Essential Books: Robert Christgau on the Past, Carola Dibbell on the Future

only ones

Dean Of Rock Criticism Robert Christgau Looks Back While Novelist Carola Dibbell Imagines The Future

By Michael Goldberg.

While it was likely coincidental that New York-based editor/rock critic Robert Christgau, who has been working on his memoir since 2007, and Carola Dibbell, a journalist who has been writing mostly unpublished fiction for decades and who is married to Christgau, had their books – his memoir, Going Into The City (Dey St./William Morrow); her debut novel, The Only Ones (Two Dollar Radio) – published almost simultaneously early last year, it was an interesting concurrence and I had to read both to see what this couple who have been part of New York’s counterculture since the ’60s had to say.

I have been reading Robert Christgau’s music writing since I was in high school. First I came across his Consumer Guide – capsule reviews of a dozen or so albums, each of which would get a letter grade, you know, like a school paper – in Creem. I devoured his collection of music articles, “Any Old Way You Choose It,” when it was published in 1973. A few years later, in the mid-‘70s, I subscribed to the Village Voice specifically to read the music section – Riffs – which Christgau edited.

Rock criticism began in the mid-‘60s, and while Ralph J. Gleason, the jazz critic for the San Francisco Chronicle who began writing criticism about Bob Dylan and The Beatles and others, was there first, Christgau was one of the early rock critics, and once he became music editor at the Voice in 1974, he had a profound influence, not only on the dozens of music writers he discovered, but also on writers like myself who learned how to write about music mostly from what we read in Creem, the Voice and Rolling Stone.

At one point when I was editing a San Francisco magazine called Boulevards, I wrote a monthly roundup of albums I called “Goldberg’s Consumer Guide” in tribute to Christgau’s column.

RC

Although Greil Marcus has likely influenced my approach to writing music criticism more profoundly than anyone else, I learned plenty from Christgau and his crew of Village Voice writers, as well as the gang at Creem. One of the many things I learned from the many writers in the pages of those publications, were ways of digging beneath the surface and finding the depth of emotion and ideas that were in so much of the music I loved. I felt it, and I heard it, but when I was younger I couldn’t articulate what I was hearing. Those rock critics brought an intellectual approach to music criticism. Albums as weighty as Exile On Main Street and Blonde On Blonde were windows into the mysteries of life, as much so as the novels, films and paintings that meant (and mean) so much to me…

Read the rest of this column at Addicted To Noise!

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –

Getting Personal With Bruce Springsteen

The Boss1

by Michael Goldberg

Bruce Springsteen has always written about the past, and as I’ve spent time with The Ties That Bind: The River Sessions, a multi-CD/multi-DVD set that focuses on music Springsteen made during sessions for The River (and includes a fantastic live show from November 1980, three weeks after The River was released), I’ve been reminded of how a yearning for the past (the high drama of youth) was so much a part of Springsteen’s Seventies recordings.

At age 23, on his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, Springsteen was already looking back on songs such as “Growing Up’ and “It’s Hard To Be a Saint in the City.” Even on their release, Born to Run, Darkness at the Edge of Town and The River came across as romantic exaggerations of a time long gone. This wasn’t just due to the lyrics, which sometimes referred to events in the past tense.

Watch Springsteen and band do “Out In The Street” in Tempe, Arizona, 1980:

The sound of Springsteen’s music leaped back past the innovations of mid-to-late ’60s rock, a period that prominently included long-haired psychedelia complete with feedback, distortion and wah-wah pedal effects, to draw on Phil Spector’s Wall-of-Sound, the rhythm and blues of The Coasters, Sam & Dave and others, and party-rock hit-makers like Mitch Ryder and the Detroit Wheels and Gary U.S. Bonds.

Watch Springsteen and band do “The River” in Tempe, Arizona, 1980:

Consider that in 1975, when Born to Run was released, including a saxophone in the lineup was akin to using a horse and buggy for transportation. Springsteen’s E Street Band, of course, proudly featured the great Clarence “Big Man” Clemons on sax, and the Big Man took a solo in practically every song.

Even when Springsteen wrote in the present, as he did for “Thunder Road,” his line about “Roy Orbison singing to the lonely” placed the time period of the action in the early/mid-‘60s …

Read the rest of this column at Addicted To Noise.

Watch Springsteen and band do “Thunder Road” in 1975:

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –

There’s Nothing Humane About Whole Foods Turkey

One of the maltreated and sick birds found in a barn at Diestel’s Jamestown, CA farm, 2015.

