Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Inside Dylan’s Brain

It has been a ritual of mine, at least ten years or so, to tune my radio to KUMD on Saturday nights for Highway 61 Revisited, an hour long assembly of Dylan music. The show's hosts (John Bushey primary) would introduce listeners to raw and rare Dylan music, from concerts to studio outtakes, or Dylan material recorded by other musicians, and frequently, clips from interviews. Never a dull program for fans.

In the past year or so though I have been asked several times whether I listen to Dylan's live show on satellite radio, Theme Time Radio Hour. Answer is, no. I do not subscribe to XM or Sirius. But I'm sure it's interesting.

The first time I read Chronicles, Volume One, his autobiography, I learned that his fascination with old music was endless. He tells how in Dinkytown, when he'd gone to Minneapolis back in the beginning, he discovered a guy with as many as 400 vinyls of rare and unknown artists. For Dylan, it was heaven. And this interest in old time music became established as a fixture in his life.

Last night I found an interesting article that takes a stab at understanding Mr. Dylan through analyzing the content of his radio show. As everyone knows, he is a complicated man. There's the public Dylan, the showman, and the private Dylan. Like all of us, his life is a braid of various themes, motivations, experiences and interests. Duff McDonald, writing for Vanity Fair, pulled together in one place the themes and substance of Dylan's XM satellite-radio program... believing that it would be revealing.

The intro to the piece begins like this: People have long wondered what goes on in Bob Dylan’s mind. But if you pay attention to what the recent Pulitzer Prize-winner says and plays on his XM satellite-radio program, Theme Time Radio Hour, you can actually get a pretty good idea. Here, by cataloguing the themes has chosen for the episodes, the artists he has favored, and Dylan’s other preferences and quirks, Vanity Fair has constructed a revealing portrait of America’s most enigmatic musician. Below is a near-exhaustive, up-to-date list, expanding on the version printed in our May issue.

The Voice
Ellen Barkin

The Themes
Weather, Mother, Drinking, Baseball, Coffee
Jail, Fathers, Wedding, Divorce, Summer
Flowers, Cars, Rich Man/Poor Man, The Devil, Eyes
Dogs, Friends & Neighbors, Radio, The Bible, Musical Maps
School, Telephone, Water, Time, Guns
Halloween, Dance, Sleep, Food, Thanksgiving Leftovers
Tennessee, Moon, Countdown, Christmas, Women’s Names
Hair, Musical Instruments, Luck, Tears, Laughter
Heart, Shoes, Color, Texas, Trains
Fools, New York, Death & Taxes, Spring Cleaning, Hello
Youth & Age, Days of the Week, California, Classic Rock, Cadillac
Head to Toe, Smokin’, Dreams, Party, Countdown
One, Walkin’, Around the World, Lock & Key, Mail
President’s Day, Doctors, Danger, Birds, Joe
Heat, Cold

Artists He Plays
Nine times: George Jones
Eight times: Tom Waits, Dinah Washington
Seven times: Bob Wills & His Texas Playboys, Louis Armstrong, Van Morrison
Six times: Buddy Johnson, Elvis Costello, Frank Sinatra, Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, Louis Jordan, Muddy Waters, Porter Wagoner, The Rolling Stones
Five times: Anita O’Day, Buck Owens, Howlin’ Wolf, James Brown, The Stanley Brothers
Four times: Bessie Smith, Big Joe Turner, Billie Holiday, Charlie Poole, Chuck Berry, Ella Johnson, Fats Domino, Fats Waller, Irma Thomas, June Christy, Little Walter, Loretta Lynn, Los Lobos, Prince Buster, Randy Newman, Ray Charles, Slim Gaillard, Smiley Lewis, Sonny Boy Williamson II, The Beatles, The Carter Family, The Everly Brothers, The Louvin Brothers, Wynonie Harris
Three times: Bo Diddley, Bobbie Womack, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Elvis Presley, Ernest Tubb, Etta James, Hank Ballard, Hank Penny, Hank Snow, Harry Nilsson, Huey “Piano” Smith, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jimmy Rodgers, Johnny Tyler, Joni Mitchell, Lefty Frizzell, Lou Reed, Memphis Slim, Merle Haggard, Milton Brown & His Musical Brownies, Otis Redding, Ricky Nelson, Roy Brown, Roy Orbison, Ruth Brown, Ry Cooder, Sam Cooke, Sir Douglas Quintet, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, The Clash, The Drifters, The Ink Spots, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Lovin’ Spoonful, The Staples Singers, Wanda Jackson, Warren Smith, Webb Pierce, Willie Nelson

The article offers much more fun than this, though. The author shares jokes Dylan told or attempted, witty remarks, history lessons, useful tips, one liners and deep thoughts like this one: “I don’t trust a man who doesn’t tear up a little watching Old Yeller.” And there are even some recipes!

If interested, here's where you can read the rest of McDonald's piece Inside Dylan’s Brain.

EDNOTE: Most of the paintings and illustrations on my blog are available for sale. Giclee prints are also available for many. If you see something here that makes you say, "I gotta have it," be sure to let me know and we can negotiate a price. This one here is titled, Dylan as Sad Clown Behind the Broken Mirror. Feel free to click on image to enlarge.

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