Tag Archives: The Rolling Stones

Why Dylan Matters

dylan.jpg

Why Dylan Matters
By Richard F. Thomas
William Collins – 12.99

Immature poets borrow, mature poets steal.

               T. S. Eliot

The academics, they ought to know. I’m not really qualified. I don’t have any opinion.

               Bob Dylan

Two days ago, the ever mercurial Bob Dylan will turn seventy-seven.
Now I don’t know about you, but most seventy-seven year old people I know, or have known, aren’t like Bob Dylan.
A man forever searching.
Discovering.
Forever on some sort of quest to find out.
To find out what exactly, is beyond any form of what he’d no doubt consider as claustrophobic clarification. There again, any remote form of clarification in the hands of Dylan is akin to the utmost of artistic denial.
Which is just one reason why Dylan matters.
And there are, needless to say, many, many others.

The songwriter’s endemic evolution alone ought to surely be cast as one of them – if not one of the most unwittingly profound – as the George Martin Lane professor of the Classics at Harvard University, Richard F. Thomas, writes in this informative book’s second chapter, ‘Together Through Life’: ”And so it has continued with Dylan’s constant evolution through the decades, with some fans disembarking and others coming back onboard, and newer, younger ones signing up for the first time. It is an essential part of Dylan’s genius that he is constantly evolving as an artist. This is not true of the artists of similar longevity, say Leonard Cohen, Joan Baez, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Van Morrison, or Bruce Springsteen. Inevitably that constant evolvement creates periods of experimentation and exploration, some less successful than others, but always moving restlessly toward something, and with the music of the last twenty years now having reached, and sustained, a third classic period.”

It’s as if Dylan has enjoyed a number of very varying musical careers; the very first of which, his astonishing sixties output, fundamentally sealed his artistic fate.

A fate, which, when compared with sixties cohorts, The Rolling Stones for instance, exemplifies evolution as it truly ought to be (but more often than not, isn’t). Reason being, The Stones last terrific album was released well over forty years ago, whereas Dylan’s last magnificent album was released as recent as 2012 (The Tempest).
Might this be another reason why Dylan matters?

As already mentioned, Dylan matters for a great many reasons – far too many to list and address in this review.

Why Dylan Matters however, comes from an entirely different perspective, essentially that of the Classics, as Thomas makes clear: ”For the past forty years, as a Classics professor, I have been living in the worlds of the Greek and Roman poets, reading them, writing about them, and teaching them. I have for even longer been living in the world of Bob Dylan’s songs, and in my mind Dylan long ago joined the company of these ancient poets. He is part of that classical stream whose spring starts out in Greece and Rome and flows on down through the years, remaining relevant today, and incapable of being contained by time or place. That’s why Dylan matters to me, and that’s what this book is about.”

By way of comparative relation, these nine chapters, along with the book’s Conclusion (‘Speechless in Stockholm’), do much to substantiate the author’s thinking. There again, like Ovid, Homer and indeed Virgil himself: ”The art of Bob Dylan, no less than any other works produced by the human mind in its most creative manifestation, can be put to work in serving and preserving the humanities […] through a genius that captures the essence of what it means to be human.”

Analytical, forthright and overtly persuasive, Richard F. Thomas has herein written a book that’s a veritable joy to both read and behold – even if just to be reminded of the following: ”Songs were my preceptor and guide into some altered consciousness of reality, some different republic, some liberated republic…I didn’t know what age of history we were in nor what the truth of it was. Nobody bothered with that. If you told the truth that was all well and good and if you told the un-truth, well that’s still well and good. Folk songs taught me that.

David Marx

1971 – Never A Dull Moment

1971

1971 – Never A Dull Moment
Rock’s Golden Year
By David Hepworth
Bantam Press – £20.00

          It was the best of times because in many respects it seemed to be the first of times.

What an utterly inviting, engaging and rather revelatory read 1971 – Never A Dull Moment has turned out to be.

As a regular reviewer of books, it can become relatively easy to slip into the subliminal slipstream of literary nonchalance, whereby the many inexorable words on the page are no longer punctuated by any form of inspired attraction. Although such is most certainly not the case with regards this glittering testimonial to the year 1971 – the year David Hepworth has described as ”rock’s best year.”

To be honest, it’s hard to disagree.

One need only randomly refer to any of the book’s twelve chapters (one for each month of the year along with a Prologue and an Epilogue) to ascertain just how idiosyncratic, how invigorating, how very, very valuable and important, popular music once was. A time when the music industry, and dare I say it, society at large, wasn’t so (kn)obsessed with a plethora of boy-bands and/or wailing tarts – for whom the parameters of music continues to entail nothing other than a cloying cleavage and all the vocal finesse of Benito Mussolini.