An investigation by Direct Action Everywhere finds “horrific conditions” at a Whole Foods top-rated “humane” meat supplier

By Michael Goldberg

The Diestel Turkey Ranch in Sonora, CA is a beautiful place where turkeys are free to roam on tree-shaded green pastures. “HAPPY TURKEYS AHEAD” reads a sign outside the Whole Foods meat supplier’s farm in the foothills of the Sierra.

And that’s what consumers see in promotional brochures and Whole Foods video of Diestel’s Sonora ranch, one of just three suppliers (out of 2100) to earn Whole Foods’ 5+ humane meat rating, the upscale retailer’s coveted top honor.

“There’s not a lot of secrets here,” says Timothy J. Diestel, who along with his wife Joan C. Diestel has been running the ranch since 1980.

But an investigation and report by the animal rights group Direct Action Everywhere (DxE) shows otherwise. A 2013 California Regional Water Quality Control Board report states no commercial turkeys have been raised at the Sonora facility since 2011. According to the report, Diestel’s turkeys come from other facilities. One of those is in nearby Jamestown, whose premises are nothing like what Whole Foods depicts in its “humane turkey” videos.

Read the rest of this story at The Daily Pitchfork.

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild post –

Audio: Mix ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ Tracks For Free

New Dylan micro-site is worth a visit.

On first glance, the new Bob Dylan, micro-site, Studio A Revisited, appears to be just a way to market the new Bootleg Series set, The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12.

Not so fast.

Sure there are short samples from a handful of songs and a link to where you can buy one of the versions of the new set, but head to the section of the site called “Jam Session” and you can hear something that not even spending $599 on the 18-CD collection will get you: the chance to hear various “mixes” of the four tracks — stems, they’re called — that were combined to make the classic version of “Like a Rolling Stone” in 1965.

While those individual stems are included on the 18 CD and 6 CD versions of the set, there is no easy way to hear various combinations unless you visit Studio A Revisited.

In the Jam Session section you can listen to each track solo, or combine any two or three tracks, as well as all four. Want to hear Michael Bloomfield’s guitar part along with the Bobby Gregg’s drums and Al Kooper’s organ? No problem. Or hear Dylan’s vocal and guitar along with Paul Griffin’s piano and Joseph Macho, Jr.’s bass. Or check out Bloomfield’s guitar, plus drums, bass, organ and piano without Dylan’s guitar and vocal.

Pretty cool.

The stems for “One of Us Must Know (Sooner Or Later)” are “coming soon” to Studio A Revisited. I can’t wait.

— A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post —

Goldberg On Dylan: 18 CD ‘The Cutting Edge’ Set Reviewed

Down the Rabbit Hole with Bob Dylan in the Mid-Sixties

By Michael Goldberg

The mysteries of the ’65/’66 recordings revealed (maybe)

How deep can you go into a song? As Greil Marcus’ two recent books, “The History of Rock ‘N’ Roll in Ten Songs” and “Three Songs, Three Singers, Three Nations,” reveal, there’s no limit. Alice falling down the rabbit hole to discover a subterranean landscape dotted with surreal characters such as the “mad” Hatter, the White Rabbit and a hookah smoking caterpillar, has nothing on Marcus, who takes a song as deceptively simple as Bascom Lamar Lunsford’s 1928 recording “I Wish I Was a Mole in the Ground” and finds lost continents in its strange lyrics.

It’s no coincidence that Marcus is obsessed with Bob Dylan, the master of bottomless songs; Marcus has written entire books delving into what he hears in Dylan’s recordings. He’s been digging Dylan even longer than I have, and I’ve been in the Dylan Zone for 50 years.

I read “Three Songs…” just prior to the arrival of the Collector’s Edition of The Cutting Edge 1965-1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12, a pricey ($599) 18 CD set that contains “every note recorded during the 1965-1966 sessions,” according to a Sony press release, as well as a CD of recordings made in hotel rooms while Dylan was touring during those years that include some wonderful, apparently never completed Dylan originals. Now if only they’d released all the live recordings, but perhaps that’s in the works, hint, hint…

Just so you understand, 18 CDs translates to over 18 hours of music. Close to a full day and night’s worth of Bob Dylan recording the albums that set a new standard for what rock ‘n’ roll records could be, and to this day influence musicians the world over. Many of the songs on those albums are deep. They are songs with trap doors and secret passages, songs that confound, defy, deny, and mystify.

Here was an opportunity to explore not only the depth of the songs recorded during the sessions that produced Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde, but a rare look at the creative process of an artist at the top of his game: Bob Dylan attempting many takes of some songs, radically changing his approach from take to take in some cases while making minor changes in others. Dylan cracking jokes and cracking up.

