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THE PICTURES BEHIND BOB DYLAN'S PAINTINGS

The other day I tweeted I'm expecting Scott Warmuth to tell us on whose photographs Bob Dylan has based his New Orleans Series paintings." I wasn't joking, and of course he and others already have  come up with some of the pictures behind Dylan's. He tells me it was Tara-Jane Hulligan Zuk, a Liverpool-based Dylan fan, who spotted this Leonard Freed photo of a boy and a blind man used by Dylan:
Dylan, of course, hadn't sat around in a New Orleans courtyard for hours painting the scene in front of him either. Indeed:
Scott Warmuth found that old postcard image back on January 20 (2013) when the Dylan paintings were first glimpsed online. He tells me that Anneke Derksen, a Dylan fan from Antwerp, found other postcards, including this:
Something like same argument might apply as over the Asia Series. The fact that Dylan's paintings are of other people's scenes may or may not make all this smell funny  -  other artists have followed much the same method  -  but it does seem sad. Here is someone whose generous creativity changed the times with a highly personal, hands-on plunge into the maelstrom of America, and who is now making millions of dollars essentially by copying other people's work. How much more you could admire that courtyard painting if Bob Dylan had  sat there for hours to achieve it.

The publicity for the New Orleans Series doesn't quite make the same spurious claim as with the Asia Series, that Dylan painted from life itself:

The 71-year-old star, whose works already hang in various European art galleries, came to inaugurate the exhibition himself earlier this week. Each work is a fragment of a bigger story and each image is halfway between dream and memory," said a spokesperson for Milan City Hall, which is organising the show. It said the paintings were based on photographic images and had a strange atmosphere of suspense" with their stories of love and violence. [from Art Daily]

Yet while it states very clearly that the paintings are based on photographs, and the rest of the wording can't be pinned on Dylan himself, there is a specious sort of semi-claim here, isn't there? Halfway between dream and memory?" Whose?

38 comments:

  1. I found all the New Orleans patio and courtyard postcards (4) in the meantime and bought them on eBay right away. Thank you for mentioning my name. I'm flattered.

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  2. You're most welcome. I mentioned you on Twitter too (myTwitter name is @1michaelgray1 ). I try to hold to "credit where credit is due". Perhaps unlike Bob...

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  3. All the paintings have been on display in the EDLIS Café

    http://www.edlis.org/cafe

    for some time. As better images come in we upgrade the quality.

    Opinions differ on the postcard sources but we feel they are all from the one 1937 E.C. Kropp Co. linen postcard numbered series.

    "... still think the actual four postcards used are those from the series of 1937 postcards 152, 158, 159 and 160, posted in the album in the Caf."

    The New Orleans Series in EDLIS Café (Photos) album keeps growing from its first images on 18 January 2013.

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=475322989197330&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=458888484177863&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=458901804176531&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=458923600841018&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=483664461692980&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10200497243014331&set=oa.491701507535053

    Do join the Caf and Facebook Friend a few people, then contribute to improve the quality.

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    Replies
    1. Thank you. I'm sorry I didn't know about all this. I lost touch with EDLIS a long time ago, as you may know.

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  4. He seems to have developed a recognisable personal style of thinly painted surfaces with a washy effect which is to his credit, and as long as he credits photographic sources, he's only doing what many artists do. As far as creativity is concerned, it's about what a painter does with someone else's image, which for Dylan appears to be not much.
    Examples of creative borrowing would perhaps be Francis Bacon's use of Segei Eistenstein's image of a woman on the Potemkin steps and his take on Velasquez's Pope.
    But as I've said elsewhere if Dylan auctioned a signed napkin someone would buy it

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  5. Thanks for the article, Michael.

    The research that leads to these finds being shared through the EDLIS groups and websites is always collaborative and a lot of fun to do!

    Scott Warmuth, Anneke, myself and a host of other people have contributed information about the New Orleans Series, and as a result the EDLIS Café probably has one of the most complete collection of images and details currently available. That would not be possible without co-operation and teamwork.

