Sunday, May 22, 2016

Story of the Great White Wonder -- the Original Basement Tapes Bootleg

"If the past isn't alive in you, the future will be empty." 
~Greil Marcus on The Basement Tapes

This year's Duluth Dylan Fest culminates with a concert featuring musicians performing songs from The Basement Tapes. There are a whole host of activities slated to make this year an especially special week. Dylan will be 75 on Tuesday, an occasion is being marked with events around the world. You're invited to join us. Learn more at the Duluth Dylan Fest Facebook Page.

Most of the events are free, starting with the opening of the film contest at 7 and Dylan Trivia Contest at 9 p.m.
At Carmody's. With prizes. For events requiring tickets visit the Duluth Dylan Fest connections at Eventbrite. The Basement Tapes: Great White Wonder concert tickets are on sale here. The concert, "curated" by Gene LaFond, is a fund raiser and awareness raiser for the Armory Arts & Music Center.

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Most Dylan fans already know the story of how Dylan and the Band ended up in Woodstock after a world tour that was met with hostile reactions toward his "new sound." Nevertheless, with each telling from various points of view a new picture emerges. Below is a YouTube video that offers up some of the significance of that moment in time. There are also a few additional links to Bob himself sharing how the songs were created and Robbie Robertson telling his story.

Watching this video brought back a few memories for me. The Basement Tapes bootlegs were probably the most famous in history, though they weren't the only bootlegs being circulated. Pirating music has become a whole different animal in the digital age. In the days of vinyl, bootlegs were a physical product sold under the counter. When I was in high school, we had a little record store in Somerville, NJ where I used to buy albums. One day I heard about a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young bootleg that was available. I was told to be discreet, so when no one was around I asked the long-haired guy behind the counter for a copy of the bootleg. I was a very straight-looking kid in high school, so the guy studied me suspiciously, but I knew the record was going for three bucks and threw three George Washingtons on the countertop. He reached under the counter and pulled out an album sheathed in a white, unmarked album cover. It had a real cloak-and-dagger feel to it. As I left the store I couldn't wait to get home and play it.

As you watch this video you'll see how the Basement Tapes bootlegs went global. In one scene you can see how some folks in L.A. stamped the unmarked white cover and gave it a name. Hence, the Great White Wonder.

Eventually, as in eight years later, the Basement Tapes was released as a real album. In the 1990's the "Official" Bootleg Series was initiated, currently comprising 12 sets of outtakes from the various periods of Dylan's career. The Basement Tapes (2014) is called Bootleg Series: Volume 11, and is available as a six CD or two CD set. Or, if you desire, in as three vinyls for those sensitive to the sound fidelity.

Greil Marcus, Clinton Heylin and Sid Griffin talk about this chapter in history.

Here's a soundtrack of Bob Dylan talking about where the songs came from that he wrote there at Woodstock that year. And here's a segment where Robbie Robertson talks about the making of Basement Tapes. And for an in depth account of this period read Levon Helm's This Wheel's On Fire.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Go for it... in Duluth.

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