Saturday, January 31, 2015

Five Minutes with Singer/Songwriter Mary Bue

I recently noticed Mary Bue's Kickstarter campaign on Facebook and was impressed that she this is her sixth CD. As soon as I saw it I thought the cover art was pretty cool. I've a had a listen, actually several, and it's a very strong addition to her previous work.

She was born in Princeton, Minnesota. Her father is a physician and her mother taught piano, so her musical inclinations come naturally.

One thing you notice right off if you've met Mary Bue is her very positive vibe. She generates a good energy as soon as she enters a room. She's both talented and authentic, with something to say.

EN: When did you first become a musician who performed her own songs?

Mary Bue: I was "dared" by some college friends to take my originals out of my dorm room and down to an Open Stage when I was 17, in 1998. It was exhilarating.

EN: Your recorded your first CD when and how do you feel about that first effort today? 

MB: My first CD "Where the Monarchs Circled" was recorded in 2000. I feel that the songs are very RAW but have an ethereal, spiritual quality about them. The collection of songs have a same-ness about them, slightly long-winded, but the passion was there and I was certainly bearing my soul. It wouldn't be the first CD I would recommend to people wanting to learn about my music, but I value it as my first effort and feel proud that I put myself out there so young.

EN: You seem to have developed quite a following. To what do you attribute this?

MB: Thank you! I tour quite a bit -- I have hit almost every state in the US except Hawaii and Alaska -- and I keep a collection of email addresses to stay in contact with people who have liked my music. I share it on a variety of platforms as well. I've done digital distribution so you can find it on iTunes and various internet radio platforms as well as on my website. I have recently embarked on a college radio campaign to 300+ stations so I'm hoping it will reach a larger audience. Time will tell ...

EN: Your current album, Holy Bones, covers some different themes from your previous work. What prompted you to write about death, desire and materialism?

MB: It has been a wellspring of observations of my own mortal coils and watching my fellow humans grasping for "things." I heard an interview with woman very close to death and she mentioned putting "luggage tags on all the the furniture" to leave them to her family members. Something about the way she spoke struck a chord with me - you really can't take it with you. All of our material items will eventually disintegrate, as we will also turn to dust.

I struggle with watching people buy so much crap, such a throw-away society... I am not immune to this, certainly not perfect, but I try to value relationships and experiences over material things. I've also studied yoga philosophy and some Buddhist teachings that resonate. The seeds of desire, once sprouting in our minds, can take over our lives and blind us. And yet, thoughts and desires change moment to moment. With more awareness of the mind, we can come to grips with desire and perhaps reduce suffering. I also include in this new album a song called "Veal," anthropomorphizing a calf destined for slaughter in the veal industry. Factory farming and animal cruelty also spring out of this material desire. Desire for a taste, just a passing digestive fancy which seems so brutal and selfish to me... Again, I don't claim to be an expert or perfect, but just an observer (who tries not to add to the suffering of beings...)

EN: How long have you been performing and what are some of the things you've learned from you experiences as a musician and recording artist?

MB: I've been performing since a child in church Christmas programs & puppet shows for my parents but with my original music I began when I was 17. I have learned, gradually, to try and balance my sensitivity & vulnerability with strength. I have been criticized for being too vulnerable and too sensitive but over time I'm learning that this is not a bad thing that I should be ashamed of. We are taught to be so STRONG and "don't let them see you cry" but I think that as emotional beings, to stuff it all down will just lead to a midlife crisis, explosive rage or worse! So, I say FEEL IT! And so, I sing about it!

EN: Where can people go to support your Kickstarter campaign and/or purchase your music?

MB: My Kickstarter campaign runs until MIDNIGHT of Feb 1st so act fast ;) Kickstarter link is

Music can be purchased via my website:

All photos by Jon Hain Photography

Drumroll Please... Dylan's Sinatra Tribute, Shadows in the Night, To Be Released Tuesday

The band was playing "Strangers in the Night" when I kissed my first steady girl friend for the first time in high school. It was after a country club hay ride and for a spell Sinatra equalled romance. We were standing in the shadows and it was night.

Who would've thunk it that nearly a half century later Bob Dylan would take up the Sinatra mantle to record a CD of the late crooner's love songs? The unexpected tribute has a February 3 release date.

What exactly is a release date these days? We live in a whole new age with pre-publicity not only giving you opportunities to hear but to order in advance. Tomorrow's Super Bowl commercials began airing last week. It used to be these multimillion dollar spots were kept under wraps till the Big Game. That's no longer the case. When Bootleg Series #10 (Basement Tapes) came out I pre-ordered, and guess what? It arrived at my door on the release date. That was a pretty slick deal. Now, you can hear Shadows in the Night and place your order any time you want.