    Finding the Leonard Freed photograph you mentioned above (A Boy Leads a Blind Man) was a mixture of luck and persistence. I used a Google image search on the Dylan painting, then added the search term 'blind man', narrowed it to a black and white picture search, and kept scrolling through several pages until I hit the right picture.

    I hope your blog readers will each choose a painting and post its source to you and in the Caf. Nothing is hidden, anyone interested in Bob Dylan can reveal a source!

    EDLIS Café:

    http://www.facebook.com/groups/edlis.cafe/

    http://www.edlis.org/cafe

    Cheers!

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  6. Mr. Gray,

    I don't blame you for being mad at Dylan and for saying whatever you did about his most recent RS interview, consdering that in it he did call critics who disparage his use of 'quotation' 'evil motherfuckers' who can rot in Hell, not to mention 'wussies' and 'pussies.' That is obviously far more harsh than anything you've ever said in criticizing your subject for not citing sources, no wonder you've turned so negative.

    For what it's worth, though, I think it's more fun to find those sources out from other people who appreciate and are fans of the art and 'the tradition' for what it is rather than from the artist himself alongside the presentation of his new works (other than in particular instances where he chooses to highlight a source as part of the new work). It's part of the enjoyment and it wouldn't be the same if he pinned these pictures and postcards next to his paintings or put them in the catalogue at the gallery or if he listed all the books he used in writing 'Chronicles' or all the movies on 'Empire Burlesque' and on and on throughout his whole career - when has he ever claimed to have been engaged in anything but love and theft and being a famous artist that earns millions through what he manages to create through that tradition?

    And it wouldn't be the same if he didn't have a little fun with the write-ups and interviews about the art shows and the process of their creation. Sucks for you that you can't enjoy it the same way, but on the other hand, I'm sure you do enjoy whatever cash you manage to make off your particular writing and speaking brand of Dylan criticism. And I'm not implying that you shouldn't enjoy it, as you certainly are towards your subject 'who is now making millions of dollars essentially by copying other people's work.'

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  7. By the way, it's interesting that you note the name of the semi-famous person who took the photo of the boy and the blind man, but you don't note the name of the photographers who took the pictures on the postcards or even say you're trying to figure out who they are (it seems like a slight that their names aren't listed on the front of those postcards to begin with). Isn't that the main part of your point, that he's not giving 'credit where credit is due'? Hopefully some credit can be given asap for at least these photographers.

    Dylan was talking about Timrod's descendents here in the recent RS interview, but the same could apply to anyone's work that someone of Dylan's fame and critical draw quotes. Adding a section on your website where you keep a list of all the unattributed works used within his work would go a long way towards bringing attention to many artists who are not known to a wide audience today and in most cases never have been. It would be a valuable addition to the cataglogue of sites that do that given the relative popularity of your stuff.

    Heck, your subject might even appreciate it and say something nice about people who help to build hoopla about forgotten artists in his next interview. And it would give you a better standing to continue to disparage him for not helping these artists and their descendents share in the millions he makes from, according to you, copying their work. It would probably be better too if you'd actually make that charge directly if that's what you're really accusing him of when it comes down to it. You could push for Otis Rush's estate to get some money from 'Together Through Life' instead of just Willie Dixon's. Seems like that would be more fair, and that's what it's all about in your book, right?

    "And ask his descendants what they think of the hoopla. And if you think it's so easy to quote him and it can help your work, do it yourself and see how far you can get. Wussies and pussies complain about that stuff. It's an old thing – it's part of the tradition. It goes way back. These are the same people that tried to pin the name Judas on me. Judas, the most hated name in human history! If you think you've been called a bad name, try to work your way out from under that."

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your knee-jerk hate mail is pathetic.

      Delete
  8. Elmer Gantry10 February, 2013

    Michael

    My wife recently idenified a new medical condition - PTSD 2 - that is, Post-Tempest Stress disorder. She bases this on the fact that the cynicism and phoniness of Tempest has led to a situation where, at the moment at any rate, I am finding it difficult to listen to ANY Dylan at all...