BD1_Bootleg 12ed_ (c) Don Hunstein copy

“Like a Rolling Stone” Turned My World Upside Down

I’d just turned 12 the first time I heard Bob Dylan. His voice from the car radio singing his Top Ten hit as my mom drove me somewhere in the summer of ’65. I had been listening to rock music – including songs by The Beatles and the Stones and the Beach Boys and the Lovin’ Spoonful and The Byrds – for a year or so. This was different. This was “Like a Rolling Stone.” This was the ecstatic transmuted into a six minute, thirteen second recording.

That song changed me. There was rebellious fury in Dylan’s voice, in how he sang his Beat lyrics about class privilege and the fall from grace, in how he sang a song that managed to say what it took F. Scott Fitzgerald a whole novel, “The Beautiful and the Damned,” to say. But though I related to the lyrics, what slayed me was the music. And more. Dylan’s voice and the sound of that record made me know one didn’t have to go along with the rules society imposed, that there was another way to live. That it was possible to be fully alive, and not sleepwalk through life.

Or as Dylan sang, “It’s life, and life only.”

So for me, perhaps the pièce de résistance here are the complete studio recordings of “Like a Rolling Stone,” all 20 of them. As it turns out you can also get them on the much less expensive 6 CD Deluxe Edition; for many that will be the way to go. And let me be clear here: the 18 CD set is only for the total obsessives, the immoderates, of which I am one.

Listening chronologically to all the takes of “Like a Rolling Stone” provides a kind of fly on the wall view of how Dylan and a crew of extremely talented musicians – on the first day the song is attempted: Michael Bloomfield on guitar, Al Gorgoni on guitar, Paul Griffin on organ, Frank Owens on piano, Joseph Macho Jr. on bass and Bobby Gregg on drums; and on the second day: Bloomfield, Griffin on piano, Macho Jr., Gregg and the addition of Al Kooper on organ and Bruce Langhorne on tambourine – succeed against all odds in recording one of the great rock ‘n’ roll records.

In the epitaph to his 2005 book, “Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads,” Greil Marcus describes in detail what happened during the “Like a Rolling Stone” sessions based on listening carefully to the session tapes. When I read his book in 2011, I wanted so bad to hear what Marcus had described. His writing made me feel as close to being there in the studio as I imagined one could ever get.

I was wrong. Miracle of miracles! Now we can actually listen for ourselves, we can get even closer, we can listen in on a historic moment in rock history, when everything fell apart, then came together for those six minutes, 13 seconds – musicians, producer, singer, words, melody – and fell apart all over again.

As Marcus has written, and as is clear when you listen, nothing was going right. When they start in on the song at Columbia Studio A in New York, near the end of a long session on June 15, 1965 that has already found these musicians cutting ten takes of “Phantom Engineer” (the song that was retitled “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”), and seven takes of “Sitting On a Barbed Wire Fence,” Dylan admits, “My voice is gone.”

Soon they pack it in, only to pick up where they left off the next day, which is to say, during the first few takes the song remains out of reach. It doesn’t have a hook to pull you in from the first notes, Michael Bloomfield hasn’t found the guitar riffs the song needs, Al Kooper is searching for what to play on organ, and Dylan hasn’t found the right tempo or pacing, nor settled on how he should sing his bitter words.

As I listened, first to the January 15 recordings, then the first few takes cut the next day, lost in the moments of those takes, despite knowing that Dylan and the band had eventually pulled it off, I started to have my doubts. It was as if they’d taken a wrong turn and were miles from the song. And then, amazingly, with the fourth take they hit pay dirt. Only they weren’t sure, and recorded ten more takes, once again losing their way.

Read the rest of this essay at Addicted To Noise.

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –

Audio: Dylan’s Previously Unreleased ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile…’ & ‘It Takes A Lot to Laugh…’

Bob Dylan Studio Portraits Side Light: 1965-330-007-082 Manhattan, New York, USA 1965
Bob Dylan Studio Portraits Side Light: 1965-330-007-082
Manhattan, New York, USA 1965

Two tracks off the upcoming “The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12″ that I haven’t featured previously.

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –

Video: Watch/Listen to Previously Unreleased ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’

BD1_Bootleg 12ed_ (c) Don Hunstein copy

More from the upcoming Bob Dylan set, The Cutting Edge 1965–1966: The Bootleg Series Vol. 12. I’ve been listening to an advance and although I haven’t yet gotten through all the music, what I have heard is amazing.

Here is a version of “Subterranean Homesick Blues.” The footage is fascinating; this version of the song is excellent.

Enjoy!

Here’s the same video on YouTube incase the previous from Vevo doesn’t play:

And here’s the version released on “Bringing It All Back Home.”

– A Days of the Crazy-Wild blog post –