March 23, 2017

Bill Flanagan interviews Bob Dylan. Read the whole thing — it's nice and long...

... here. Bob is pushing his new album, "Triplicate," which is 3 discs of him singing standards like "That Old Feeling" (my favorite song when I was about 4 and had no old feelings) and "Sentimental Journey" (the song my parents considered their song for reasons I only came to understand, suddenly, 4 years ago).

Bob gives an explanation for why he put the 30 songs on 3 CDs when they would have fit on 2 CDs:  
Is there something about the 10 song, 32 minute length that appeals to you?

Sure, it’s the number of completion. It’s a lucky number, and it’s symbolic of light. As far as the 32 minutes, that’s about the limit to the number of minutes on a long playing record where the sound is most powerful, 15 minutes to a side. My records were always overloaded on both sides. Too many minutes to be recorded or mastered properly. My songs were too long and didn’t fit the audio format of an LP. The sound was thin and you would have to turn your record player up to nine or ten to hear it well. So these CDs to me represent the LPs that I should have been making.
That's either mystical, metaphorical, or bullshit.
Are you concerned about what Bob Dylan fans think about these standards?

These songs are meant for the man on the street, the common man, the everyday person. Maybe that is a Bob Dylan fan, maybe not, I don’t know....
The songs, he says, have "the essence of life... in them – the human condition." He's learned "how perfectly the lyrics and melodies are intertwined, how relevant to everyday life they are, how non-materialistic." Interesting to ponder the "relevant to everyday life"/"non-materialistic" connection. Ordinarily, one might think of everyday life as being materialistic, so how does the absence of materialism fit everyday life? Maybe it's just an elaborate, enigmatic way to say they are love songs.

Later, he says the songs "take you out of that mainstream grind where you’re trapped between differences which might seem different but are essentially the same" and "These songs are cold and clear-sighted, there is a direct realism in them, faith in ordinary life just like in early rock and roll."
When you see footage of yourself performing 40 or 50 years ago, does it seem like a different person? What do you see?

I see Nat King Cole, Nature Boy – a very strange enchanted boy, a terribly sophisticated performer, got a cross section of music in him, already postmodern. That’s a different person than who I am now....

Here's a list of movies that have inspired Dylan songs, according to Dylan: The Robe, King of Kings, Samson and Delilah, Picnic, A Face in the Crowd.

Bob describes rock and roll: "It was skeleton music, came out of the darkness and rode in on the atom bomb and the artists were star headed like mystical Gods.... Rock and roll was atomic powered, all zoom and doom."

Flanagan asks what's special about Minnesota? I was interested in that because I was just thinking about how Bob Dylan doesn't seem too bonded to his state. He'll refer to "The Girl From North Country" or say "The country I come from is called the midwest" — making Minnesota into something vague and mythic. I searched his song lyrics and found only 2 mentions of Minnesota. One is the familiar "Went to See the Gypsy" (where we hear of "that little Minnesota town" that is never named). The other is the completely obscure...

See the fine print?

From the Michigan mud past the Wisconsin sun/’Cross that Minnesota border — Minnesota gets thrown in with Michigan and Wisconsin, giving the whole general area a flyover feeling.

So here's how he answers the question "Is there any quality people have there that you don’t find elsewhere?"
Not necessarily. Minnesota has its own Mason Dixon line. I come from the north and that’s different from southern Minnesota; if you’re there you could be in Iowa or Georgia. Up north the weather is more extreme – frostbite in the winter, mosquito-ridden in the summer, no air conditioning when I grew up, steam heat in the winter and you had to wear a lot of clothes when you went outdoors. Your blood gets thick. It’s the land of 10,000 lakes – lot of hunting and fishing. Indian country, Ojibwe, Chippewa, Lakota, birch trees, open pit mines, bears and wolves – the air is raw. Southern Minnesota is farming country, wheat fields and hay stacks, lots of corn fields, horses and milk cows. In the north it’s more hardscrabble. It’s a rugged environment – people lead simple lives, but they lead simple lives in other parts of the country too. People are pretty much the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in most people, doesn’t matter what state you live in. Some people are more self-sufficient than other places – some more secure, some less secure – some people mind their own business, some don’t.
He talks of getting a "a heightened sense of being" from hearing Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley and from reading read Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac. And he got into the "self-ruling world" of "poets, rebel girls, folk singers." Here's how he describes Joan Baez:
She was something else, almost too much to take. Her voice was like that of a siren from off some Greek island. Just the sound of it could put you into a spell. She was an enchantress. You’d have to get yourself strapped to the mast like Odysseus and plug up your ears so you wouldn’t hear her. She’d make you forget who you were.
Flanagan asks him about all the songs by other people that mention him: "John Lennon in 'Yer Blues,' Ricky Nelson in 'Garden Party,' David Bowie in 'Song for Bob Dylan.'" And Dylan picks his favorite:

He's asked about the the theory that he's "the jester" in “American Pie”....
Yeah, Don McLean, “American Pie,” what a song that is. A jester? Sure, the jester writes songs like “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall,” “It’s Alright, Ma” – some jester. I have to think he’s talking about somebody else. Ask him.
He likes Amy Winehouse: "She was the last real individualist around."