Reason being, 1971 was still a regal time of unquestioned innocence; which Hepworth is (unsurprisingly) keen to already alert us to in the very first chapter ‘January,’ wherein he writes: ”Smokers every where. On tube trains, in pubs, in offices, even in hospitals. No joggers, no health shops, no gyms, no leisurewear, no trainers, no mineral water, no Lycra, no fast food, no obesity. Wiry people […]. The only people with tattoos got them in the services […]. No security industry. No gates on Downing Street, no full body scans, no surveillance cameras, no speed bumps. Football fans pay two bob at the turnstile and then shove […]. no political correctness.”

No political correctness, yet there was still such a thing as society.

There again, Margaret Thatcher and her cabinet of Einsatzgruppen hadn’t yet arrived to evoke such sullen economic mockery amid the myopic naivety of the working class. No wonder rock’n’roll meant precisely that: rock and fucking roll.

Four blokes like The Who, making a great B-I-G colossal noise that actually meant something. That actually endeavoured to at least traverse such opium dullness as that of today’s grey, dull, barren, not to mention seismically redundant excuse of a pathetic music industry.

Indeed, from The Who’s Who’s Next to David Bowie’s Hunky Dory, from Carole King’s Tapestry to Led Zeppelin’s IV, from The Rolling Stones Sticky Fingers to Rod Stewart’s Every Picture Tells A Story, from Pink Floyd’s Relics and Meddle to John Lennon’s Imagine; in 1971, there really wasn’t, as this book’s title more than aptly suggests, a dull moment.

As Hepworth states in the book’s Epilogue: ”The middle of the road was the only place to be. Underground was over ground, anything could be a hit. It was into this moment of panic and opportunity that all these 1971 masterpieces were hurled […]. If my twenty-one year old self could have been transported from 1971 to 2016 he would be struck dumb by the laptops, the phones, the affluence, the foreign tongues on the street, the idea that music could be accessed as if from a tap, the fact that three out of five stories in the news were about the sex lives of famous people and the puzzling realization that he couldn’t just go out on Saturday evening and buy a ticket on the door for any show in town.”

The high-octane realization ought to surely be the fact that there are no shows in town actually worth going to, while those that are, cost somewhere in the region of almost a hundred pounds per ticket…

To be sure, one could conclude that for those of a certain age, 1971 – Never A Dull Moment is a truly terrific book; but to be perfectly honest, for anyone remotely interested in the truth and what the sanctity of music once meant (and perhaps, could once again), this book will and ought to appeal to those of any age.

David Marx

1966

1966

1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded
By John Savage
Faber & Faber – £20.00

From Lou Reed and the influential trajectory of The Velvet Underground to Dusty Springfield; from LSD in all its connotations to how The Beatles changed the world (and to a certain degree, still are); from the threat of all out nuclear war and the formation of CND to The Yardbirds to naturally, England winning the World Cup; 1966 – The Year The Decade Exploded makes absolutely crucial reading for anyone remotely interested in rock’n’roll – as it once was but shall never be again – and (a fundamentally) British culture that at the time, was superlative, if not sublime in its design.

As one of my favourite writers and commentators on modern day music, Jon Savage (whose excellent England’s Dreaming: The Sex Pistols and Punk Rock I reviewed for The Asbury Park Press) writes in the book’s Introduction: ”It was a time of enormous ambition and serious engagement. Music was no longer commenting on life but had become indivisible from life. It had become the focus not just of youth consumerism but a way of seeing, the prism through which the world was interpreted. ‘This isn’t for me’: that simple, defiant cry, delivered by John Lennon, the most famous young person on the planet, echoed throughout 1966. Success wasn’t the be-all and end-all; it was possible to conceive of an alternative future, to believe that things could be different, that people could be free.”

”That people could be free,” unlike today of course, where society, whether by way of societal infrastructure and/or plain expectation, social media or mere economics, has become more shackled than ever before.

Indeed, roll over Jean-Jacques Rousseau and tell David Cameron the news, for as a nation, Britain is becoming increasingly more stifled by the day; unlike the rather explosive year in question, which, throughout these 547 pages (excluding Introduction, Discography, Sources and Index) has been captured, dissected and delivered in such a way that is both educational and entertaining.

Written in chronological month order – with the opening of each chapter stipulated with a set of relative black and white photographs – Savage takes on a veritable journey through a period time that was idiosyncratically innocent, yet nevertheless, breathtakingly vibrant, colourful and some might say, teetering on a precipice of profound new thinking.

Just one (of countless) examples being Bob Dylan, LSD and The Beatles: ”[…] as part of his move away from overt social and political comment, he recorded several news songs that seemed to reflect the hallucinogenic experience. One of them hinted at synaesthesia, music as a cosmic force. ‘Take me for a trip/Upon your magic swirling ship,’ Dylan sang on ‘Mr. Tambourine Man.’ ‘My senses have been stripped/And I can’t feel to grip.’

