What You See Is Not What You Get. About “Shadow Kingdom”, Bob Dylan, 2023.

The future for me is already a thing of the past – You were my first love and you will be my last(Bob Dylan, 2001).

Bob Dylan wrote those words for his album “Love And Theft”, and has since then been diving into and mining the old genres and words for poetic wisdom and musical inspiration, in the run creating a new universe of songs, different from his songs in the sixties, the seventies and in the eighties. Yes, I still believe in the cleansing effect of his lonesome work on “Good As I Been To You” (1992) and “World Gone Wrong”(1993), I still believe in “Time Out of Mind”(1997) as an unique boulder stone in his discography, but in a way more connected to the two previous acoustic albums than to the following. He was standing at the crossroads and once more chose a new path to follow, one that led to the future through the past. This impression is highly strengthened by his great radio series “Theme Time Radio Hour” (and, much later, the sequel, “The Philosophy of Modern Song”). The past was always close behind. Once again, though in new ways, he was combining his own distinctive affinity with words with the musical genres that ran in his veins, succeeded in making a complete new phase of his career, the second half of it, the occasional album, the never ending touring with his own outstanding Song Book and tons of covers, always using his own vocal abilities to perform the songs in new ways. His thorough exploration of the Great American Songbook was a natural step forward, going full circle of the musical jambalaya he loved and stole from, even took a hit at, when it comes to the Tin Pan Alley part of the story. To live outside the law, you must be honest. The law don’t touch him at all. Then came “Rough And Rowdy Ways”, a new boulder stone. Next up is “Shadow Kingdom”, again something completely different.

In Plato’s allegory of the cave, trying to explain the human condition, he describes the prisoners who are forced to just look at the shadows at the wall to understand what’s happening, not being able to see what’s really going on behind them, neither the fire nor the puppets used to make the shadows. One could possibly say that they are living in a shadow kingdom? In that case, so are we. What we see is not what we get. Like the reflection in the mirror. Such is life. Such is happiness.

For those of us who got tickets to the announced happening, “Shadow Kingdom”, the 18th of July 2021, we couldn’t be more excited, waiting for a live-streamed Dylan concert, the first one since the fabulous pre-pandemic shows in fall of 2019. We would be able to see Bob Dylan “in an intimate setting as he presents renditions of songs from his extensive and renowned body of work created especially for this event.” The subtitle was “The Early Songs of Bob Dylan”. What we got was not what we expected, and what we saw was not what we heard, but oh, how we loved it (at least I did), whatever happened backstage, behind the masks or behind the curtain. A wonderful night in black and white, in an imaginary French juke joint of old, the non-existing “Bon Bon Club” in Marseille, who even got a nice greeting in the closing credits. The French connection is strongly emphasized by the prominent use of the accordion in the arrangements, known from so many chansons in the past. In many ways the visual setup is kind of a sequel to the cover of “Rough And Rowdy Ways”. The “No photography allowed” policy from live shows and even Dylan’s rather withdrawn placing on stage is replaced with an artist much closer to both the camera and the audience than we’re used to, some times holding the microphone, sometimes holding his guitar, sometimes stretching his arms against us, touching his heart or pointing – he is acting out each and every song, matching the new arrangements both in movements and moods, as we know – he contains multitudes. “Shadow Kingdom” is in this way very much a unique visual project – both poetry and song in motion, but then again, it is also poetry for your ears. It is part a fever dream about how things used to be, part a story about songs that used to go like that, but now goes like this. Songs change, too.

The new album, the difficult 40th studio album in Dylan’s canon, is the soundtrack from the “concert film” we got to see this evening. But the masked musicians backing Dylan in the film is not the one we can hear, and it’s not really a live concert, but filmed scenes like chapters in a book, woven together with interludes also present on the album, like a whole suite of songs, not just a bunch of songs in a row. For those of us who saw the film, it is quite impossible to unring the bell. Even when closing our eyes to this music, we will see the images of the dim lights, the thick smoke and the Bob Dylan music as a whole, the juke joint tableaus, the diverse audience, sometimes watching the show, sometimes dancing, the musicians, and Dylan himself the center of it all, sometimes with shadows covering his face, sometimes not, sometimes in his white jacket and sometimes with the black embroidered jacket, some times even with a jacket over the striped shirt he used at Wembley and in Newcastle in 1984. The Eighty-year old Song and Dance Man still going strong.

