- Part 1: Never Ending Tour, 2002,, Seattle Showdown
- Part 2 Tickling the Ivories
- Part 3: Manchester and other outstanding performances
- Part 4: Magnificent performances
By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
In 1999 and 2000 we saw Dylan bring to the stage traditional songs, the kind of antique music we hear on Love and Theft. In 2002, he again does a lot of cover versions, although this time, while some of the old songs get a hearing, he leans towards contemporary songs or songs written by contemporaries as a tribute to some artists he clearly admires. Towards the end of the year he was playing up to three cover songs per concert.
Some of these are family songs like Neil Young’s ‘Old Man.’ It has a catchy melody and strong lyrics and is instantly recognisable to Dylan’s audience. It was inevitable that Dylan and Young should cross paths over the years, and be together on stage a few times. ‘Old Man’ is Neil Young’s anthem, and Dylan doesn’t mess with the song, that is, attempt to Dylanise it, but plays it straight, just as Neil Young might have played it. This one’s from 30th Oct, Saint Paul.
It is not surprising that Dylan would want to cover a song by those ‘British bad boys,’ the Rolling Stones. Of course, Dylan doesn’t prance about on stage like Mike Jagger, but he sure knows how to belt out a rock song, and ‘Brown Sugar’ is the quintessential rock song. The Stones might not be as famous as Dylan for the element of protest or social comment in their songs, but ‘Brown Sugar’ comes close:
‘Gold Coast slave ship bound for cotton fields Sold in the market down in New Orleans Skydog slaver know he's doin' all right Hear him whip the women, just around midnight’
Again he plays it straight, with all the sass and flourish it needs. Jagger and Richards did write some great dancing songs. It came out in 1971 but it sounds very sixties to me. This is also from Saint Paul.
Dylan’s relationship with The Beatles, given his avowed friendship with George Harrison and his rivalry with John Lennon, was more contentious. Dylan does a lovely spoken introduction to ‘Something’ in which he expresses his affection for Harrison. Of course, it is a Harrison song, and this performance is a loving tribute indeed. And Charlie Sexton has captured Harrison’s guitar perfectly. Uncanny, how close it sounds to Harrison. The song has a similar sentiment to Dylan’s ‘Something There Is About You’ from Planet Waves, 1974.
This is from ‘Something.’
‘Something in the way she moves Attracts me like no other lover Something in the way she woos me I don't want to leave her now You know I believe and how’
And this is from ‘Something There Is About You.’
‘Somethin' there is about you That strikes the match in me Is it the way your body moves Or is it the way your hair blows free?’
This performance is from 30th Nov, New York.
By far the most substantial tribute however is to the song writer Warren Zevon, who being born in 1947 was a few years younger than Dylan, but died of cancer in 2003. His illness was known in 2002, and Dylan expressed his appreciation of Zevon publicly by singing three of his songs, sometimes two at one concert. Many who had never heard of Zevon were introduced to him by these performances.
He does Dylanise Zevon’s ‘Mutineer,’ just in his phrasing, and turns up with a particularly compelling version. Indeed, the song has a mysteriousness to it worthy of Dylan, and what a marvellous tribute this is to the dying songwriter. This one’s from the groundbreaking Seattle concert (Oct 4).
‘Accidentally like a Martyr’ has a very Dylan like title. Interestingly, while written in 1978 it contains the phrase ‘time out of mind,’ reminding us that the phrase refers to ‘a time in the past that was so long ago that people have no knowledge or memory of it.’ (Google)
‘The days slide by Should have done, should have done, we all sigh Never thought I'd ever be so lonely After such a long, long time Time out of mind’
This is another one from the Seattle concert, and is a fine vocal performance. Critic and Bobcat Andrew Muir, who attended the Seattle concert, describes his response this way: “Accidentally Like A Martyr” hit me like the proverbial large railway vehicle moving at high speed. The vocals conveyed an astonishing depth of feeling and insight and an immense gravity. You couldn’t fail to understand immediately that this song was of import.
Interpretations of the song vary, but fate seems to play a big role in love and religion. You might stumble upon martyrdom as you might stumble upon anything.