In late 1964, Dylan turned The Beatles on to marijuana at the end of their first major US tour. By their unanimous account, it was an epiphany. From then on the group began to experiment with sound: you can hear the result in subsequently recorded songs like ‘What You’re Doing,’ ‘I Feel Fine,’ with its feedback opening, and the droning ‘Ticket To Ride.’ By the time that The Beatles were making the film Help! They were – in John Lennon’s words – ‘smoking marijuana for breakfast’ (‘April’).

Other than writing about what many readers might expect such as The Beatles, The Stones and Dylan etc, Savage also touches on the likes of the aforementioned Dusty Springfield, herself, a more than contradictory character: In all, Dusty was a complex, fascinating figure, oscillating between confidence and deep shyness, sharp wit and total commitment to her singing. While her appearance was as solidly armoured as The Supremes’, her spirit was constantly mobile, the fluttering of her hands giving away the tensions and the driven ambition beneath the surface. ‘I want to sing songs that are real, human, with deep emotional appeal,’ she told an American interviewer in 1964, ‘this is my hard fight.”’

Is it just such ‘fight’ that is so sorely lacking amid the wretched Celebrity Culture of today (to which there unfortunately seems no end in sight)?

Either way, 1966 is a mesmerising and intrinsically valuable read.

And it is so for a number reasons, primarily that of the subject matter itself; simply because 1966 ”[…] was a year when audacious ideas and experiments were at a premium in the mass market and in youth culture, with a corresponding backlash from those for whom the rate of change was too quick. The resulting tension was terrific. 1966 was the restless peak, the year when the decade exploded.”

David Marx

The Complete Beatles Songs

beatles

The Complete Beatles Songs
The stories behind every track written by the Fab Four
By Steve Turner
Carlton Books – £30.00

As a huge Beatles fan for as long as I can remember, I’m still learning varying, mighty interesting things about the band as the years hurtle by. This is oft aided and abetted by articles in the quality newspapers every now then, along with yet another book release written from yet another perspective. But in the ultimately B-I-G scheme of things, it’s the astoundingly brilliant music they wrote that traverses all things, which is where this absolutely wonderful book comes into play.

I’ve previously reviewed a couple of Steve Turner’s books on The Beatles, although I have to say, this altogether majestic 340 pages (excluding Discography, Bibliography, Index of Song Titles, Credits & Acknowledgements and Song Credits), really is going to take some beating.

Along with Ian MacDonald’s superlative Revolution in the Head: The Beatles’ Records and the Sixties (1994), Turner’s  The Complete Beatles – the stories behind every track written by the Fab Four will probably set the literary/musical bench mark really high so far as its explanation is concerned.

Compiled in inevitable chronological order and compartmentalised by album (including Live at The BBC and Anthology I – III), this is a publication which traverses nigh every aspect of The Beatles song-writing prowess, written by someone who is clearly a fan, clearly in love with their musical output.

In the book’s Preface for instance, Steve Turner immediately writes: ”In another sense, every time I hear a Beatles song feels like the first time I’ve ever heard it. The elements of surprise in the tunes that made them so captivating when they were first released still sound unexpected. They have a magical capacity for retaining their freshness, and they seem to have been able to do the same for succeeding generations. They are songs very much of the era and culture they were created in but also able to transcend that era and that culture. I feel enormously privileged to have my work printed alongside the work of The Beatles but I’m under no illusions. They did their bit without me. I couldn’t have done my bit without them.”

I’m compelled to write that most bands and (serious) singer/songwriters, couldn’t have done their bit without The Beatles. From The Rolling Stones (who back in the sixties, emulated their every move) right through to Radiohead, the band remain responsible for a menagerie of musical influence to this very day; although it started with that of a rather simplistic approach – which the author substantiates in the very first chapter, Please Please Me: ”Although they naturally drew on their own experiences as they wrote lyrics, they did not at this time feel any compulsion to reveal their hidden selves, write words that could be judged as poetry or compose messages for alienated youth. Their keen concern was to emulate those songs that had proved their worth by becoming hits. They stuck to conventional subject matter, used variations of phrases that had worked in past pop songs and deliberately targeted the emotions of their young female followers. The words of a song were deemed to ”work” not simply because of what they said but because of the pleasing and appropriate sounds they made when sung. Words had to contain their own music.”

As mentioned at the outset of this review, it’s always a pleasant surprise, if not a joy, to stumble upon some musical or personal revelation: ”’Tell Me Why’ was written to provide an ”upbeat” number for the concert sequence in A Hard Day’s Night. John thought of something the Chiffons or the Shirelles might do and ”knocked it off.” It’s a typical John scenario. He has been lied to and deserted. He’s crying. He appeals to his girl to let him know what he’d done wrong so that he can put it right. Children whose parents either leave them or die suddenly are often left with a feeling that they must in some way be responsible. ”If there’s something I have said or done, Tell me what and I’ll apologize,” John sang. Paul later assumed that there was an element of autobiography to it.