The Musicians?

So – who are the musicians at this album, besides the unmistakable Dylan? The album cover and inner sleve does not include any information about the musicians that are backing Dylan, neither the ones used in the film, nor the ones that actually is playing on the album. No credits, not even to Jack Frost.

Thanks to Tim Pierce’s video from 12th of March 2022 with information from the recordings he himself participated on, combined with some info from T-Bone Burnetts press release 26th of April 2022, the one about his new technology of “Ionic Originals”, made “to achieve dramatic improvements in listening experience and durability via newly developed analogue disc”, makes it reasonable to believe that they are talking about the exact same sessions. The press release states the following:

April 26, 2022— Multiple Grammy-winning producer T Bone Burnett today unveils
the completion of special studio recording sessions with Bob Dylan, during which the
universally acclaimed artist revisited a personally chosen set of his iconic songs for the
first time in decades. These recordings have resulted in the creation of Ionic Originals:
Newly developed discs that advance the art of recorded sound and mark the first
breakthrough in analogue sound reproduction in more than 70 years.

It then seems fair to believe we are talking about recordings from May/June 2021 in Village Studios in Los Angeles, a band pieced together by Don Was (bass), who also invited Tim Pierce (guitar) and Greg Leisz (mandolin) to participate in making some stripped-down recordings with Bob Dylan, notably without drums – first starting with only the four of them, later adding artists as Jeff Taylor (accordion) and T-Bone Burnett (guitar). Tim Pierce eagerly tells us how Dylan the whole time was leading the project, showing them what he wanted on his own guitar, but never contributing guitar in the actual recordings (or did he?), just harmonica and the most important of all, the vocal. Pierce even tells us about Dylan writing new lyrics on the spot to fit the new arrangement of a song. (I guess he talks about “To Be Alone With You” with almost completely new lyrics for the occasion, lyrics that came to stay, at least for a while, making the song a regular part of the Rough And Rowdy Ways Set List.) Pierce was impressed, to say the least, telling us that even Dylan implied he didn’t know exactly where the new lyrics came from. (Pierce was later replaced by Ira Ingber on guitar, an old acquaintance of Dylan, working on both Empire Burlesque and Knocked Out Loaded.)

As we now know, T-Bone Burnett’s Ionic Original project so far has only resulted in the one released recording of “Blowin’ In The Wind” from these sessions, famously auctioned in July 2022 for nearly $1,8 millions to one lucky owner of the acetate. Rolling Stone reported Burnett like this; “It’s the best singer, the best song, great musicians, the sound is killer,” said producer T Bone Burnett about the record. “I’ll say this: I’ve never done anything better, to be sure.” (In Christie’s auction announcement of the iconic and now ionic “Blowing in the Wind” this is told about the recording: “The 2021 recording was made in Los Angeles and Nashville, with Dylan joined by Greg Leisz on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on violin, Dennis Crouch on bass, Don Was on bass, and Burnett himself on electric guitar. It was recorded by Michael Piersante and Rachael Moore and mixed by Michael Piersante.” Whether some of the extra names mentioned here also was working on the songs on the present album, I don’t know. (The end credits of the film however confirms “Music recorded by Michael Piersante” – Michael f.i. was recording engineer and did the mixing of Krauss/Plant’s grammy-winning “Raising Sand”, produced by T-Bone Burnett). The quotes from T-Bone Burnett of course indicates that he speaks of those recordings as a whole, not of just one song. Whoever participates on each song, the band is great and the accordion is a key element to the musical success of this album.

Some of the recordings referred to are included in the “Shadow Kingdom” project, both film and soundtrack, some of them are (maybe) still waiting to be known and released. The rumors tells us the recordings include songs such as the before mentioned “Blowin’ In The Wind” (1963), then “Masters of War” (1963), “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” (1965), “All Along The Watchtower”(1967), “If Not For You” (1970), “Simple Twist of Fate”(1975), “If You See Her, Say Hello”, “Oh Sister” (1976), “Saving Grace” (1980), “Shooting Star” (1989) and “Dignity”(released 1991, an outtake from Oh Mercy, 1989). Let’s just hope for a “Shadow Kingdom, Vol 2”. Or future archive releases.