    The paintings further confirm my impression that at present Dylan is playing the part of charlatan and snake oil merchant - and performing it incredibly well...



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  9. I agree with the gist of Michael's comments on Bob's Milan art show. Copying old postcards is done by many seventy-something Sunday painters, it's harmless, but when propelled by very high prices and the hyperbole of Gagosian Inc, it becomes harder to take at face value. I'd like to refute your correspondent who claimed Francis Bacon did something similar with Velazquez's portrait of Innocent X. Bacon took an awe-inspiring 17th century portrait and transformed it into an icon of 20th century isolation/alienation. Bob took some old postcards and transformed (Who did? Studio of Bob? workshop of Bob? school of Bob?) them into rather ordinary paintings worth... how much? $100,000 each? (exeunt omnes singing "Money doesn't talk, it swears.")

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  10. Hi Mick
    if you actually read my comment before refuting it, I'd be more impressed with your obvious erudition.

    Cheers

    joe

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  11. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    Elmer Gantry’s words – cynicism, phoniness, charlatan, snake-oil merchant – are wretchedly hard to disagree with.

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  12. Elmer Gantry12 February, 2013

    Michael

    Would add that with previous 'bad' Dylan albums, I have generally felt the same way about them as Raymond Chandler did about Ernest Hemingway's 'Accross the River and into the Trees' (a book which bears about the same relationship to Hemingway's best work as 'Tempest' does to Dylan's:).

    Chandler argued that the book showed the difference 'between a champ and a knife thrower. The champ may have lost his stuff temporarily or permanently, he can’t be sure. But when he can no longer throw the high hard one, he throws his heart instead. He throws something. He doesn’t just walk off the mound and weep.'

    But with an album as cynical and contrived as "Tempest", waliking off the mound & weeping would have been a preferable option...



    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elmer, I think you have to make your mind up. Either Tempest is worse than the other "bad" albums or else Across the River and into the Trees "bears about the same relationship to Hemingway's best work as Tempest does to Dylan's", in which case you're saying Tempest is no worse than other "bad" Dylan albums (whichever they are). You can't have it both ways.

      Delete
  13. Elmer Gantry12 February, 2013

    Michael

    Point taken...

    My feeling is that Tempest is worse than Dylan's other 'bad' albums...

    Albums like 'Empire Bulesque' or 'knock Out Loaded' were, I think, a product of a genuine lack of inspiration on Dylan's part...

    'Tempest' by contrast is a mean-spirited cynical exercise - a product, perhaps, of Dylan believing the sycophantic reviews he has been getting for the generally mediocre albums he has made since 'Love & Theft'. as you pointed out, its contrived nature means it is as much 'product' as was a rod stewart album from, say, the mid 80's...

    Of course, Across the River and into the Trees is, easily, Hemingway's worst book and if we were to take his early short stories - the 'Nick Adams' stories or 'The Sun Also Rises' - as his 'Highway 61' - crude, I know - then, I think the analogy with 'Tempest' holds good...

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  14. Elmer Gantry13 February, 2013

    Michael

    Another point I would make is that while 'Empire Burlesque' had, at least two songs ('Dark Eyes' & 'When the Night Comes Falling) which with greater care in the writing & a different producer could have been far better than the versions on the album & 'Knocked Out Loaded' contained one of Dylan's undoubted masterpieces ('Brownsville Girl'), even the reasonably good sons on 'Tempest ('Duquesne whistle' and 'Soon after Midnight) are essentially pastiches of other superior songs...

    And I still cant understand how someone with Dylan's love of the Child ballads and traditionalfolk music could write songs as laboured and dreary as 'Tempest' itself & 'Tin Angel' (actually 'Tin Ear' might have been a more apt name for that dreadful song)...

    'Tempest' is the first Dylan album I have taken a serious dislike to & I haven't been able to bring myself to even play it for about two months now. It seems to me to represent the negation of evverything that Dylan at his best represents - spontanaeity, empathy, wit, word play - they all seem lacking...and in its place we have a grinding, mechanical, seriously mean-sprited, and soul-less mess....