Bob Dylan's family didn't have a TV until he was 14 or 15. There were only shows on from 3 in the afternoon until 9 at night, and he says he liked everything that came on. Here's a list of shows he rattles off:
Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Highway Patrol, Father Knows Best... Studio One, Fireside Theatre... Beat the Clock, To Tell the Truth, Queen for a Day... You Are There with Walter Cronkite, The Twilight Zone...
"They were all good."

Asks what he watches now, on the tour bus, he says: "I Love Lucy, all the time, non-stop."

He reveals why he wore his hair in that wild curled up way he did in the 1960s: "I was trying to look like Little Richard."


David said...

"That's either mystical, metaphorical, or bullshit." It's marketing, therefore bullshit.

M Jordan said...

For some reason, Dylan's answers here remind me of Trump. They're succinct, somewhat childish, surprising, seemingly irony-free but also laden with irony. And they make me laugh. All the TV shows were good back then. Highway Patrol. They're all good.


Pete said...

This is an astonishingly great interview of Dylan. Not marketing, no, Dylan's creating art, right in front of our eyes. Which, as I've asserted before, is what Trump is doing. And it's why I think Althouse is so fascinated by Trump.

Roy Lofquist said...

"That's either mystical, metaphorical, or bullshit."


Known Unknown said...

I've never doubted that Dylan loves this country, this place, and its purpose on the face of the Earth.

"People are pretty much the same wherever you go. There is good and bad in most people, doesn’t matter what state you live in."

Bob Dylan is a perceptive individual, uninterested in modern tribalism.

eddie willers said...

Reading his autobiography, you get the feeling that he loves everything about the 9-5 life....except the hours.

Laslo Spatula said...

Dylan: My songs were too long and didn’t fit the audio format of an LP. The sound was thin and you would have to turn your record player up to nine or ten to hear it well. So these CDs to me represent the LPs that I should have been making."

Althouse: "That's either mystical, metaphorical, or bullshit. "

Actually, you are wrong on all three counts. The physical nature of vinyl records -- and the grooves that 'contained' the music -- made it that the longer the recording time of an LP side, the less volume and bass response (the lack of bass causing "thin" sound") of the resulting product.

From TheMasterDiskRecord:

"A vinyl LP can hold over 40 minutes of music a side. But, the sound quality isn’t good at all.... it’s important to note that the length of the side, the level, and the bass response are all very closely related..."

"If it’s a full bass sounding vibe, the record groves are literally deeper and wider, and take up more room. So I have to lower the level to make them fit...."

"I can cut 30 minutes on a side, but the level is down 8db or more from the level I can cut on a 18 minute side. Thats a lot. But, the sound is still good (or can be) even though the record noise becomes more apparent since the music is quieter...."

From PledgeMusic:

“When the side length of a 12” record is less than 9 minutes, the loudness will be at the maximum 33 1/3 rpm cuts. However, in most cases, you lose about one decibel in volume for each minute over 13 minutes per side."

The Beatles, as an example, usually had the bass mixed low compared to modern usage -- bass with prominent low end would literally cause the needle to bounce out of the grooves on a simple record player of the era. What you mostly hear of the bass are the mid-tones, not the low-end (which has been filtered off). And recognize that the Recording Labels were selling albums to the 'kids with the cheap players', not the audiophiles with the expensive sound systems.

From a Washington Post article on Beatles remasters:

"In the days of vinyl, Paul and Ringo, though they played with enough punch to "make the needle jump off the record," never got a chance to actually make that happen. A powerful bass line like McCartney's on the 1966 single "Paperback Writer" (found on "Past Masters") had to be toned down during mastering for disc, because such bass recordings would, in fact, cause a phonograph needle to jump from the groove."

Remember the K-Tel Records of the Seventies? Remember how they could fit frikkin' ten songs on a side? How did they do that?

Thin grooves. Very thing grooves.

Which is why the volume was always 'off' and the sound very 'trebly'.

From a thread on K-Tel record compilations:

"The sound quality has most to do with the number of tracks on the lp's. To squeeze them on Bass and dynamics had to be cut to the bone. If mastered normally they would all had to be Double Lp sets."

responded to by:

"But that was OK because we all listened to them on our uber-crappy plastic record players or our parents' massive Magnavox consoles anyhow. They probably sounded about as good as transistor/car AM radio."

