It’s night time in the big city, and I’m listening to McMillan, Talking Bob Dylan, about the phrase-makers king and the way he can sing.
I’m listening to Jeff Slate, raving about the great singer Bob Dylan, singing his ass off in his Great American Songbook Project. I’m listening to Andrew Male speaking about “The Man In Me”, making “New Morning” shine bright and fresh, making you wanna listen to it again, immediately. I’m listening to a humble Billy Bragg, in awe of the master, I’m listening to the wandering encyclopedia of Michael Gray and I’m listening to the endless enthusiasm of the hosts, Lucas Hare & Kerry Shale, two actors who partly hail & partly share, the perfect duo to make us feel their love for Bob Dylan as they each night creates an intimate, warm & welcoming atmosphere in the Bob Dylan suite Dreams in Lipsync Studios, making every guest feel comfortable, appreciated and interesting, whether their relationship to Dylan are new or old, deep or rudimentary, consuming or distanced. Each time it’s like they all are sitting simply in that room, eager and with their eyes and ears wide open, talking like friends, and we who listens in, we are the happy flies on the wall, being able to listen in to some pretty good stuff.
The hosts are a bit unsuccessful trying to distance themselves from “The Dylanologists”, just because their knowledge of their subject, and their preparations of each episode, are quite impressive, the two friendly competing in remembering lyrics, inspirations, references or anecdotes, far beyond the competence of the usual suspects, sometimes the two almost are drowning the guest in pure eagerness, sometimes all three of them speaking at the same time, but that’s all part of the fun, part of the brilliance of this podcast, as is their great ability to invite and attract a long and varied string of voices from all sides of cultural life, musicians, journalists, actors, artists, poets, making each program worth listening to, some of them just fabulous, like the ones mentioned. McMillan’s speech about One More Cup of Coffee is beautiful. Music journalist Andrew Male’s love for “New Morning” and his ability to explain that in words, is just fabulous. At one time in that episode he says something like: “If you’re interested in Dylan, you have to see it as a grand narrative, even the points that you flinch from.” Truer words have not been spoken, and it’s a most fruitful starting point, to see the art of Bob Dylan as a great canvas or jigsaw puzzle, where every color or piece is of some meaning to the whole picture. The podcast “Is It Rolling, Bob” emphasizes this wisdom in a great way, all the thousands of pieces are on the table in front of them when they start each program, sometimes they delve into one little spot of the canvas, other times a cornerstone, one time about the acoustic Dylan, then the electric, then the actor, another time the gospel of Dylan, each guest an inspiration and possibility for a meaningful conversation about both the eternal and multitude of themes and also some unimportant, but funny details. If you see it this way, as a great narrative, the need to make a list from top to bottom really isn’t that important, whether it’s a list of albums or songs or periods – we all got our own list, anyway. Still, all guests are invited to speak of their likes and dislikes, and that’s fine, too – and interesting. The first cuts is often the deepest, then some will argue for that like it’s an objective truth, while others seem to understand it’s not necessary that simple. It’s life, and life only. The focus, preferences and favorites contradicts each other splendidly through the series. Some like “Christmas In The Heart” and others don’t like it. Some loves “Feel A Change Coming On” and others hates it. That’s how it is. We just disagree, and that’s fine.
I still haven’t heard all of the pods, but what do I miss? Not so much, but as one that always first and foremost treasure Bob Dylan as a singer and performing artist, I miss the really enlightened conversation about Dylan’s unique Live Project, especially since the late eighties and till this day. I totally respect the guests right to not see Dylan live, or to see him once or twice, to not like what they saw or heard and so on, not liking the reinventing of songs, the choices of songs etc. All that is fine with me. Still, the serious treatment of the artist, both as a singer and songwriter and maker of albums, logically would lead to a serious treatment of his overwhelmingly enormous output of live shows, the variation in styles and genres, in choice of songs and cover versions, all this a great narrative in itself, and for Dylan self, I think, if you like it or not, a very important part of his artistic journey, even more the last 32 years than the years before, maybe more important than the albums, too. I think that everyone who suggests that this part of his work isn’t really important for Dylan, is wrong. His spontaneity, his sense of improvisation, his busy being born again, it’s all there, in Scarlet Town. Just listen to him sing that song the last years. It couldn’t have been better at any time. Though the quality and intensity of the shows obviously has varied through the years, some of the comments could make the casual listener think there has been a continuous downward spiral, or that it all has been “the same” for more than 3000 shows. The truth is far from that. As an example, in 2019 the shows in the fall was radically different from the summer shows, both legs really great, from 2012 to 2013 there was a revolution going on, both in choice of songs, in vocals and arrangements, in 1988 it was punk, in 2001 it was bluegrass. And so on. In my opinion many of Dylan’s greatest songs has been presented in their finest versions the last thirty years. The hand-picked “Bootleg Series: The Never-Ending Tour Live Recordings Special” could easily be the most shockingly surprising of them all. I think. He who seeks, finds.
With that said – I really love “Is It Rolling, Bob?” – let it roll even more.
Thank you so much, Lucas and Kerry, for your brilliant work.
To all of you, listen to “Is It Rolling, Bob?”! It’s just great. Perfect company in the time of corona. With Pod On Our Side, at last!