By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)
The Never Ending Tour index to 116 previous articles can be found here. The most recent articles covering 2012 are…
- NET 2012 part 1 The Ivory Revolution Begins
- NET 2012 part 2 The Ivory Revolution Continues
- NET 2012 Part 3 New wine in old bottles
NET 2012 Part 4 New wine in old bottles (continued)
In 1962, when Dylan wrote ‘Hard Rain,’ he adopted the persona of the innocent young man who’d been out into the world and witnessed many horrors which he was reporting to his mother. By the time we got to ‘Visions of Johanna’ in 1966, the horrors had become internalized. The apocalypse, the end of things, was now projected from the psyche onto the dying phases of a drug party:
And Madonna, she still has not showed We see this empty cage now corrode Where her cape of the stage once had flowed The fiddler, he now steps to the road He writes ev'rything's been returned which was owed On the back of the fish truck that loads While my conscience explodes The harmonicas play the skeleton keys and the rain And these visions of Johanna are now all that remain
I have argued in these articles that the post-1966 performances of ‘Visions of Johanna’ mostly fail to convey the song’s bleak grandeur. Dylan performed the song twenty-eight times in 2012, and these performances have not convinced me to change my mind. Nevertheless, I’m glad he didn’t abandon what may be his greatest-ever song. This one from Toronto, with strong support from the piano, is as good as they get; perhaps it’s that hint of the dumpty-dum with the over-emphatic vocal that gets to me.
Visions of Johanna.
This internalizing of the apocalypse is evident in the great sister song to ‘Visions,’ ‘Desolation Row’ from 1965. It’s easy to grasp why Dylan is considered to be the quintessential songwriter of his time when you listen to these two songs side by side; there is no greater achievement in modern songwriting. Despite dropping a verse or two, ‘Desolation Row’ has fared better than ‘Visions’ in post 1960s performances. We have seen some powerful performances along the way, especially in 2000 and 2003. It never fails to weave its magic. This one from Winnipeg continues the tradition. Sit back and enjoy the circus. I particularly like the piano accompaniment here; it’s both strong and tasteful.
‘All along the Watchtower,’ for many years Dylan’s favourite closing song, is another vision of the apocalypse, both personal and universal. The ‘two riders approaching’ at the end of the song are not bringing good news. War and death are subtly implied – ‘the wind began to howl.’
At Washington (20th Nov), Dylan played the song second to last, leaving the last slot for ‘Blowin in the Wind.’ Over the years performances of this song have grown more spare and less guitar-heavy without losing any of its menace.
This is certainly not the greatest performance of the song. Dylan’s rushed, emphatic vocal that heavily hits the beat, doesn’t to my mind capture the rather lonely pathos of the song.
Love and desire can wipe us out as effectively as any plague or atomic blast. ‘Can’t Wait’ is about the kind of love that can drive us to the very edge of our beings and leave us with nothing.
It’s mighty funny, the end of time has just begun Oh, honey, after all these years you’re still the one While I’m strolling through the lonely graveyard of my mind I left my life with you somewhere back there along the line I thought somehow that I would be spared this fate But I don’t know how much longer I can wait
In this song, love is its own variety of the apocalypse. To my mind the 2010 performance has not yet been bettered for sheer prowling menace.
Those who have followed the various approaches to this song on ‘Tell Tale Signs’ will recognize this performance from Chester as returning to one of the slower, spookier conceptions of the song. From 2003 to 2005 the song was performed with a restless, descending bass line, and we get an echo of that here, although much slowed down. Perhaps there is no ‘perfect’ or ideal arrangement for this song; all of these different approaches sound wonderful in their own right, each presenting us with a different conception or facet of the song.
Brief sexual encounters can haunt us as much as a sustained love affair. That is the insight that lies behind ‘A Simple Twist of Fate.’
He woke up, the room was bare He didn't see her anywhere He told himself he didn't care Pushed the window open wide Felt an emptiness inside To which he just could not relate Brought on by a simple twist of fate
This experience is common enough, I suspect, for most of us to relate to. Fate can bring us together, and pull us apart again; we are but playthings of the gods. Dylan has not dropped this song, it was last performed in 2021, and we have had many exciting performances of it over the years. I don’t think this one from Barlo (16th July) is the best by any means, but what’s interesting is that Dylan forsakes the piano and plays guitar – these strange, angular notes you hear are Dylan.
Simple Twist of Fate
Dylan’s on the guitar also for this ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’ from Winnipeg, another song that will stay until 2019. This famous renunciation with its repeated ‘No no no!’ is said to be a sling off the Beatles’ ‘Yeah yeah yeah.’ The song shows that we often have to resist the projections people put onto us. If you project your view of a person, and your expectations of them, onto that person, you end up in relationship to your projection rather than the person themself who, at that point, you can no longer see. Dylan was having none of it; he was no hippy flower child.
A strong vocal from Dylan here.
It Ain’t Me Babe
Back on the piano, Dylan has fun with ‘Summer Days’ from Washington. There’s crazy stuff going on, and maybe the apocalypse is kept at bay for a while, but there is no escape from the soul-shaking presence of the divine.
Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginnin’ to shake Standing by God’s river, my soul is beginnin’ to shake I’m countin’ on you love, to give me a break
When the song first appeared in 2001 we were treated to some loud, brassy performances that took us back to the big band heyday of the 1940s. Here (Washington), in keeping with his latest style, the brassiness is stripped out of the song which is carried by drum and bass. A minimal, boogie grove, but it sure does rock along.
Last but not least, we have the gentle ‘This Dream Of You’ from Together Through Life (Winnepeg). It’s my last look at 2012, and also Dylan’s final performance of the song. I regret its passing. It was only ever performed twelve times, having a short life-span in the NET. Perhaps it fails to generate the powerful emotional charge that we find with ‘Forgetful Heart’ from the same album, and yet it gently opens the door to the ineffable, that which keeps us alive while always being just out of reach.
I look away, but I keep seeing it I don't want to believe, but I keep believing it Shadows dance upon the wall Shadows that seem to know it all Am I too blind to see? Is my heart playing tricks on me? Too late to stop now even though all my friends are gone All I have and all I know Is this dream of you Which keeps me living on
This Dream of You
So that’s 2012. I think we can see it, with all its faults, as the beginning of the next, and last, movement of the NET. We are at the beginning of a new rising curve.
I used the term rising curve to describe the progression of the NET from 1991/2 through to 2001. 2012 reminds me of 1992. Dylan had just added steel guitar and dobro to his lineup, and was very much feeling his way forward in the post GE Smith lead guitar era. He was also having trouble with his voice.
In 2012 Dylan begins to explore a new sound, and feel for new arrangements of the songs. It’s a foundational year, and when we come to 2013, we will see how Dylan builds on that foundation and takes a big step forward in terms of the quality of his performances.
All the best until next time and