The Choice of Songs.

“The Early Songs of Bob Dylan” – I guess the term gives different associations for different people, but in this case it means songs spanning the years between 1965 to 1989, all inside the first half of Dylan’s remarkable career. Five of the thirteen songs are from 1965, an obvious turning point for Dylan, nine songs from the period 1965-1969, three from 1971-1974 and the one from 1989.

So why does Dylan choose exactly these songs? It’s definitely not an all time “Greatest Hits” compilation, even if it obviously consists of great songs only, several of them included on compilations. (It’s funny, though – when USA Today reprised their ranking of Dylan songs from 1 to 359 when celebrating “Dylan at 80” in 2021 (the list first released in 2015), the first songs from this new album mentioned was “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” at #60 and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” at #75. Always in the end a matter of the critics personal taste, of course, but also telling about the vast catalogue of Dylan songs to choose from. If they also had considered the songs from “Rough And Rowdy Ways” the numbers might have been different, I guess.) The songs chosen for this project are neither even close to the top of the list of songs most played live.

The well-known English Dylan follower, the late “Lambchop”, back in the days always shouted “Play what you want, Bob!” when attending a Dylan concert. I guess that’s what’s happening when it comes to the choices of songs also this time, like when he drops the greatest hits approach when making the setlist for “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour”. In fact, five of the songs from “Shadow Kingdom” has earned they’re place on this setlist, from the start with the arrangements and lyrical twists as on this album.

We know that Dylan likes to vary the tempo and the rhythm in a set, as he also does here. Then again, of course the composition of the “concert film” surely also has something to say, the songs and the performances, visual signatures and tableaus makes an important dramatic effect in the film, as with Dylan standing at the microphone without guitar in the slow ballad of “Queen Jane Approximately” and in the quite radical rearrangement of “Tombstone Blues”, the perfect blues scene with “Pledging My Time”, with the audience dancing in front of the stage. Or Dylan with guitar flanked by two ladies in “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” and of course what might be the visual highlight of the “concert film”, the scene also used as cover of the album, “What Was It You Wanted”, together with the beautiful blessings to us all when Dylan reaches out his arms in “Forever Young”. When did the idea of the film appear, I don’t know, but that it was filmed in May 2021, may of course suggest that this the whole time was part of the plan. Maybe even some re-takes of songs was made after the filming, who knows?

The Performances.

Even if the performances are not recorded before a live audience, like most Dylan studio recordings, they still has a live “feel”, obviously in the film, but also when we just listen to them, not just because the flubbing of some lines in “Most Likely”, but because of the usual Dylan treatment of a song, making each version unpolished and unique. That doesn’t necessarily mean that each version is successful, but in this case, on “Shadow Kingdom”, the vocals are strong all the way, some of the performances are really outstanding.

Of course, especially when it comes to Dylan, the lyrics are important, too. Take the prologue, the revised version of “When I Paint My Masterpiece” both melancholic reflecting on the past (“Sailin’ around the world full of crimson and clover/Sometimes I feel like my cup is running over”) and always open to the possibility of future masterpieces. In “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)” there is the first hinting of parting time coming up: “I just can’t do what I’ve done before/I just can’t beg you anymore/I’m gonna let you pass/And I’ll go last”.

In the AARP interview in 2015, Bob Dylan compares “I’m A Fool To Want You” to “Queen Jane Approximately”. “It’s easier for me to sing that song than it is to sing Won’t you come see me, Queen Jane. At one time that wouldn’t have been so. But now it is. Because “Queen Jane” might be a little bit outdated. It can’t be outrun.” Then he on “Shadow Kingdom” delivers an “upgraded” version and arrangement of the song that makes it feel both relevant and up to date, now, now sung by an old man, it takes on a completely new coat of paint, the original pleas of the song, with such soft and tender vocals, now brings new associations to the same words – like the ones about “being tired of yourself and all of your creations”, of being “sick of all this repetition”, then begging for “someone you don’t have to speak to”. Things are different now. All the words ring true – again. A beautiful rendition with tasteful harmonica. The first really highlight of the album for me, remembering Dylan in the film standing by the microphone on the checkerboard floor with the band.