When it comes to the notion of Dylan singing Sinatra, I can imagine plenty of raised eyebrows. Some of the folk who've heard Dylan on recent tours have wondered if he's even able to carry a tune any more, so singing romantic melodies must feel like a stretch. But guess what? The surprise on this album is not that he attempted it, but that he can actually put a tear in your eye while he expresses the sentiments contained in these heartfelt expressions.

The songs themselves were written by many of the great songwriters. Every singer is to some extent an interpreter. Sinatra brought them to the public in his way, and Dylan has mined them from Sinatra's catalog for his own translation. The surprise is that the sentiments haven't been lost in the translation. Here's Buddy Kaye & Ted Mossman's Full Moon and Empty Arms, based on Sergei Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto #2.

The Daily Beast has this to say about Shadows: "Is this the strangest tribute album of all time? Dylan singing relatively obscure Sinatra songs over a pedal steel back-up? Weirdest of all? It’s pretty compelling."*

What's funny to me is that part of me almost anticipated this album, as much as it seems a total departure from "All Along the Watchtower" or "Hurricane." Here's what I mean. Go through his albums and setlists in recent years and notice how many songs have to do with longing and love. A few minutes ago I randomly selected his Thessalonika, Greece concert of June 22 last summer and noted these song choices. The opening number the past few years has been "Things Have Changed," with this line jumping out: "Feel like falling in love with the first woman I meet, putting her in a wheelbarrow and wheeling her down the street."

"She Belongs to Me" is next, which he selected for inclusion in the Victoria's Secret CD he produced a dozen years ago along with "Things Have Changed" and "Love Sick", the Time Out of Mind hit which he also included in this set list.  Song three in the set is "Beyond Here Lies Nothing," a song about love in the face of despair. "Tangled Up In Blue" takes up the twists and turns of hearts connecting, disconnecting and re-connecting. The line that jumps out for me in "Early Roman Kings" is "I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings."

I could go on but that's just the point right there. Dylan may have aged, may have changed, but he ain't dead yet. And like Sinatra, he's done it his way.

His heart still bleeds, and Shadows in the Night appears to be just the vehicle to express it. His encores last fall frequently featured "Stay With Me" by Jerome Moss and Carolyn Leigh, especially interesting when you reflect on how he opened many of his Rolling Thunder Revue concerts with "Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You." He seems pretty serious about the grooves on this album.

It's likely not for everyone, but even if you're not in sync with it you may find the album's tune selections useful as a stepping stone to songs and music from an era generally forgotten in today's high-strung world. For more about Dylan's take on this album read his interview with AARP editor-in-chief Robert Love.

Shadows in the Night is available for pre-order in either MP3, CD or vinyl at

* * * *

Reminder: Tonight is the Winter Dance Party at Sacred Heart in Duluth's Central Hillside. Notices have appeared in the Trib and elsewhere. Here's a clip from the Northland News Center regarding the purpose of this anniversary event.

Check out the details on the Facebook announcement, or go straight to the Eventbrite ticket counter.

* * * *

For details on the songs on this album check out the Bob Dylan Facebook page

*Bob Dylan Does Dylan and It's Actually Good, The Daily Beast.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Reader's Best of the Northland Party and the AAMC's Winter Dance Party

Master of Ceremonies, Publisher Bob Boone
I got invited to two parties that were slated for this week. The Reader held a party to celebrate their Best of the Northland edition in which readers select their favorite romantic getaways, restaurants and even Best Cop. This event was Wednesday so you missed it, but it was a good first effort by the Bob Boone and the Reader team. The second is tomorrow night's Winter Dance Party celebrating the 56th Anniversary of the 1959 Winter Dance Party event that featured, among other stars, Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the Big Bopper.

The Reader's Best of the Northland 1st Annual Awards Ceremony was held at the Dubh Linn Irish Pub in the back room where the pub's stand up comedy shows are held. It was a well-meaning attempt to honor some of the recipients of this year's reader-elected Best of the Northland people and businesses. The catered affair, which included drinks and was intended to be semi-formal, would have benefited from a rehearsal. The list of winners and runners-up was lengthy and winners were invited to "say a few words" on top of that.

Veikko and Jason of Wood Blind
Veikko and Jason of Wood Blind had been pressed into service to be the evening's entertainment, which should have preceded the award ceremony. As it was, the duo performed a couple brief numbers shortly after nine as a form of intermission. Considering the event was slated for 7-9 and the list of winners remained only cut by half, you knew this was going to be a longer night than planned. It wasn't till after ten when Wood Blind finally got to perform, but the room had fairly cleared out as most who were there had to go to work in the morning.

This won't be the case for tomorrow night's Winter Dance Party, unless you're pulling an early shift at Wal-Mart. You can stay as late as you like. Buddy Holly will not be there this year, but I just learned that there's a Buddy Holly Hologram that will be going on tour next year in Texas, and eventually the world. If Nelson French has his way, next year we'll be dancing to the real thing.

