Hello, my name is Josh Kurp and I am a Dylanologist. Today is Bob Dylan’s 71st birthday, a date that used to matter as much to me as my own birthday. For awhile, my obsession was bad. Instead of hanging out with friends in my freshman year of college, like a normal, well adjusted person, I’d stay in my dorm and listen to and sort through my extensive collection of Dylan bootlegs. I was a putz (and, literally, a virgin – can’t imagine why), and incredibly depressed because of it. I just didn’t realize at the time that Dylan was part of the cause.
Cajun’s wonderful post yesterday about his years-long love for John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces inspired me to look back at those dark days, and pick out some of the lowest lows of my all-things Dylan passion. Desolation row, indeed.
1: Convincing myself to like certain sh*tty albums
If movies have taught me anything, it’s that denial is the first step toward…I dunno, actually. But it’s the first step toward something, and I was in complete denial in high school. I thought that everything Dylan had recorded was amazing, A+++ — not a single dud. “Sure, while the rest of you guys are listening to Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks, I’m going to admire the unappreciated splendor of Slow Train Coming.” Like a Facebook motivational poster, that doesn’t mean anything, and neither do lines like:
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, in the beginning
Man gave names to all the animals
In the beginning, long time ago.
He saw an animal leaving a muddy trail
Real dirty face and a curly trail
He wasn’t too small and he wasn’t too big
“Ah, think I’ll call it a pig.”
That’s an actual Dylan song – it came from the same mind as “Visions of Johanna.” Now, I can see that songs like “Man Gave Names to All the Animals,” “Covenant Woman,” and “Wiggle Wiggle” are complete horse crap, but then, I couldn’t. I honestly felt like if I didn’t love everything a musician had recorded, I didn’t really love the musician. (It also took me years to admit that The Simpsons has a fair share of terrible, terrible episodes.) Oh, now I remember! The first step toward becoming a well-adjusted fan is admitting, not denying, that everything the person you’re a fan of makes isn’t perfect. Unless you like My Bloody Valentine — they’re pretty spotless, obviously.
2. Downloaded bootleg of every “Like a Rolling Stone”
In 2005, author Greil Marcus published a 283-page book, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads, that wasn’t so much an examination of Dylan’s career as a whole up to that point as it was an occasionally pleasurable, often uncomfortable cavity search that probed a single song of his: “Like a Rolling Stone.” Marcus traced the song’s beginnings all the way back to Sun House and Hank Williams, and spends endless pages discussing Bobby Gregg’s opening snare shot, Al Kooper’s charmingly clumsy organ playing, and the various takes that eventually lead to the greatest rock ‘n’ roll song of all-time (IMHO).
I ate up every page. It’s not Marcus’s best work (that would be Mystery Train, a must-read for any music fan), but I didn’t care — it was an entire book about ONE SONG, one of my favorite songs at that, and I’d finally learn its walloping mysteries. The end of Crossroads takes the format of a transcription (of sorts) of the complete “Like a Rolling Stone” sessions. It’s an effective device of showing the song’s evolution, from its 3/4th time waltz origins on the piano (later officially released on The Bootleg Series, Volumes 1–3) to its eventual take-no-prisoners conclusion, and I knew what I had to do: FIND THE COMPLETE RECORDINGS BOOTLEG.
So, I did – all 20 takes of “Like a Rolling Stone.” On one CD. Some, for instance Take 4, lasts only :39, but you can hear the musicians slowly figuring out the song, when to add certain inflections, when to hold back so Dylan’s voice can dominate (leading into the chorus). It’s the musical equivalent of, say, watching a behind-the-scenes documentary about Happy Gilmore that only shows Adam Sandler swinging his golf club, over and over and over again. It’s really f*cking boring, but I considered it a Holy Grail – and in my collection of over 1,000 bootlegs (seriously), that’s saying something.
I have no idea where that CD-R is today.