The intimate “I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight” in its original version, live it often becomes a completely different song in a setting where it’s sung like a rocker to a grateful crowd, like in Paris last fall where Dylan even concluded “I’ll be your baby ce soir!”, much to the audience’s delight. In the film we could see Dylan at the mic with guitar, the moment in the film where we get most up-close camera angle, the artist guarded by a woman on each side of him, one of them even dusting his jacket shoulder. In the same way “To Be Alone With You” is a smooth rocker that in this setting (Dylan thought maybe Jerry Lee Lewis would record it, but, too bad – it never happened) might sing to an audience as much as to a person. The lyrics in this song are almost completely new, making the song a near relative to “Soon After Midnight” from “Tempest”, maybe a cousin, with its quite disturbing threat “I’ll hound you to death/That’s just what I do/I won’t sleep a wink/Till I’m alone with you”. Despite this – a cool, swinging rendition.

“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” was always one of my favorites from the mid-sixties, and I like most versions I’ve heard through the years, still, this tenderly sung tex-mex version with a strong accordion rhythm together with the electric guitar, surely is among the most beautiful versions of them all, maybe a bit inspired by the great cover version from “Handsome Family”? In the film, Dylan in his white jacket is close to the camera, clinging to the microphone, next to a table with men drinking, the band further back, and he uses his right hand to underline the tender vocals to which he is miming. He is caring extra for the last word in every line. At eighty, some lines has an especially moving effect: “Up on Housing Project Hill it’s either fortune or fame/You must pick up one or the other, though neither of them are to be what they claim,” and of course the ending: “Everybody said they’d stand behind me/When the game got rough/But the joke was on me/There was nobody even there to call my bluff/I’m going back to New York City/I do believe I’ve had enough”. The second highlight for me.

In the film, “Tombstone Blues” had the same checkerboard floor setup as “Queen Jane Approximately”, Dylan to the left with the microphone, his face mostly shadowed, and the masked band to the right. The arrangement is radical, just a long recitation of the fabulous lyrics mostly over just chords from the accordion and guitars – one wonders if it will start to rock, but it never do, just one long flow of lyrics, makes both the artist and the listener dwell on each sentiment in the song: “Now I wish I could write you a melody so plain/That could hold you dear lady from going insane/That could ease you and cool you and cease the pain/Of your useless and pointless knowledge”. The Memento Mori theme was always present in Dylan’s artistry – life is short and we all have to die. Even me, though younger of age than Dylan, might have the “Tombstone Blues” in a quite different way than forty years ago. It’s dead serious. The third highlight for me.

“Is the scenery changing
Am I getting it wrong
Is the whole thing going backwards
Are they playing our song?

For me, “What Was It You Wanted” becomes a pivotal point in this suite of songs, as well as in the film, more than just a highlight. In the film the singer is sitting on a stool heading towards us, in the shadows, but looking directly into justice’s beautiful face, facing truth by asking the existential questions, even to Judas, or to a judas: “Was there somebody looking/When you gave me that kiss/Someone there in the shadows/Someone that I might have missed?“. And no, you are not the same person that was here before. Things have changed. The river theme flows freely through the performances and the movie as well. Things change, even if age don’t carry weight. To be ore not to be is the question. To be busy being born, not busy dying, is the question. To not fade away. Is this even the same songs that they were before? Early songs, yes, but also present songs, partly lyrical, even more in performance. That’s Bob Dylan for you.

The deepest hole in the catalogue of Bootleg Series is the documentation of the live treasure chest of the “Never Ending Tour”, now also the “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour” (why not release the last London Palladium show??). Is it all great? Of course not. Some of it might be a bad day or an uninspired performance, some might be a sketch of an arrangement that blossoms a few days or years later, but oh, what riches of phenomenal performances there is if you know how to pick them, sometimes a complete magical show, sometimes the one outstanding performance in a mediocre show, the one performance you’ll never forget, and sometimes, even most times for me, the solid show with a string of highlights. You’ll find diamonds from each year of the tour, (even those years known to be “not so good”), from 1988 to 2019, as you now will find them in the “Rough And Rowdy Ways Tour” from 2021 on, now with mostly new songs, or old songs renewed, sometimes lyrically, always in arrangement and performance. Bob Dylan’s extraordinary amount of live concerts – it is an unique well spring of music, of making music, of making music relevant, of improvisation, of timing & phrasing, of poetry for your ear. “Shadow Kingdom” reminds us of exactly that, of Dylan’s ability to make an old song new, to make an “outdated song” relevant, even the early songs, our songs, but never the way they were. The album and the film might not be “live”, but then again, it is live in studio, the one take unique from the next (just listen to Bootleg Series). That’s Dylan, already in early years, and still, tired of endless repetitions. It is not live, but it is about letting the songs live. Back to “What Was It You Wanted” – the backing couldn’t be more perfectly executed, Dylan’s tasteful harmonica breaks lifting it all to be this album’s first true masterpiece, but soon followed by another.