Tomorrow, however, will feature Todd Eckart, whose name has been popping up quite a bit lately. He puts on a great show and makes you want to move your feet. Or so I heard. Eckart will be followed by the Travelons, a team comprised of several of the featured performers from last year's Salute to the Music of Bob Dylan, which was a phenomenal show. Here's where you get your tickets.

Rumor has it that quite a number of folks will be on hand who were at that first Winter Dance Party here, including DNT columnist and local writer Jim Heffernan. If you're needing to catch your breath now and then, you'll find some good company to share nostalgic memories if so inclined. There will also be a dance contest, and a best 50's costume award.

Meantime... put your dancin' shoes on.

Drawing names for "must be present to win" prizes.
P.S. Be sure to pick up your copy of this week's Reader to see the Best of the Northland winners from all the categories. It's a great way to get ideas for where you might like to go on your next day, or your next adventure.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

It Is Time To Get Tired (A Poem)

On this day in history....
~William McKinley was born in 1846. He would become the first U.S. president to ride in an automobile.
~Stanley Kubrick's Cold War farce Dr. Strangelove (How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb) was released.
~The Raven, by Edgar Allen Poe, was published.
~Five years ago today I wrote a blog entry about making lists.

Many years ago Susie and I bought a wonderful addition to our home, a book titled The Book of the Sandman and the Alphabet of Sleep. We got it because we loved the artwork of its illustrator, Rien Poortvliet. If you have young ones or grandchildren, this is a really special book.

Sleep is one of those things that is precious to us. And on occasion it eludes us. We all have our techniques to acquire the rest we covet. But when counting sheep and all else fails... then what? Here is a poem that sprang to mind one recent evening.

It’s Time To Get Tired 

Why is it that our bodies wake at the same precise moment
our alarms have instructed and trained us to.
Even when we travel two time zones West, the inner alarm
kicks us awake in our regular time-zoned moment, unfooled by geography.

Yet when night falls, too often we’re wired.
Our batteries refuse to discharge their strength.
Why does my body not understand? It’s time to get tired.

O Sleep, where art thou my lost friend?

I walk like a ghost through the rooms of my house
hoping to catch a glimpse of you
hiding behind a curtain, or a chair.
But you’re not there, or here, or there. Or there.

I leave the house in the deep of night, longing for your embrace.
Come back, Friend. Why did I ever take you for granted?

The hours glide by and I wait for you like a Lover.
I long to lose myself in you.

Our relationship is impossible. When I hear you approach,
when I sense you drawing near my heart races,
but when I make the slightest move in your direction you flee.
Why do you continually break my heart?

I track you like a bloodhound, with longing, driven by your scent.
Why must you continuously remain on the run?
Come home to me. I’m pleading now. Quit breaking my heart.

There are no more sheep to count. They’ve been scattered by wolves.
There are no more logs to saw. My imagination has been deforested.

e.n. 2015

# # # #

When all else fails, try a book.  :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Things I've learned while covering the Twin Ports arts scene these past few years

Just under three years ago Bob Boone, publisher of the Reader, asked if I wouldn't mind writing a column pertaining to the arts. I was already writing about the local arts scene and interviewing artists here at Ennyman's Territory, so it wasn't going to be much of a deviation from many of my routines.

Near the end of 2014 I decided to hang up my spurs, or whatever it is that writers hang up when they move on. Nevertheless, I still desired to write a summing up of things I learned through this experience, which I may still attempt sometime. Here are a few notes I scribbled as I reflected on this matter.

* * * *

1. There is no single source that will keep you informed regarding everything that is happening in the Twin Ports arts scene. The Trib used to have a section called The Wave on Thursdays (and sometimes Fridays) which is now under a new name but serves the same function of identifying some of what is happening. The Reader lists galleries and has a calendar, but that is limited as well. The Transistor also fills a few holes.

2. What happened to the original mission of the Twin Ports Arts Align? This is a much longer discussion than I have time to explore here, but it's worth pursuing sometime. The Twin Ports Arts Align Facebook page is also a good place to learn some of what is happening here.

3. Duluth Grille's Tom Hanson not only does all he can to support sustainability and use local sources for the food he serves, he’s also a supporter of the local arts community. There are an increasing number of venues that will share the work of local artists on their walls, but Hanson goes further. He purchases the work of local artists and helps service the economic well-being of the arts community.

4. There are a lot of creative people here. Many are quietly active in ways you don't really notice. Some exceptional artists who would do well in many other places, but have chosen to live here. The natural beauty of our region is one of the reasons I believe many artists are here.

5. The schools -- UWS and UMD -- have been very influential. Once you start paying attention you begin to see the influence of certain professors with regard to the style of their former students' work.

6. There is more happening than most people are aware of. Once you do become aware of it you start to feel like something "big" is happening. But then, what is big? What do we really expect. For sure, something good is happening. We have a vibrant arts community.