    ReplyDelete
  15. Elmer Gantry13 February, 2013

    Michael

    Tried listening to 'Tempest' again this morning, but had to take it off after a few tracks, as I found it so dispiriting & depressing...

    It struck me that, for too long, we have been letting Dylan away with third-rate blues riffing, which would be embarassing from a pub band...

    It also struck me that Dylan clearly doen;t care about these songs or their lyrics - and he also knows very well how to get a 5 star review from Rolling Stone nowadays (a few lines from old ballads to show how in touch with tradition he is, some rap-style misogyny to show how up to date he is, some literary references to please the Greil Marcus brigade, and a kind of ugly macho posturing which is sadly disappointing in Dylan's case)...

    If it works out as stale gibberish which is simply there fo fill a cd, who cares? Bob obviously doesn't...


    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Elmer, and I do agree about the ugly macho posturing, but please, enough is enough. Even I don't feel as negative as that about Tempest - and certainly don't harbour that much disrespect for the Dylan of today.

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    2. Isn't Tin Angel a satire of Blackjack Davy with the Boss' and Lover's male vanity and possessiveness blinding them to the fact that the Lady is more in control of and, ultimately, at peace with the situation than either of them are? I think the song is supposed to be comic. I know a lot of people do not like the song, but I enjoy listening to it.

      Delete
  16. Elmer Gantry15 February, 2013

    Michael

    Hold on a sec...

    I would argue that, in this instance, it has been Dylan who has been 'disrespectful' to those who admire his work and have done so for many years. by releasing an album as poor as Tempest is. His comments in the RS interview on those who have been checking out his sources also seems to me to be disrespectful in the extreme...

    I have been listening to Dylan's music for over 30 years, gone to as many concerts as I have been able to, have defended his work where I could when it was being treated with critical derision on many sides, and have bought virtually every book I could find on his life & work...

    I think he is, by far, the greatest songwriter rock music has produced & at his best, is on a par with people like Schubert, Schumann & the great classical songwriters...

    But I must admit I take it personally when Dylan produces 'shoddy' work...and this Tempest undoubtedly is...

    I am also struck by a tone that is emerging here from some contributors that to be a 'fan' of Dylan's it is necessary to admire his work uncritically & to act as if admiring his music is like being a supporter of a football team...

    It also seems odd to me that, having generally been much less dismissive of some of Dylan's recent work than you have been your writings, I have suddenly have become 'disrespectful" (whatever that means) when addressing the cynicism, that to my mind, prevades both Tempest & Dylan's paintings...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Elmer, you don't need to tell me about the tone introduced by fans who can't bear a word said against him - I get hate-mail for being a critic instead of a fanatic - but I don't believe I've been as negative as you about his recent work, his paintings or even Tempest. I hope I've never presumed to read his whole mind or to dismiss his creative processes as so simplistic. And when I have argued, in my writing, that some of his work shows signs of a corrosive cynicism on his part, I've given it a necessary detailed scrutiny, not just a sweeping generalisation. When it comes to this blog, it's true that I have not offered real critical exegesis - it's a blog, and takes up, unpaid, quite enough of my time without working it as if it were a solid book. But even with Tempest I haven't dismissed the whole album as you did, and I have never been so cynical as to suggest, like you, that he included literary references (or anything else) just to get a 5-star review. I know I said that some songs struck me as awful. They did. Rather different from calling the whole thing "gibberish".

      Delete
  17. Elmer Gantry15 February, 2013

    Michael

    By the way, Ii do admit that 'stale gibberish' was, perhaps, pushing things too far...

    The 'third rate blues riffing' is also somewhat unfair - put it down to my response to the sycophantic reviews that 'Tempest' has received. Altho' i would argue that there have been too many inferior Blues tracks on just about every Dylan album since 'Time Out of Mind'...

    I still have the utmost respect for Dylan as a great artist - but I think he needs to be called on inferior quality work...