As the story goes, “Forever Young” was written to Bob Dylan’s oldest son, Jesse, who would have been seven years when “Planet Waves” was recorded, the same son who later has been quoted: “He is a better father than songwriter”. It is of course a beautiful universal hymn of a blessing or well wishing to a child, a youth or even a friend or an audience. Most of us will remember the beautiful version from “The Last Waltz”, a really unique experience for me, the very first time seeing Dylan on the film screen. The last time he played it live was in Hammersmith 21th of November 2011, I was lucky to stand by the stage when Dylan and Mark Knopfler duetted on this song, including the touching gesture from Knopfler, reaching out his hand towards Dylan when he sang the line “May your song always be sung”. When Dylan on the new album delivers a tender, but intense rendition of the song, he reminds me more of Knopfler’s grateful and generous attitude than his own reaction on Hammersmith, caught of guard, usually always being in full control of what’s happening on “his” stage. In “Shadow Kingdom” we see Dylan in the spotlight in his white jacket, with acoustic guitar, beautiful accompanied by bass, guitar and what sounds like a harpsichord, in the film it looked like a dolceola, acting out the hymn almost like a prayer, miming intensely to the warm exquisite pre-recorded vocals, makes the one who listens feel like this song really is to me, the listener, and to us all. For me, the most touching and heartwarming performance on the new album – and in the film. At the time of the filming no one could really know for sure if there would be another Bob Dylan tour.

The blues of “Pledging My Time” makes the audience wanna slow dance in the stuffy room in the movie, even the lonely one wants to dance with the bottle, like he’s emulating Robert Johnson, Skip James or other possible inspirations for the deep blues feeling of the song – in the film Dylan is on the dim lighted stage, watching the dancers, eagerly commenting his own vocals with snippets of the harmonica’s play, the I in the song presumably fighting to get his baby back: “Well, the room is so stuffy/I can hardly breathe/Ev’rybody’s gone but me and you/And I can’t be the last to leave/I’m pledging my time to you/Hopin’ you’ll come through, too.”

“The Wicked Messenger” is next up, another new arrangement of an old song, this one from the perfect suite of songs on “John Wesley Harding”, the second from that album. Opposed to the hard rock versions of the song from many years ago, this is a folksy version, though with an almost eastern flavor in the mix, together with the accordion and the electric guitar and some nice harmonica. The song slow down at the end of the second and fourth line in each verse, then an almost demonstrative guitar interlude between the verses. The famous ending: “If you can’t bring good news, then don’t bring any” contrasts Dylan’s own credo which obvious includes never turning a blind eye to human nature, and, one might think, to say what need to be said, whether it is good or bad news. The difference is of course that this wicked messenger got no voice at all, in trouble deep, so to speak.

Bad news, bad news came to me where I sleep
Turn, turn, turn again
Sayin’ one of your friends is in trouble deep
Turn, turn to the rain and the wind

A pretty straightforward version of “Watching The River Flow” for me might be the weakest link in this chain of songs when it comes to performance – not bad, but for me it lacks that little extra spark, it might just be that this song never was a big favorite for me, that I don’t really get it in the first place. When its included one would think it has to do with the sentiments in the song, and that it might be fitting in this mid-pandemic period of waiting and waiting and waiting for something to happen, to set us free. It might be only me, but I really think that electric guitar sounds quite like it is Dylan himself playing the solo? That this arrangement of the song has been the opener of every show on the “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour” so far, signals the importance Dylan gives it, both as a prologue and maybe as a good warm-up for the shows. Some nights of the tour it really rocked, not so much here in a more easy-going version, also with some lyrical changes, like “Wish I was back in the city/In my true love’s arms/she likes older men, they can’t resist her charms.” and “People disagreeing everywhere you look, don’t no where to draw the line/Only yesterday I saw somebody who was really in a bind”.