7. Most artists do something else for a living. They will keep being creative because it is a passion, whether it becomes financially viable or not.

8. There seems a need for people on both sides of the bridge to cross it more often.

7. Tourist art and wall art for nursing homes is valuable. There are all kinds of reasons to paint, and it does not have to be "to become a famous artist." It can be simply to make a wall more interesting, comforting, etc.

8. Seems like there's an unusually vibrant poetry scene here. Is this something that is happening everywhere?

9. The Ballet, Symphony and Playhouse get more press because they have staff that write press releases.

10. I see reviews of plays, but can't recall ever having seen a review of an art show. (Someone will send me a link and make me eat my words on that, I suppose.)

11. Confirmed what I believe about creativity being an innate part of being human, but some people lack experience with regard to using art materials etc. which is why we need to keep art in the schools.

12. The Tweed Museum and Duluth Art Institute offer opportunities to see a lot of really wonderful work. I believe both resources are great for the community, and underutilized. Spread the word!

13. There is substantially more talent here than most people realize.

14. There are more venues where artists can show their work than you can shake a stick at. It's a very long list and there are probably many more I'm not aware of. And many that just emerged in the past three years.

* * * *

Call for Artists
Nora Fie, manager of children's and yong adult services at the Superior Public Library, is reminding artists that this year’s Love your Local Artist will be on Friday, February 13th from 5:30 – 8:00 p.m.
Please let Nora know as soon as possible if you plan to participate.

As a fund raiser for the library, they now charge $20.00 for a table/display space or you can donate a piece of your work to their Silent Auction. This is an event where you can sell your work, so please have contact information available. Donations and/or the $20.00 are due by Friday, February the 6th. For more information send email to

* * * *

Meantime, art goes on all around you. Celebrate it.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Local Art Seen: DAI Member Show 2015

Raven Speaks, by Sabdi Pillsury Gredzens
To my great disappointment I was unable to attend the 2015 Members Show opening reception at the Duluth Art Institute. As expected the opening this past Thursday was attended with exceptional enthusiasm. Though I couldn't be present myself (I was in Los Angeles) I received word that all was well in the Northland. Upon my return this weekend I was able to visit the As expected, the members show demonstrated once again that the Twin Ports continues to be vibrant and alive with creative energy. Many of the names a familiar, and many new. The show is worth seeing in person, whether during a lunch hour, evening or weekend.

Here's some of the work I saw this weekend upon my return from the West Coast. I was not disappointed.

Sarah Brokke's distinctive Vessel
The Messenger by Marlene Miller
Note the detail in Miller's piece.
Aaron Kloss gave us Golden Autumn Sunbeams
Note the energy in Ken Marunowsi's Charlie Parr
January Sunrise by Cynthia Tope
The Mute by the inimitable Fatih Benzer
Detail of Benzer's striking piece.
Lost in a Foreign Geography by Adam Swanson
The few pieces here in this blog entry barely touch the surface of all there is to see in this year's Member Show. There are five pieces by the Sell family alone. Though many familiar names can be found, there were likewise surprises, such as Robin Washington's No Cause for Alarm. As anticipated, it's another good crop of aesthetic nutrition. And when you stop to take it in, don't forget to slip upstairs to enjoy the Emerging Photographers exhibit as well. 

Meantime, art goes on all around you... Engage it.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

He Not Busy Being Born Is Busy Dying

Jorge Luis Borges is surely one of the most imaginative and influential writers of the 20th century, despite the absence of a Nobel Prize for Literature, of which he was surely worthy. I've collected and read all his fiction, and was pleasantly surprised to recently discover a book of conversations with with this Argentine master. These conversations, titled simply Jorge Luis Borges: Conversations, took place between 1964 and 1984, have been a thrill to read.

In some ways, I find parallels between Borges and Bob Dylan, both in the manner of their creative output and in the way they tend to respond in interviews. I have a friend who commented on the Dylan interview in the current AARP magazine saying, "This was very unusual. I don’t know why, but I got the feeling reading the whole thing that it just doesn’t sound like Dylan. I’ve never heard him expound on things like he did here. I’ve never heard him so directly answer a lot of questions and even the language just didn’t sound like him. I really enjoyed reading all of it… it’s just so different than anything I’ve ever read before when he was interviewed." It surprised her. The Washington Post said the same thing. And how does he normally sound? Frequently -- or should I say usually -- like Borges: enigmatic.

Another shared quality between Borges and Dylan is their total immersion in their craft. As one reviewer of the book notes at, "He lived in Literature and Literature lived in him." Likewise, Dylan's career has been rooted in music, and especially American roots music. It so lives in him that it has streamed from him in the most unexpected ways, not the least of which is his current album Shadows in the Night, scheduled for release February 3.