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

I could go on and on about this subject, but here is something I would posit to Althouse:

The physical limitations of commercial vinyl records of the era had as much to do with the resulting overall sound of "Blonde on Blonde" than all of the artistic audio judgments made in making it.

(Note there IS an overlap: many judgments were no doubt made knowing the limits that they had to fit into.)

Think of it as Michelangelo fitting the concept of his painting to the fixed size of The Sistine Chapel ceiling. If the room was half as narrow would he have altered the composition accordingly? Of course.

I am Laslo.

David said...

"Dylan. Not marketing, no"

Dylan is a marketing genius. Has been since the get go. He's so good you do not even know you are being marketed.

David said...

Lazlo, would you please stop demonstrating expertise. It's making the rest of us uneasy.

William said...

It was an interesting interview. Thanks for posting. I'm about his age, and I share his interest in old music. It doesn't remind me of my youth. It reminds me of my parents' youth. That was the time before time. Music that doesn't sync with your own mortality.......At at a certain point you lose interest in current music. Rap has now been the dominant musical trend for a longer time than rock. Ragtime, Dixieland , big band, doo wop, be bop, hip hop. Different music for different generations. I can't imagine any particular style or any particular generation had the monopoly on genius. My generation was wedded--welded actually--with rock. It's fine music and no complaints, but far more fun to listen to with a twenty something libido.

William said...

Just as a curiousity I bought an album where Cole Porter sang his own songs. He could carry a tune, but he had a thin voice and his version had no added value. Of the big five--Jerome Kern, George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers--none of them had a stage presence..........Hoagie Carmichael probably would be a bigger star today. He wrote his own songs and, moreover,he had the persona and voice to put his own material over. Johnny Mercer too......Bob Dylan has the definitive version of some of his songs, but there are many songs in his catalogue where the cover is the better version. I listened to his version of Stardust. My appetite was not whetted.

Laslo Spatula said...

To add more potatoes to the soup: faster RPMs meant better sound (more space for 'data' in the same time frame).

Basically, a 45 RPM single of "Like a Rolling Stone" could sound better and play louder than a version on the 33.3 LP (providing both are maximized for their format).

"Why 45 RPM?

The 45 RPM speed is the only one to be decided by a precise optimization procedure (by RCA Victor in 1948). Calculations showed that the optimum use of a disc record of constant rotational speed occurs when the innermost recorded diameter is half the outermost recorded diameter. That's why a 7-inch single has a label 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Given vinyl groove dimensions and certain assumptions about bandwidth and tolerable distortion, a speed of 45 RPM came out of the formula. The 33-1/3 rpm, 12-inch format developed by Columbia was a compromise that attempted to fit more music on a single disc, accepting the limitations that will be discussed in this section on sound quality.

Issues of Platter Size and Rotation Speed

In record mastering, the higher the recorded level and frequency, the greater the curvature of the grooves that get created when making master plates. Curvature isn’t usually a problem, near the outside edge of a 12” 33 1/3 record, but as the groove moves toward the center, its relative speed slows and curvature increases. The record is still turning at 33-1/3 rpm, but one revolution takes 1.8 seconds. That 1.8 seconds at a 12” diameter is covering a lot more territory than at the minimum 4.75” diameter. The result is actually a loss in high frequencies -- an increase in distortion as the groove moves to the center. The problems start when the curvature of the groove equals or exceeds the diameter of the playback stylus. To get around this, one approach is to keep the recorded volume to a reasonable level. In addition, using an elliptical or line-contact stylus that has a smaller tip radius will help. The best solution is to make the record short enough to keep the music away from the very end of the disk, but when you're pressing an LP, that's hard to do.

A better approach is to spin the disk at 45 instead of 33-1/3 rpm. This gives you a 35% increase in groove velocity at any point on the disk, which is a huge advantage. Yes, the groove still slows down as it moves inward, but the effects are greatly reduced. The only problem is that the amount of recorded time is now also reduced by 35% ... hence one of the advantages of the 12-inch record format spinning more slowly. So, 45s are smaller and hold less music, but they sound better! In addition to playing faster, they technically store "more" of the music. Not more music as in more songs or longer play time, just a more accurate copy of the sound." (

I am Laslo.

Laslo Spatula said...

What format did Bob Dylan listen to in his youth? What was the sound that moved him?

Probably 45s of two-and-a-half minute songs, played loud.

Bringing It On Home.

I am Laslo.

Earnest Prole said...

"That's either mystical, metaphorical, or bullshit."


Etienne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

thank you Laslo!!! well said....I would like to add Bob Dylan is an artist first and foremost..he's given everything of his life to us!!!! he never stops touring, always giving us brilliant music and philosophy!.. he doesn't care about more money... he's just fine... we've forgotten the value of art..this is a humble man... very sad world we are living in....thank you are loved and appreciated