The album ends with what one might think is an obvious choice, “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”, a slow, beautiful version sung over chords from the accordion and the electric guitar, almost a recitation, very different from the more uptempo version from the shows in 2019, this one more related to the arrangement of “Queen Jane Approximately” or even “Tombstone Blues” on this album, Dylan caressing each word, stretching out the last word in each line, making each line and each word count. Then again, the song is, as we know, as much about a new beginning as about an ending – “strike another match, go start anew, and it’s all over now, baby blue.” So, what’s next, Mister Dylan? We never know, but we’ll stand in line.

A nice instrumental ends the suite of songs at the album, “Sierra’s Theme”, the accordion taking the lead with the hints of tango, then more of the guitars – the melody at least inspired by “All Along The Watchtower”, that’s at least how it sounds to me. In the film it is played over the end credits. The inclusion on the album really makes it the complete soundtrack for the “concert film”.

“The Concert Film”.

The “concert film” concept isn’t new when it comes to Dylan, there have been different approaches on the matter through the years. In 1964, Bob Dylan participated in the Canadian TV series “QUEST”, playing a bunch of his own great songs in a cabin-like environment, walking between tables with his guitar and harmonica, presenting a great intimate concert for the chosen few in the audience, smoking and drinking. In 1967 the great “Don’t Look Back”, directed by D.A. Pennebaker was released, covering Dylan’s tour in England in 1965, both on and off-stage. A similar project, “Eat The Document, covering the 1966 tour, with some unbelievable great performances was screened but never officially released. Thanks to Martin Scorsese’s “No Direction Home” (2005) all the great live footage was made to use in what became the definitive documentation of Dylan’s career until 1966.

Bob Dylan’s dream of making his own film resulted in “Renaldo And Clara” (1978), including both improvised and acted scenes and phenomenal live footage, shown for a short time on cinemas, but never officially released. Again Martin Scorsese was the chosen one to get hold of all the footage from the filming, both backstage and on stage, including some of the greatest live performances ever, resulting in “Rolling Thunder Revue – A Bob Dylan Story”(2019), announced as “part documentary, part concert film, part fever dream”. And it was. Some shadows on the wall was involved.

In 1986 Dylan released a straight concert film, “Hard To Handle”, from his tour down under with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers. In 1994 we got the fine MTV Unplugged performances recorded in November that year, later released both on album and DVD, making it the last official Dylan concert film. (Some of us still hope for the release of both audio and video from the wonderful Supper Club shows from 1993.) All this different projects before this completely new and different take on the genre, both innovative and surprising, both vintage and modern, like a reflection in the mirror, playing with what is real and what is not, something that, as we know, don’t really matters inside the Gates of Eden.

“In the lonely night
In the blinking stardust of a pale blue light
You’re comin’ thru to me in black and white
When we were made of dreams”

What’s the story behind this film project? I really don’t know. Would it have happened without the pandemic situation in the world, the one that set all live performances on hold, that brought the Never Ending Tour to an abrupt end? Was it just a burst of creativity or an instant urge to invent a new way of communicating with the audience after 33 years of continuous touring, and suddenly not being able to? I don’t know. What I do know is that the choice of Alma Har’el as director made it all become a match made in heaven. She was already known for her unique ability to “blur the lines between documentary and fiction”, and with “Shadow Kingdom” she succeeded in making another timeless alternate universe, the Shadow Kingdom of Bob Dylan, a place where he in many ways come closer to the audience than the more reclusive attitude he is known for the last years, even stepping to the back of the stage in concert, if he’s not behind the piano. Happily we all in a few days will be able to see the film again – and again, or for the first time.