* * * *

The anthology of interviews with Borges features more than a dozen conversations that cover all phases of his life and work. I downloaded it to my Kindle in November and have been enjoying it during my occasional travels these past couple months (Vegas, Savannah, L.A.). This past week I found the following passage, at the end of a discussion about death, worth pondering.

Barnstone: The mystics speak of death-in-life as an experience outside time. How do you perceive it?
Borges: I think that one is dying all the time. Every time we are not feeling something, discovering something, when we are merely repeating something mechanically. At that moment you are dead. Life may come at any moment also. If you take a single day, therein you find many deaths, I suppose, and many births also. But I try not to be dead. I try to be curious concerning things, and now I am receiving experiences all the time, and those experiences will be changed into poems, into short stories, into fables. I am receiving them all the time, though I know that many of the things I do and things I say are mechanical, that is to say they belong to death rather than life. 

The Dylan line "He not busy being born is busy dying" involuntarily came to mind as I read this. Can we train ourselves to notice when we're dying? To notice when we're just mechanically going through the motions? In our work, in our relationships, and even in our play we can find ourselves failing to really live.

It's time to start paying attention. My recommendation: open your eyes... and choose life.

* * * *
For more about Borges, visit my page Borges, Revisited.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

The Existential Hero/Anti-Hero Cool Hand Luke

“You made me like I am…. When does it end? What do you got in mind for me? What do I do now?” ~Luke Jackson

For a variety of reasons, existentialism became one of the prevailing philosophies of mid-Twentieth century. It is a philosophical view with fuzzy edges, as writers as varied as Kierkegaard, Sartre and Camus bring differing perspectives to the equation. Nevertheless, at its core there are several common defining features: a sense of personal alienation, that our life situation is absurd, and the sense of calling to live authentically.

One definition refers to modern man's situation as "a sense of disorientation and confusion in the face of an apparently meaningless or absurd world."

Merriam-Webster offers this definition: "A chiefly 20th century philosophical movement embracing diverse doctrines but centering on analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe and the plight of the individual who must assume ultimate responsibility for acts of free will without any certain knowledge of what is right or wrong or good or bad."

When Cool Hand Luke was released in 1967, Existentialism was a prevailing wind on college campuses and in popular culture. Hence, the film demonstrates, without preaching, the fundamental essence of this worldview.


Luke Jackson (Paul Newman) is a combination existential hero/anti-hero and Christ-figure in this film. As the opening credits roll we see a drunken Luke cutting the tops off of parking meters in the middle of the night, not to rob them but simply out of his sense of boredom, or for whatever meaningless reason. The rest of the film is about his time in prison. Luke has one quest here, to escape this meaningless existence. I see the overall film as a metaphor for Sartre's No Exit or Camus's The Stranger.

Like all good stories the film is a sequence of scenes which serve to define Luke's character for the viewer. His "never give up" attitude is demonstrated early in his fight with Dragline (George Kennedy). And though his "achievements" win the admiration of his bunkmates or "co-workers" in this hard labor camp, he is non-plussed about all of it, as A. Hardt points out in this 2011 forum discussion:

Through my multiple viewings of Cool Hand Luke, my analysis of the message of the film has switched back and forth between an existentialist one, and one of determinism. The existentialist references are the most common within the film; Luke is constantly discrediting the meaning in his actions. After Captain lists Luke’s significant war achievements, Luke responds by saying, “I was just passing time.” Also, when Dragline consults Luke about the 50 eggs in an hour bet, Luke says about the extremely difficult task, “Yeah well, it would be something to do.” From these and other examples, it seems that Luke has come to believe that his life is inherently meaningless, and in order to create meaning, he must give himself seemingly impossible tasks to complete to the amazement of those watching. When the chain gang is ordered to pave an entire road in one day, Luke recognizes the meaninglessness of this menial task, and by doing so he is able to accept it and even make the task into a game for the other workers, thereby achieving a sort of satisfaction.

Final showdown at the film's end.
In my recent watching of Cool Hand Luke I noted once more that in addition to being something of an existential hero/anti-hero, it's very clear that Luke is also something of a Christ-figure. In one of the reviews at the writer points out that director Stuart Rosenberg consciously viewed the character of Luke in this manner, hence the deliberate use of Christian imagery in the film, most strikingly after the egg-eating scene where Luke is lying on the table, hands outstretched. The other prisoners have left his side, amplifying with a slightly long lingering shot the sense of Christ's abandonment at the Cross.

Though at first he was just another prisoner, his escapades serve to help give meaning and hope to his fellow prisoners, even if they seemingly mean nothing to him. In the end, like Jesus, he is abandoned by God (Matthew 27:46) and betrayed by a friend.

Peering through the existential lens we note that Luke is a non-conformist who is authentically himself. He is not like the others who, though discontent, accept their boundaries, their circumstances. Luke is a man of action, not resignation. Tragically his aspiration is impossible to achieve yet he pursues it till the end, hence his final despair.