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  18. Rambling Gambling Gordon

    You’re entrenched in your position, Elmer, but albums can grow on you. I disliked Under The Red Sky until (ahem) I read a certain critic’s praise of the likes of Handy Dandy and Cat’s In the Well, after which I began to hear them (and the album) very differently. (Mind you, it’s the only time that’s ever happened to me with Dylan).

    In a previous post I (reluctantly) endorsed some of the words you’d used in your criticism but I was thinking mainly of the paintings, the whole business of which does strike me as pretty shabby. I wish he’d just paint from his own inspiration (no matter that it might be weaker than it was).

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  19. Elmer Gantry15 February, 2013

    Rambling Gambling

    I agree with you that albums can grow on you, but, strangely enough, this doesn't happen with me (at any rate) with Dylan albums..

    The great ones usually appear great on a first hearing, although, of course, their subtleties & richness become more apparent over time...

    The 'bad' ones, well, one can begin to appreciate the better songs on them, but I rarely completely change my opinion in those cases...




    ReplyDelete
  20. Elmer Gantry16 February, 2013

    Michael

    On another point, entirely, there is an interesting comment by Dylan in the RS interview, where he seems to say that his current writing style is primarily geared towards producing songs that 'work' live...

    it might be, then, that the mechanical arrangements currently favoured by his band are partly designed to cover Bob's vocal limitations...

    The short vocal lines they tend to use may also be about preserving what is left of Bob's voice...

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  21. It is interesting that the song Tin Angel has the same title as a song by Joni Mitchell from her album Clouds. It is interesting because Joni's accusations of plagiarism, deception and all around hucksterism were widely reported well before the release of Tempest.

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  22. Elmer Gantry18 February, 2013

    Michael

    Perhaps part of the problem lies in expecting too much from Dylan. He doesn't really have anything left to prove, so once my reaction to Tempest dies down (as you can guess, its an album I won't be playing very often) he still has that incredible body of work behind him.

    Part of the problem with Dylan nowadays is the fact that his presence is so ubiquitous and there is so much written about him, that it can get hard to see the wood for the trees.

    As a reaction to that, lately I have been trying to listen 'around' Dylan, as it were - so have been exploring the music oof people like Van Ronk, Paul Clayton, Freid Neil and (particularly) Phil Ochs (who I have come to believe is a greatly under-rated songwriter and, at his best, is not as far below Dylan's level as I had been led to believe). Indeed, I think, a very strong case can be made that, in both his strengths and weaknesses, Ochs was far more the true heir of Woody Guthrie than Dylan was...

    In part, this is an attempt to see what separates Dylan from his contemporaries...



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  23. Elmer Gantry19 February, 2013

    Michael

    Was, by chance, reading an old article, 'A Storyteller's Shoptalk' by the great Raymond Carver (what a pity Dylan recent work wasn't influenced by him rather than the vastly over-rated and mid-numbingly tedious novels of Cormac McCarthy). In it, Carver argues that:

    "Some writers have a bunch of talent; I don't know any writers who are without it. But a unique and exact way of looking at things, and finding the right context for expressing that way of looking, that's something else. ''The World According to Garp'' is of course the marvelous world according to John Irving. There is another world according to Flannery O'Connor, and others according to William Faulkner and Ernest Hemingway. There are worlds according to Cheever, Updike, Singer, Stanley Elkin, Ann Beattie, Cynthia Ozick, Donald Barthelme, Mary Robison, William Kittredge, Barry Hannah. Every great, or even every very good writer, makes the world over according to his own specifications."

    It is precisely this sense of a genuine individual vision that I find lacking in Dylan's current work...

    Funnily enough, recently went to an exhibition of Francis Bacon's paintings here in Sydney & each painting had that hallmark of a strikingly original take on the world (even when, funnily enough, they were clearly influenced by or based on other people's work)...

    At the same time, I have been reading Yukio Mishima's novel Spring Snow and (disliking his politics as intensely as I do) throughout it, I had the sense of a great artist being true to his particular, perhaps slightly warped, view of the world...

    The sense I have now is that where Dylan's borrowings were once the spark, as it were,which drove the creation of intensely individual works, nowadays they serve to cover (what in Tempest's case, at least) appears to be a dearth of real inspiration on his own part...