In the “Shadow Kingdom” movie Bob Dylan acts as one who deeply need to communicate with an audience, the listener, you who watches, using his hands and arms and mimic to put the songs across. It reminds me of his words in “Chronicles”: “Most of the other performers tried to put themselves across, rather than the song, but I didn’t care about doing that. With me, it was about putting the song across.” I think it still is, and that “Shadow Kingdom” is just another way of doing exactly that. How to revisit your own catalogue of youth, in the studio, without turning into your own jukebox? This is the way. The songs are already classics. Let’s just rearrange the faces of the songs. Make something new, something different. Let’s forget about the drums, let’s drop the piano. Let’s do something completely different. Let’s mime. Let’s make a “concert film” in a non-existing bar in France. Something like “Shadow Kingdom”. “Shadow Kingdom”, the show that first disappeared into the smoke rings of our minds after those summer days in 2021, but that we now, with this release, get to cherish and save with the rest of this unique catalogue of music, and to share with all the lucky music lovers that didn’t get to see and hear it the first time. As it should be.

Johnny Borgan

P.S: Some useless statistics for the songs of “Shadow Kingdom” – for my research, and for you who might be interested.

Year of release, year when they first and last were played live, number of times played live, and what number they got at the most played live list. Most interesting – some of the great songs had their live debut loooooong after they were released.

“Queen Jane Approximately”, “The Wicked Messenger” & “Pledging My Time” was introduced at the famous “Dylan & Dead Rehearsals” in 1987, I would guess among the songs Garcia insisted that Dylan really should try, then Dylan had to look in his lyrics book to re-learn them. The two first of them were played first time live with Grateful Dead that summer, “Pledging My Time” first with Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers.

Five of the songs has been included in the “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour” set, close to the arrangement and the lyric change first used on this album, notably the completely new lyrics to “To Be Alone With You” (see lyrics under).

Last live# liveMost played list
1.“When I Paint My Masterpiece”4:2819711971202325959
2.“Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)”3:1019661974202342942
3.“Queen Jane Approximately”5:1619651987201376151
4.“I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight”2:5819671969202355830
5.“Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues”4:1119651965201424370
6.“Tombstone Blues”4:5419651965200616994
7.“To Be Alone with You”3:1019691989202323973
8.“What Was It You Wanted”4:5319891990199522235
9.“Forever Young”3:1819741974201149334
10.“Pledging My Time”3:2719661987199921238
11.“The Wicked Messenger”2:47196719872009125114
12.“Watching the River Flow”3:1519711978202361425
13.It’s All Over Now Baby Blue”2:3519651965201956029
14.“Sierra’s Theme” (Instrumental)2:372023  


P.S. 2: To Be Alone With You (New lyrics)

“To be alone with you, just you and I
Under the moon ‘neath the star-spangled sky
I know you’re alive and I am, too
My one desire, just to be alone with you

To be alone with you even for just an hour
In a castle high in an ivory tower
Some people don’t get it, they just don’t have a clue
They don’t know what it’s like, to be alone with you

They say the night time is the right time
To hold each other tight
All our wordly cares will disappear
And everything will come out right

I wish the night was here, make me scream and shout
I’d fall into your arms, I’ll let it all hang out
I’ll hound you to death, that’s just what I do
I won’t sleep a wink, till I’m alone with you

I’m collecting my thoughts in a pattern
Moving from place to place
Stepping out in the dark night
Stepping out into space

What happened to me darling?
What was it you saw?
Did I kill somebody?
Did I escape the law?
My heart’s in my mouth, my eyes are still blue
My mortal bliss is to be alone with you
My mortal bliss is to be alone with you”


P.S. 3: The etching on Side 4 of the album.



The masked band in “Shadow Kingdom” was of course real musicians, hand-picked for the occasion, credited as “Players” in the end credits of the film. Great musicians in their own right. Here they are:


8 thoughts on “What You See Is Not What You Get. About “Shadow Kingdom”, Bob Dylan, 2023.

  1. That was wonderful to read. Very insightful and informative. Thank you. I did have the experience of signing up to view and listen to the Shadow Kingdom show when it streamed. While I was initially disappointed that it turned out not to be a fully ‘Live’ performance, I was blown away by the artistry of the show. I did see one of Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways shows live after it just started to tour. No matter the medium, the man is a sublime performer, or Song & Dance Man. Thanks again for taking time and effort to write this out and expanding my appreciation and enjoyment of all its reference points. Cheers.


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