There are plenty of great moments in this film. If you haven't seen it in a while, it may be time to re-visit this memorable classic.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Ten Minutes with Scott Marshall, Author of the Insightful Dylan Volume Restless Pilgrim

Yesterday I wrote about Scott Marshall's book Restless Pilgrim to help lay the groundwork for this interview with the author himself.

EN: How long have you been writing?
Scott Marshall Well, while growing up in school I tended to gravitate toward writing instead of, say, the biology lab. When college was on the horizon, my late granddad (on my dad’s side) wanted to pay for an aptitude test for me. The powers that be at the testing foundation concluded writing and teaching would come natural. Years later, I thought I had backed into both a teaching career of sorts and getting a book published, but the aptitude test whispered “I told you so.” As for writing, I can’t say I’ve been consistent (although teaching for the last 12 years serves as a convenient excuse for not having written more, I know better.)

EN: And how did you get your start?
SM: Pretty much through Mick & Laurie McCuistion of the now-defunct Dylan magazine On the Tracks. They published interviews I conducted for my book, as well as an article or two (Have no idea where they’re at now; I’d love to write them a thank you letter for all their support). And then there were all those hard-core Dylan guys in England at The Bridge, Isis, and Judas!—Mike Wyvill, John Wraith, Derek Barker, and Andrew Muir, respectively. They also granted me the opportunity to have some interviews and articles make the rounds.

EN:  Who have been your influences as a writer?
SM: Haven’t consciously followed anyone’s style, and I view myself more as an aspiring writer. My strengths lie in digging up Lord-knows-what and landing some great interviews. As for enjoying certain writers, I’ll say the late Neil Postman and Christopher Hitchens are hard to beat. And Stanley Crouch captivated me after watching a 3-hour interview he did for BookTV (on C-SPAN 2). I have most of Crouch’s books, but find myself reaching for the dictionary rather regularly and haven’t been faithful to the finish line. Lastly, for all the vitriol reserved for Fox News Channel (either full-out vitriol or blind praise, it seems), there’s this guy Eric Burns who used to host their show Fox News Watch; he’s written a number of solid and fascinating books. A great journalist and writer.

1986, Dylan with Grateful Dead (photo: Ebert Roberts)
EN: How did you come to take an interest in the music and career of Bob Dylan?
SM: In my hometown of Gainesville, Florida, an old buddy Alec Lauriault was playing one of his mom’s records (incidentally, Gainesville’s home to Tom Petty; he was at Gainesville High about 16 years before we went there). I was 19 at the time—this would’ve been 1986—and it happened to be Dylan’s first greatest hits compilation that I heard. I was truly taken aback, struck by the words I was hearing, how they were coming across, the bite, the wit, the mystery. I remember one writer, it might’ve been Michael Gray, who said he envied anyone who was just getting their feet wet with Dylan’s musical canon. It’s hard to argue with that sentiment. So, anyway, soon all of Dylan’s official albums were residing in my barn loft apartment in north Florida. (Some bootlegs, too, but not too many.) By the mid to late-1990s, I was on the prowl for Dylan books and Dylan fanzines. If magazines or newspapers had Dylan content, I was interested. A print obsession emerged.

EN: Your book seems to fill a gap in the catalog of Dylan biographies. Are there other authors who have written about Dylan from this angle?
SM: Don’t know if I filled a gap, but it sure felt like it at the time. Stephen Pickering (Chofetz Chaim Ben-Avraham) was there first, with a number of books on Dylan in the early to mid-1970s (“there first” in the sense of writing about Dylan’s religious or spiritual leanings). This guy is as persistent as the day is long, and is in the deep end of some kind of pool that not too many people are swimming in. Although Pickering has little to no regard for Dylan authors like Bert Cartwright, Don Williams, Ronnie Keohane, and Jenny Ledeen, these were the folks who, in their own ways, mainly self-published on Dylan’s seemingly fated obsession with the Almighty. And since my book was published in 2002, there have been quite a few folks who’ve thrown their hats in the ring, including Christopher Ricks; Michael Gilmour; Stephen Webb; Steven Heine; Seth Rogovoy; and A.T. Bradford. Last I heard, Ron Rosenbaum was working on a Dylan book (looking forward to that one). By the late 1990s, if there was a shortage of Dylan books that contended with the man’s metaphysical meanderings, there is no shortage now.