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  24. At the risk of being on topic and out of fashion at this old women's sewing circle, the Caf team has identified two more sources.

    Selma is a suburb of New Orleans? ;-) New Orleans extends to Austria? ;-) In Bob Dylan's mind who knows...

    How many have the people here done while we were away? :-)

    Churchgoers

    Photograph by Leonard Freed
    USA. Selma, Alabama. 1963.
    Members of the congregation sing the civil rights song, "We Shall Overcome."
    NYC21696
    (FRL1963026W00001/14A)

    Masked Ball

    Photographer: Robert Capa
    Austria, February 1950, Carnival
    PAR122355
    (BOB1950004W00053/ICP821)

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=oa.491701507535053

    ReplyDelete
  25. Thank you. And a couple of days earlier I received a note from Wiebke Dittmer, as follows: "It appears to me that one of the four paintings said to be based on postcard images is in fact based on the cover of this booklet:
    http://www.amazon.com/Historic-Old-New-orleans-La/dp/B000PW47NO
    Bob usually never seems to paint just part of a photo, so I wondered if it really could have been the "stairway" postcard. Some other details seemed to be different, too, so I decided to look for other photos of this place. Looks like this is the one."

    At least this oneis from New Orleans, then.

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  26. This too was discussed both on the Wall of the Caf and in the New Orleans Series album there. You are free to read them. It is all open and collaborative, you can read without joining the group. Though all are welcome to join.

    The booklet of postcard images and the four postcards are produced by the one publisher. My guess is that Bob Dylan's researchers put both the booklet and the postcard images in front of him.

    Anyway for those who are too démodé to make one click to read information where it is posted, the caption at the minute reads:

    "Walters, Theo A. Historic-old New Orleans, La. Milwaukee: E.C. Kropp, 1931.

    This booklet reproduced two of the same images as in the postcard series and could have been Bob Dylan's source as easily as a set of postcards could be. The same company produced both from the same images. And the booklet cover is very similar to the Bob Dylan painting. But the other two images are not in the booklet... So it seems one source is the postcard series. Though the source may be both the postcard series and the booklet.

    The central foliage in the large pot is different in each image, the painting , the postcard and the booklet cover. The lamp outside is in both the postcard and the booklet, but not in the painting. The painting and the booklet cover only show the left side leaving out the significant full staircase. The shininess of the tiles and the visibility of the ceiling at the front of the first arch suggest the booklet was a source. In other minor details the painting simplifies its source.

    The postcards reproduced in this booklet are: Ancient Driveway, French Quarter / French Quarter Court Yard Of The Two Sisters, Royal Street / Jackson Square, Showing St. Louis Cathedral /The Cabildo, Old Spanish Court Building / Lacework In Iron, Royal Street / Old St. Louis Cemetery / Courtyard, Little Theatre, Vieux Carre / Saint Anthony’s Alley / Ponalba Building, Jackson Square, In The Old French Quarter / Old Absinthe House / Napoleon Bonaparte House / Old Court Yard, French Quarter / Chartres Street, View In The Old French Quarter /Vaults Of Old St. Louis Cemetery On All Saints’ Day / Jackson Square, Showing St. Louis Cathedral / Famous Old French Market / Canal Street, Looking Wet / Interior French Market / Royal Street.

    Ancient Driveway, French Quarter = Driveway and Ancient Stairway, Patio Royal, New Orleans, La. -- 152

    Courtyard, Little Theatre, Vieux Carre = Little Theatre Courtyard, New Orleans, La. -- 160

    E. C. Kropp Co. 1907-1956
    Milwaukee, WI

    A publisher and printer that began producing chromolithographic souvenir cards and private mailing cards in 1898 under the name Kropp. These cards were of much higher quality than those that would printed under the E.C. Kropp name.

