Thursday, November 4, 2010

Bob Dylan In Concert Brandeis University 1963 (2010)

So there was a bonus disc that you got for pre-ordering the Witmark Demos. It's a partial but professional recording of a show at Brandeis University, 5/10/63. The tape hadn't been circulating - it was in the private collection of the late Ralph Gleason, and you can read about its discovery here - so this was real news to collectors.

It's short for a CD but almost forty minutes long - a vinyl album, if you remember those, and longtime Dylan fans know there was never a proper Dylan live album in the '60s, despite well-known plans for one. This would have done just fine: excellent sound, excellent performance. Somewhat odd setlist: it's strange that he's still performing "Talking Bear Mountain" this late, and even odder that he seems to be encoring with it. But it helps lighten the mood.

It needed it. One of the things this disc shows is how full of mood swings a Dylan show was during this period. Granted that this is a very incomplete picture of the night's proceedings, still it can give you whiplash, going from the goofy horniness of "Honey Just Allow Me One More Chance" to the sardonic satire of "Talkin' John Birch" to the wrist-slittingly depressing "Hollis Brown" and "Masters Of War." Then back to comedy with "Talkin' WWIII." Then contemplation with "Bob Dylan's Dream." I mean, this was some serious journey Dylan was asking his listeners to follow him on.

I'm glad we have this show. I'm glad Sony released it so promptly after discovering it. I'm glad I was fortunate enough to be able to preorder at the right time to get it.

Does that sound snarky? The whole bonus-disc concept rankles. It bugs me that this valuable document, this pleasurable listening experience, is not really available to anyone who wants it - just those who manage jump through the right hoops right now. What about that kid who gets turned onto Dylan next year, and obsessively sets out to collect it all? What does he do about this disc? I think about these things. That's why I'm a liberal. Sony, on the other hand, wants me to be a libertarian about it: I got mine, so fuck everybody else.

Side note: when I was growing up, the John Birch Society was nothing but a line you may or may not have read in a history textbook. It felt about as relevant to the world I knew as, say, the Whiskey Rebellion. Listening to it this morning on the way to work, I was amazed at how resonant it's become to me. Dismayed, too, of course...

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