EN: In your introduction you write, “Whether Dylan likes it or not—and he clearly does not—he is a prophet for our time.” In what way or ways has Dylan been a “prophet for our time?”
SM: My co-author Marcia Ford actually wrote that (She wrote the introduction.). Since it was my book, I should take responsibility for it…but, over 12 years on, I’m just going to say I wouldn’t write that. That line might seem true to some, but I’d be interested in how one defines “prophet.” I have no doubts that Dylan has a deep respect for the biblical prophets, from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament. His written words, his singing voice, and even his interview voice have echoed the ideas, words, and tone of those prophets. It’s been quoted a lot, but one of Bob Dylan’s most revealing moments took place in the Midwest, in the winter of 1980, smack dab in the middle of the Gospel Tours. A 38-year-old Dylan said this to a crowd in Omaha, Nebraska: “Years ago they used to say I was a prophet. I’d say, ‘No, I’m not a prophet.’ They’d say, ‘Yes, you are a prophet.’ ‘No, it’s not me.’ They used to convince me I was a prophet. Now I come out and say, ‘Jesus is the answer.’ [And now] they say, ‘Bob Dylan? He’s no prophet.’ They just can’t handle that.” I think that quote right there, besides being fertile ground for some kind of Ph.D, sums up the whole Dylan prophet thing.

EN: What were the biggest surprises you found in your research for this book?
SM: How willing folks were to talk. Even some people who you would think would be off limits because of their relationship with Dylan (or the fact that I was a nobody with no publisher at the time). Also, Dylan’s movements and attitudes during the so-called Gospel period. He was hanging out with his fellow Jews, the vast majority of who did not subscribe to the notion of Jesus as God, Messiah—the Alpha and the Omega. There was, though, the late singer Keith Green, a fellow Jew who Dylan hung out with for a bit; he too was sold out for Jesus (Dylan played harmonica on a 1980 Green album.) Additionally, Dylan might have banned his publicist Paul Wasserman from coming backstage for being an “infidel,” but he didn’t fire him (“He’s the best in the business,” Dylan said.). Larry “Ratso” Sloman was invited by Dylan to climb on the Gospel tour bus for some shows in the Midwest (Sloman may well have been at that Omaha, Nebraska gig when Dylan delivered his rap
about the “prophet” label.) Of course, Jerry Wexler, who didn’t shy away from proclaiming himself a “Jewish atheist,” produced both Slow Train Coming and Saved.
And in 1981, while Dylan was still singing songs from these albums he invited his boyhood friend Larry Kegan on a tour (Dylan played sax and Kegan covered Chuck Berry!) So, during the research I discovered it’s not really true that Dylan was this foaming-at-the-mouth, intolerant character who was abandoning his Jewish roots. He was connecting those roots to Jesus at the end of the line, which is simply unacceptable to the vast majority of Jewish circles. I’d be willing to bet the price he paid was substantial. God only knows the fallout from very close family members and friends, but, in the words of Ron Wood, he “wasn’t to be tampered with” in this season. If you were a Dylan fan between 1979 and 1981, Jew or Gentile, he definitely was singing and speaking in very personal terms.

EN: What kind of feedback have you received since publishing Restless Pilgrim?
SM: Had a handful of complete strangers contact me to share how much they appreciated the book. That was nice. I can think of a few reviewers that were not thrilled, including a Christian magazine, a Dylan fanzine, and an review. My favorite negative review, though, occurred in person at a book signing at a Barnes & Noble in Greenville, South Carolina. I was approached (accosted?) by a student at Bob Jones University (a fundamentalist Bible college right there in Greenville) who took umbrage with the book. As I recall, he had not read it, but who can be bothered by such details? I would pay now for a transcript of our exchange. Even though I don’t recall the details, I know he was clearly disturbed by me and/or the idea of the book. I can’t avoid the temptation of thinking it had something to do with rock & roll and the Evil One. However, my favorite moment, by far, took place at a book signing at a Books-A-Million in Anderson, South Carolina. A white kid and a black kid, probably in their early teens, arrived via skateboards. They gazed at the poster next to me that announced the book signing. They then looked at me, and simply asked if I’d sign their skateboards. I’m confident they did not know who Bob Dylan was (and they certainly had never heard of me). It was hilarious and humbling. Why? Because there was one book signing in Athens, Georgia, where the only folks who bothered to show up were my wife (she came with me) and my cousin who lived in Athens at the time.

EN: What role did your co-author play? Editor, researcher, collaborator?
SM: Besides writing the introduction to the book, she basically served as an editor. My manuscript was mammoth and detail-oriented to a fault, much more ready for a Dylan fanzine crowd than it was for a mass audience. She helped in the pruning process to make it more mass-friendly. It was a painful process as she reminded me that I needed to choose the best line or paragraph from any one interviewee (in terms of employing quotations) since we had the space limitations of a relatively slim paperback. It was brutal because of the 75 or so people I interviewed, only about half made it into the book. No one was quoted at length. With that said, in the very beginning she let the publisher know that what she had encountered with my manuscript was something unique. That helped green light the project because she had experience in the book business; magazines, and newspapers. To sum up, I did all the research, all the interviews, and the original manuscript between early 1999 and spring 2002; she came in at the end, in the last few months, and performed some heavy-duty editing.

