoarded. Cold mornings are worth sleeping through as long as you’re still getting paid.
Must resist the urge to nap in the early evening. Not sure why, as it’s a heavenly thing to do. But it can lead to some late nights, which of course leads to more early naps. And on and on it goes until something ghastly breaks the spell, like mandatory overtime or attending a wake.
Less people out and about. Streets empty earlier. Go for a walk and you can’t resist the urge to peep into front windows because TVs are roaring like fires. Playoff baseball? Game shows? Bad re-run comedies? Does anybody talk anymore?
Ah well. And so it goes. ‘Tis nice sometimes to deal in words just for word’s sake.
In a bit…..