It was only when he underwent Primal Therapy in 1970 that John came to terms with these subconscious fears. Therapist Arthur Janov set him the exercise of looking back through all his Beatles’ songs to see what they revealed of his anxieties. On his first post-therapy album, John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, he was able to sing about these traumas in their original context in songs such as ‘Mother,’ ‘Hold On,’ ‘Isolation’ and ‘My Mummy’s Dead.”’

Suffice to say, many Beatles fans might already know about the stories behind many of the songs, but for me personally, I still find it interesting and more than compelling to re-read, re-learn or be reminded of where and how, so many of these great songs came into being: ”Two events during 1964 had a profound effect on John’s writing. The first was hearing Bob Dylan’s music in Paris during January, when Paul acquired The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan from an interviewer at a local radio station. Paul had heard Dylan’s music before through his student friends in Liverpool but it was the first time John had heard it. After hearing Freewheelin’, Dylan’s second album, they bought his debut album Bob Dylan and, according to John, ”for the rest of our three weeks [in Paris] we didn’t stop playing them. We all went potty on Dylan (Beatles For Sale).

As well as being something of a hefty tomb of a book – reproduced with some terrific colour and black and white photographs – The Complete Beatles Songs is a terrific read, simply jam-packed with quotable quotations.

To say it’s almost un-put-downable, is a colossal understatement; what isn’t though, is the fact that every Beatles fan should own a copy.

David Marx

The Beatles VS The Rolling Stones

The Beatles vs The Rolling Stones
Sound Opinions On The Great Rock’n’Roll Rivalry
By Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot
Voyageur Press – £20.00

Apart from the fact that this book is ever so lavishly designed: great (black and white as well as colour) photographs and chronological pullout time charts that lend it an intrinsically infectious persuasion; it invariably fuels an elongated debate in such a way as to either re-confirm or re-consider ones’ staunch standpoint. It’s something of a literary template, a premise of sorts, from which to embark howling from the rooftops that either The Beatles or The Rolling Stones reigneth supreme.

Even though in my opinion, there’s no real competition – as for every one decent song the latter wrote, the former wrote perhaps twelve great ones – The Beatles Vs the Rolling Stones – The Great Rock ‘n’ Roll Rivalry still makes for a terrific read. Even if only to marvel at some of the aforementioned ace photography and take on board some of the (more interesting, questionable, fraudulent, myopic, dismissive, weak, suggestive, colourful and indeed sound) arguments both for and against.

To be sure, throughout the book’s 183 pages, Jim Derogatis and Greg Kot argue their case in a manner that’s perhaps more discursive than it is academic.

Rather like a more focused Mark Radcliff and Stuart Maconie (only without the Northern charm and the petulant flippancy), it’s clear from the outset that the two authors are clearly in the Stones camp. In Chapter Three’s ‘Nothing Is Real – Two Divergent Paths Toward The While Light’ for instance, Derogatis writes: ‘’When it comes to the psychedelic years, I have to say that it always bugs me that the Beatles are portrayed as the Acid Apostles of the New Age, leading rock’n’roll into the psychedelic flowering of the mid-Sixties. The Rolling Stones are considered to have sneered at the genre – the drugs, the sounds, and the whole ‘’peace and love’’ hippie movement – dabbling in it reluctantly, at best, and laughing at it, at worst.’’

If such is the case, then why did The Stones release the tenuous Their Satanic Majesties Request a mere few months following The Beatles release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Did it not have something to do with the ever so simple fact that whatever The Beatles did, The Rolling Stones did? Usually six months after the fact might I add. John Lennon was even known to have quipped as much to Mick Jagger – who had (unsurprisingly) yet again managed to ‘drop by’ yet another Beatles recording session at Abbey Road.

That the authors absolutely root for The Stones throughout, is absolutely fine by me; although it does reveal a certain amount of dissent amid what ought to have surely been a thesis more considered. That said, The Beatles Vs the Rolling Stones is a lot more fun than it is scientific, which, if truth be known, is what it’s all about.

Thus, making any thorough examination a tad superfluous. Reason being, idiosyncratic inspiration, not to mention escapism and a feel-good foreboding were what the two bands in question, during the sixties at least, were fundamentally all about. Certain qualities of which, are magnificently captured within these eight chapters; none more so than in perhaps the book’s first premise: ‘’[…] in the end, the only real answer to the question ‘’Beatles or Stones?’’ is ‘’Both!’’

A sound opinion? That’s for you to decide.

David Marx
www.davidmarx.co.uk