* * * *
To purchase, there are a limited number of copies available here at

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Throwback Thursday: Bob Dylan, Restless Pilgrim

“I’m not a spokesman for anybody’s generation. Far from it. I want to emphatically deny being the spokesman for our generation. Fame is just having your name known by a lot of strangers. People who are kind or good are the ones who ought to be famous.” ~ Bob Dylan, 1978

The 55-year career of Bob Dylan intersects nearly every major movement of our times.

For a short period beginning in 1979, he recorded three albums in what some call his “Gospel period.” Slow Train Coming, the first, was superbly produced and musically a first rate album. But the message was a departure in many peoples’ minds from what they expected Dylan to be, especially after the Rolling Thunder Revue Tour which rumbled across the previous period.

I was in Bible school when the album came out. My connections to Dylan’s music were woven through the braided themes of my own life. And as a harmonica player I enjoyed the sweet riffs with which he’d accented much of his music. I had more than one friend at that time refer to him as “Brother Bob” because he was now a “brother in Christ.”

His second album, Saved, left nothing to the imagination with regard to where Dylan stood on matters of faith. “I’m pressing on, to the higher calling of my Lord,” with its black gospel feel and passionate delivery, is a perfectly clear snapshot of Dylan's born again heart.

His third album of this period included songs like "Dead man, Dead Man" and "Watered-Down Love" which re-captured some of the venom-tinged power of songs like "Idiot Wind" and "Positively Fourth Street" of previous times. The weaker production values in this album caused critics to pan it but there were some significant messages here and some songs with great poetry.

Shot of Love was followed by his Infidels album, which moved further away from explicit declarations of a Biblical Christianity and seemed to suggest that he was now identifying with his Jewish roots.

And so, many wondered where he was at with God and faith and religion. Careful readers of his interviews could see that he never denied the Bible as truth. But questions remained. The book Restless Pilgrim (Relevant Books, 2004) by Scott Marshall strives to put it all to rest. The genius troubadour, despite his various guises, has underneath always been a seeker, and when he found the truth in Christ, according to Marshall, he never ceased to embrace the revealed mercy he found at the Cross.

At the same time, Dylan is an artist. He used all his creative powers to produce the albums of that most intensely spiritual period. But rather than repeating the same things over and over, Dylan turned his eye back to the broader culture to offer his informed analysis, interpretations, unique ways of illuminating realities. Songs like “Everything Is Broken” and “Ring Them Bells” from his acclaimed Oh Mercy album are truthful and true, powerful and honest without sounding like some of the preaching from his Saved album. "Disease of Conceit" and “What Good Am I?” from side 2 are again Dylanesque versions of Old and New Testament truths, in a modern dialect.

Marshall’s book attempts to highlight the threads from Dylan’s various songs and interviews that show his faith remained vibrant, and is inseparable from the message of his life. For this reason it is a an insightful and important addition for Dylan fans who also identify with the Gospel. The book adds new anecdotal material and understandings which followers of the artist should appreciate.

"Gotta Serve Somebody," the song Dylan opened his 1998 Duluth performance with, has been played in concert over 400 times, most frequently as the opener. I think that says something right there. Here are the lyrics from another of my favorite songs on that first album Slow Train Coming

Precious Angel

Precious angel, under the sun
How was I to know you'd be the one
To show me I was blinded, to show me I was gone,
How weak was the foundation I was standing upon.

Now there's spiritual warfare, flesh and blood breaking down,
You either got faith or you got unbelief, and there ain't no neutral ground.
The enemy is subtle, how be it we’re deceived
When the truth’s in our hearts and we still don't believe?

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
You know I just can't make it by myself
I'm a little too blind to see.

My so called friends have fallen under a spell
They look me squarely in the eye and they say, "Well, all is well'.
Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high
When men will beg God to kill them and they won't be able to die?

Sister, let me tell you about a vision that I saw,
You were drawing water for your husband, you were suffering under the law
You were telling him about Buddha, you were telling him ‘bout Mohammed in one breath,
You never mentioned one time the Man who came
and died a criminal's death.

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
You know I just can't make it by myself
I'm a little too blind to see.

Precious angel, you believe me when I say
What God has given to us no man can take away
We are covered in blood girl, you know our forefathers were slaves
Let us hope they found mercy in their bone-filled graves.

You're the queen of my flesh, girl, you're my woman, you're my delight
You're the lamp of my soul, girl, and you torch up the night
But there's violence in the eyes, girl, so let us not be enticed
On the way out of Egypt, through Ethiopia, to the judgment hall of Christ.

Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
Shine your light, shine your light on me
You know I just can't make it by myself
I'm a little too blind to see.

It's the way he sings this song that moves me, and if you would like to hear it, you can engage it here.

Photo on left taken in May 2007, image on a wall in Haight Ashbury, SF
All other images created by ed newman, unless otherwise noted.
As always, click to enlarge.

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