    They became the E.C. Kropp Company in 1907 and produced large numbers of national view-cards and other subjects. Their latter linen cards had a noticeably fine grain. Sold to L.L. Cook in 1956 and they are now part of the GAF Corp. U.S.

    http://www.worldcat.org/oclc/6261366 "

    http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=464660283600683&set=oa.491701507535053

    http://sphotos-f.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-snc6/207420_464660283600683_1270993264_n.jpg

    http://sphotos-d.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/13105_464789423587769_1088090092_n.jpg

    http://sphotos-d.ak.fbcdn.net/hphotos-ak-ash3/18122_10200602070794960_1639960830_n.jpg

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  27. @ Eldis
    "at this old women's sewing circle," ?
    are you really encouraging me to sit on the Wall at the Caf"

    perhaps you're thinking of kaffe fassett Eldis

    ReplyDelete
  28. Elmer Gantry25 February, 2013

    Michael

    Think I may not have expressed myself very well in my earlier post on tempest. so this represents my attempt to give a more considered judgement on it.

    To do this requires a brief historical introduction, I think.

    As Bob himself has admiited in Chronicles, he went through a severe creative slump which ran, say, from the early to late 1980s. This was succeeded by a revival of sorts which saw him release two fine, if rather low-key albums, in 89 and 90 ('Oh Mercy' and 'Under the Red Sky').

    Then Dylan made the two albums of folk covers, which - to my mind - were vital to his recovering his creative spark. Making them, Bob re-engaged with what had drawn him into music in the first place...

    This paved the way for what I would regard as his last masterpiece, Time Out of Mind. Time Out of Mind had that coherence of mood and vision which all truly great albums share (like say, 'Astral Weeks' by Morrison, 'Marjory Razorblades' by Kevin Coyne or 'Pink Moon' by Nick Drake.).

    While I thought 'Love and Theft' was a fine album (with a number of great songs) I thought it lacked the coherence...

    After 'Love & Theft', however, Dylan's albums became even more 'grab-bag'. there was also an increased reliance on unacknowledged borrowings from other people's work. And, whereas in the past, Dylan had transformed his source material into completely new works of art (For example, 'Hard Rain' sounds very little like 'Lord Randal" in its finished form: Chimes of freedom' may be modelled partly on 'Trinity Bells' but is a infinitely superior and very different song to it, and even 'Blowing in the wind' does not really resemble 'Auction block' to that great a degree) nowadays Dylan's borrowings added very little to their sources & were, more often than not, markedly inferior to them.

    In terms of his lyrics, it seemms to me that Dylan was again suffering from a form of writer's block. To cover that, he was now using a form of re-arranging lines drawn from old blues and folk songs and 19th century American poetry, often with little regard to any kind of structural coherence or, indeed, any form of real meaning at all...

    'Tempest' seemed to me to mark a high-point in this process - combining these kind of careless, often sloppy lyrics, with leaden arrangements makes it, I think, easily the worst album Dylan has ever made...

    I set out wanting to like the album, but I was put off - not so much its mediocrity (every artist is entitled to an off day) but by the the air of meanspiritedness and artistic dishonesty that hangs over it...

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    1. Elmer, I don't agree about the coherence of the tracks on "Love and Theft" (and therefore how I rate the album: ie higher than you - and higher than Time Out Of Mind) but I can't disagree at all with the crux of your brief historical survey. I think you're right.

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    2. I would rate the poor songs on Infidels, Knocked Out Loaded (except for Brownsville Girl), Down In The Groove, the poor songs on Under The Red Sky and Together Through Life as below and in some cases far below Tempest. The only song on the album that leaves me cold is Early Roman Kings. I also feel the title track is a special song. I like listening to the album, and have trouble understanding applying a label such as worst to it.

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  29. Elmer Gantry27 February, 2013

    Anonymous

    No one is going to argue that 'Down in the Groove;, for example, is a great album (it's very far from it), but I think there is far more honesty involved in the better cover versions on it ( such as 'Rank Strangers to Me', which is one of Dylan's most under-rated covers, 'Lets Stick Together' and 'Shenandoah) than there is in the whole of Tempest...

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  30. MANY THANKS TO ALL WHO'VE CONTRIBUTED BUT THIS DISCUSSION IS NOW CLOSED.

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