Accidentally like a Martyr
As far as I know, Dylan played Zevon’s ‘Boom Boom Mancini’ only once, and that was at the Seatle concert. There is a good background to this song by Tony Attwood. The song deals with the relentless nature of boxing, and is about Boxer Mancini whose Korean opponent, Duk Koo Kim, died after fighting him. Dylan condemns boxing in ‘Who Killed Davy Moore,’ an early Dylan song, but lionises the boxer Rubin Carter in ‘Hurricane’ in 1976.
Zevon comes to this Dylan like conclusion:
‘They made hypocrite judgements after the fact But the name of the game is be hit and hit back’
The song starts with a threatening beat, much like ‘Serve Somebody,’ and develops into a fine rocker.
Boom, boom Mancini
Bruce Hornsby’s, ‘The End of Innocence’ is another contemporary song (1989), which Dylan has sung before, but which gets a particularly clear, sharp and loving performance in 2002. The song has an anti war theme, and seems to attack Ronald Reagan, ‘this tired old man we elected king.’
This performance is from St Paul (30th Oct)
End of Innocence
With Neil Young, Warren Zevon, Jagger/Richards, George Harrison and Bruce Hornsby in the line up for Dylan’s tributes in 2002, it’s unsurprising that we should find Van Morrison, the Irish songwriter among their number. ‘Carrying a Torch’ is one of Morrison’s effusive, mystical ballads. Both Dylan and Morrison understand the ecstatic roots of rock music, which they use to express a spiritual vision of the world. This one’s from New York (13th Nov), a quiet and understated performance.
Carrying a Torch
These are Dylan’s tributes to his contemporaries, but the older songs he loves have not entirely gone. ‘Duncan and Brady’ is a traditional murder ballad originally recorded by Wilmer Watts and his Lonely Eagles in 1929, but covered by many other performers. Despite its subject matter it’s a brisk, upbeat song. Dylan uses it to kick off the Aspen concert (1st Sept). Interestingly, an alternative title of the song is ‘You’ve Been On The Job Too Long,’ the line Dylan uses to finish ‘Black Rider’ from Rough and Rowdy Ways.
Duncan and Brady
‘Searching for a Soldier’s Grave’ is another old favourite of Dylan’s. Written by Jim Anglin, Hank Williams considered it “one of the purdyest songs I reckon anybody ever wrote.” (https://dylanchords.info/00_misc/searching_for_a_soldiers_grave.htm) Others have been less kind. It has a patriotic tinge to it, and the lyrics are far from subtle, but this is a sweet, downright purdy performance from the Seattle concert. Dylan keeps it low and quiet, not letting it get too raucous in the choruses.
Searching for a Soldier’s Grave
Finally, we come to that humble little song ‘This World Can’t Stand Long,’ also by Jim Anglin. It’s both simple and yet profound, a little ditty that somehow says it all. When Dylan sings ‘things are breakin up out there,’ in ‘High Water’ we can hear the echo of Anglin’s understated little ballad first recorded in 1947, full of post war melancholy. This performance is from Aspen (1st Sept).
This world can’t stand long.
That’s it for 2002, bringing us not just to the end of another year on the road for Dylan but a whole era, spanning ten years from 1991/2, ebbing and building to these four superlative years from 1999 to 2002. From October 2002, a new movement begins, a new and harder road opens, a road that will take us to some strange places.
As an augury of changes and difficulties to come, not only did Dylan lay down his guitar in 2002, but at the end of the year guitarist Charlie Sexton leaves the band and would not rejoin it again until 2009. It is generally agreed that Sexton is the best NET guitarist Dylan ever had, and his sharp, whiplash sound would be sorely missed. Sexton and the versatile Campbell, along with bassist Garnier, put together a powerhouse of a band that became a formidable force in rock music. At their best there’s nothing to match them.
In 2003, Sexton would be replaced by Billy Burnette. In his book on the NET, ‘One More Night,’ Andrew Muir comments: ‘Billy Burnette is not remembered fondly by most Dylan fans. However…you cannot help but wonder if this is fair judgement.’ Burnette only lasted until 18th April 2003 and was then replaced by Freddie Koella who was replaced by Stu Kimball in 2004. How they fared we will see in coming posts, but this turnover of guitarists points to a rocky road ahead.
In the meantime, stay safe. Listening to Bob Dylan is a tried and tested method of staying sane in these plague years. That’s because of his indomitable spirit.
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