Bob Dylan’s Triumphant Fourth Act Continues with “Tempest”.

First came the trou­bled and won­drous­ly angry young man of the 1960s. Then there was the old­er and wis­er and all too wound­ed soli­tary fig­ure of the 70s. Then, even more remark­ably, he re-emerged for a third incar­na­tion with Oh Mer­cy in 89 and then with Time Out Of Mind.

And if that weren’t enough, he burst forth for a fourth time, back on to the scene and into rel­e­vance in the 00s with an explo­sion of activity. 

Four albums (so far) with Love and Theft (01), Mod­ern Times (06), Togeth­er Through Life (09) and now Tem­pest. The extra­or­di­nar­i­ly can­did Chron­i­cles Vol­ume One (04).  Scors­ese’s doc­u­men­tary. And of course the peer­less Theme Time Radio Hours (see here for ear­li­er review).

If you want to under­stand where his lat­est album Tem­pest is com­ing from, and how he arrived at it, you need to go back to Chron­i­cles and its fourth chap­ter on “Oh Mercy”.

It had nev­er occurred to me that, by the 1980s, Dylan might have been every bit as dis­ap­point­ed with what he’d been doing with him­self for the pre­vi­ous fif­teen years or so as his legion of fans were. Nobody, it tran­spires, was quite as dis­il­lu­sioned with the path that he’d cho­sen to go down than he him­self was.

There was a miss­ing per­son inside of myself and I need­ed to find him.”

He says at the begin­ning of the chap­ter and we don’t so much as fol­low him as he recalls where he was then. Rather we’re there with him, in real time, as he bur­rows deep inside in the hope of dis­cov­er­ing the source of his turmoil.

” I felt done for, an emp­ty burned-out wreck…  I’m a ’60s trou­ba­dour, a folk-rock rel­ic, a word­smith from bygone days… in the bot­tom­less pit of cul­tur­al obliv­ion. I was what they called over the hill.”

Until all of a sud­den, out of absolute­ly nowhere, he stum­bles into a jazz joint and has one of those near-myth­i­cal, Joycean epipha­nies. And to his aston­ish­ment, where he needs to be going, musi­cal­ly, and what he needs to do to get there are glo­ri­ous­ly and crys­tal clear. And he begins the jour­ney out of his self-sculpt­ed Sty­gian gloom and back into the light.

I had a gut feel­ing that I had cre­at­ed a new genre, a style that did­n’t exist as of yet and one that would be entire­ly my own.”

It would take him years to get there, that much was clear.

I wished I was at least twen­ty years younger, wished that I had just dropped on the scene all over again.”

But for the first time in years, he was pal­pa­bly excited.

I was antic­i­pat­ing the spring, look­ing for­ward to step­ping out on the stage where I’d be entire­ly at once author, actor, prompter, stage man­ag­er, audi­ence and crit­ic com­bined. That would be different.”

In ret­ro­spect, the next cou­ple of albums, Oh Mer­cy and Time Out Of Mind were not so much the result of that new approach as they were sta­tions on the way. 

It was only with the cur­rent batch that that des­ti­na­tion had tru­ly been arrived at. And Tem­pest is the lat­est, and there­fore the best exam­ple of where that was. 

There’s a fas­ci­nat­ing inter­view he gives with Mikal Gilmore in the Sep­tem­ber issue of Rolling Stone. You can get a taster of what’s in it here.

Sing up for a sub­scrip­tion right or below, and I shall keep you post­ed every week  with All the Very Best and Worst in Film, Tele­vi­sion and Music!

Theme Time Radio Hour”, Bob Dylan’s Four Dazzling Acts.

There are famous­ly no sec­ond acts in Amer­i­can lives. But as he has on so many oth­er occa­sions, Bob Dylan has proved him­self the glo­ri­ous excep­tion to Fitzger­ald’s famous maxim.

Dylan’s first act cul­mi­nat­ed in an extra­or­di­nary 14 months between March 1965 and May ’66 when he released no less than three epoch-defin­ing albums; Bring­ing It All Back HomeHigh­way 61 Revis­it­ed and the still sem­i­nal dou­ble album, Blonde On Blonde. Then how­ev­er, just as sud­den­ly as he’d emerged, he dis­ap­peared into the under­growth, opt­ing for domes­tic bliss and the anonymi­ty afford­ed by his base­ment in Woodstock.

To every­one’s sur­prise and amaze­ment though, he burst back into rel­e­vance in the mid 70s with Blood On The Tracks in ’74, Desire in ’75 and the Rolling Thun­der Revue tour. But with­in a year or two his brief renais­sance had passed, and by the late 70s he’d resumed his role as a rel­ic of an era that had long since passed. The nev­er-end­ing tour he seemed deter­mined to per­sist with looked like lit­tle more than an excuse for him to avoid hav­ing to ever look him­self in the mirror.

But to every­one’s fur­ther amaze­ment, a decade lat­er he sprang back into life again, first with No Mer­cy in ’89, and then with Time Out Of Mind in ’97, both of which were pro­duced by Daniel Lanois. These three acts would com­fort­ably have seen his name for­ev­er carved in stone on high.

Remark­ably though, these last few years have been arguably his most pro­duc­tive peri­od to date. Three fine albums in Love And Theft (’01), Mod­ern Times (’06) and Togeth­er Through Life (’09), par­tic­u­lar­ly the first. A nov­el­ty Christ­mas album, which was far bet­ter than it had any right to be. That extra­or­di­nary auto­bi­og­ra­phy Chron­i­cles: Vol­ume One (’04), which had noth­ing to say about his per­son­al life, but which was excep­tion­al­ly can­did and bril­liant­ly illu­mi­nat­ing on his music (par­tic­u­lar­ly on the epiphany that result­ed in the release of  Oh Mer­cy.). Plus Scorsese’s bril­liant doc­u­men­tary, Bring­ing It All Back Home. And amongst all of which, some­what improb­a­bly, he embarked upon a new career path as a 21st. cen­tu­ry DJ.

The idea behind Theme Time Radio Hour is sim­ple enough. For one hour every week, Dylan takes a theme, say “Mar­riage”, or “Cig­a­rettes”, and spins discs asso­ci­at­ed with the cho­sen theme. He plays lit­tle or noth­ing from the mid 70s onwards, stick­ing for the most part to the 50s, 60s, and ear­ly 70s, though there are also a healthy hand­ful from the 40s and even 30s. There are three series so far, com­pris­ing some 100 hours. And each and every sin­gle track, on every sin­gle one of them, is an absolute gem. Not only that, but his sly but enthu­si­as­tic intros are every bit as enjoy­able as the for­got­ten finds he’s con­tin­u­al­ly unearthing and cor­rect­ly celebrating.

It is, by a con­sid­er­able dis­tance, the finest hour of lis­ten­ing to be found any­where in the ether. Fur­ther­more, it’s made for the “Shuf­fle” mode. As it’s almost as enjoy­able hav­ing what­ev­er it is that you’re lis­ten­ing to incon­gru­ous­ly inter­rupt­ed by one of Dylan’s droll intros before return­ing to your own playlist, as it is hear­ing the actu­al track that his intro was refer­ring to.

TTRH is an edu­ca­tion and a con­stant source of joy. And once again, that man from Min­neso­ta has pro­duced yet anoth­er rab­bit from that appar­ent­ly bot­tom­less hat of his.