It’s Not Over Yet, Baby Blue: 
Dylan anthologized (again)

One of these photos is the columnist, age 6. He should probably get some therapy.

Once again, it’s just about time for an annual “best of” list.  With so much worthy racket in the running, I probably won’t get around to listening to everything, much less narrowing down a list of finalists, until the early days of 2008.

In the meanwhile, one release that is unlikely to make my short list for “Reissue of the Year” is the Columbia/Legacy ‘DYLAN’ 3-CD retrospective released last month.  Not that there is anything remarkably wrong about it.  It generally sticks to the highlights of his five decades at Columbia Records; a towering body of work approaching 50 albums.  That alone qualifies it as effortlessly listenable.    

But considering the depth of the Dylan catalog, this career-spanning approach guarantees a conspicuous amount of MIA’s.  For starters, there’s only one track on tap from the epochal ‘Highway 61 Revisited.’  More inexplicable still is the occasional - and wholly unnecessary - clunker like “Changing of the Guards”; a Springsteen-esque overproduction from the late ‘70s.   

And yet this multi-disc package succeeds both as an infectiously well-programmed introduction – one that stretches way beyond the “Classic Dylan” comfort zone - to back catalog appetite stimulant.  Within a few weeks of picking up this CD, this recharged fan has already graduated from the former category to full-blown Dylan addiction.  If I qualify as a test case for the ancillary benefits this release will have for Sony’s bottom line, the ‘DYLAN’ disc is a major success.

First, an admission:  Over the years, my mania has fallen back into the most predictable of all camps; the “Electric Dylan” fan.  That means I stick to the mandatory ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’, ‘Blonde and Blonde’ (plus supporting live doc, ‘Bootleg Series Vol. 4: Live 1966’, period outtakes, etc.) and precious little else.  In a bid for eternal uncoolness, I’ll own-up to owning three times more Deep Purple or Mott the Hoople on CD.  Bob Dylan needs a fan like me about as much as he needs another unauthorized biography.

But this ‘DYLAN’ multi-disc thing has had just the type of extreme Pavlovian effect on me that the Sony marketing squad could only have dreamed of.  I’ve been motivated by what’s missing on ‘DYLAN’ to shop and shop again the online stores for choice pre/post-’65/66 downloads.  This week finds me purchasing uncharacteristically un-Barlike Dylan CD’s like ‘Blood on the Tracks’ and ‘Desire’ (latter which sounds like an over-praised bummer, other than the epic “Hurricane” which I already got on the new set). 

I squeezed in a re-read of Dylan’s ‘Chronicles’ this week as well as another airing of the Scorsese DVD docu, ‘No Direction Home.’  I’m putting Sundazed’s ‘07 vinyl upgrade of ‘Nashville Skyline’ on my Christmas list.

But now I see that cable channel VH1 Classic is hosting an All-Dylan Day tomorrow, on our (US) Thanksgiving holiday.  So, it turns out that what I thought was some personal trip is nothing more than an extremely effective marketing campaign.  In that sense, my Dylan mania at the moment is the type of nostalgic reaction that this year’s reunions (Van Halen with David Lee Roth, the Police) correctly banked on.  For God sake, VH1 Classic is also marketing the hell out of a re-release of the ‘Song Remains the Same’ this week!* 

But back to ‘DYLAN’, it serves as an easy introduction for this laziest of fan to finally survey what the man’s been up to in recent decades.  While it’s not always pretty (at its worst, reminding me – and I say that in the loosest sense of the word - of a particularly un-noteworthy Dylan concert attended in the early ‘90s), it is true that Dylan continues to create some fine music.  Sure, the fire of his Fender-powered surrealistic riffs of the ‘Highway ‘61’ era may be long gone.  But it’s nice to hear recent small triumphs like the soundtrack cut “Things Have Changed” and a judicious sampling of last year’s ‘Modern Times.’

- Jeff Jarema
November 2007

* That cheap shot at the Led Zeppelin concert relic, while more or less justified, was highly disingenuous.  In proof-reading the above piece, I can tell you that within hours I was purchasing the newly-remastered CD.  I just couldn’t resist reliving this horrendous live album event which in all fairness includes a number of superior versions (an uncharacteristically concise and rockin’ “Celebration Day”, frenzied Jimmy Page performance on the title track).  On the other hand, I’ll go ahead and nominate a previously-unreleased, awesomely disorganized “Over the Hills and Far Away” as defining example of Led Zep at its most leaden.