Saturday, February 1, 2014

The Birth and Valor of Dylan's Never Ending Tour as Presented by Andrew Muir

One of my current readings is Andrew Muir's One More Night: Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour. During a business trip in November I downloaded the beginnings of a dozen or so Dylan-themed books and ordered a couple more for my collection, including this one. One More Night is a compelling read for any Bobfan,

Actually, I should be reading The Razor's Edge (2001) which details the first half (or will it be first third) of the Never Ending Tour (NET). But alas, I have my seatbelt on and will ride this one to see where it takes us.

Have you ever sat and watched an artist draw portraits at an art fair? In a few minutes you find a very accurate rendition of a child or old man in the fewest of brush strokes. And this is what Muir has done in the book's first chapter titled Before the Never Ending Tour. It is one of the most concise and lively sketches of Dylan's career that I have ever read, from Greenwich Village to the kickoff of the NET.

In four pages Muir carries us from the Village to the Vineyard. The next three or so pages walk us from finding Jesus to getting lost in Philadelphia. The next segment highlights events leading up to the Live Aid Concert (1985). Two billion people saw live one of the worst performances of Dylan's life. I myself was disappointed but usually avert my eyes to that memory. But Muir tells it like it was. The puffy bloated Dylan was unprepared and the remarks he made appalling. Accompanied by Keith Richards and Ronnie Wood, I personally felt there was no connection between these superstars and the hungry masses they sang to raise money for.

"So by the summer of 1985 Dylan had managed to lose any ground he had regained with Infidels, and his career had reached its nadir," Muir writes. "He had to start turning things around."

This is what I like about the book. He's a fan but he calls it as he sees it. His depiction of that performance rings true and telegraphs to fans that this is going to be an honest book, not a bunch of fawning accolades.

Live Aid was not Dylan's low point, however, but it was something of a wake up call. He managed to do some things to get on track and in 1986 did two tours with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Next came his touring with the Grateful Dead, which wasn't all that fulfilling for Dylan because the Deadheads were there to see and hear the Dead, not Dylan. Though 1987 went badly, something good emerged. That something was a whole new approach to his music... as a performer.

It's 26 years later with Dylan performing more than 100 concerts a year. The female vocalists and big sets are gone. It's all about the show, each one unique, many of them remarkable. In all that time the longest Dylan has gone without touring is three months in 1997 when he suffered that heart issue that some thought might kill him. And though the Grateful Dead experience was less than illustrious, that which emerged does have one similarity: the manner in which the fans follow along, trading bootleg recordings of the concerts, sharing concert reviews, turning the circus into a family of distant cousins bonded by a common passion.

Muir's book documents the Never Ending Tour in a manner I have not yet seen. If you have not read it yet, here's an interview with Andrew Muir at L4LM (Live For Live Music.)

If you're a fan and on the fence, you can read reader reviews at Amazon.com. Here are the titles:
Muir Delivers
Delightful!
Never Ending Enjoyment
The Missing Link... Revealed
and
Top Notch

Till the morrow.... and Keep on Truckin'

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