Jane Fate says….
It wasn’t easy… but delays and discussions were soon forgotten as the Basement Tapes: Complete box set finally arrived. It looked and felt better than the hype could have made it, and even though I had listened to all this music for four days already via the official sound files, it made me unreasonably happy to physically have it in hand, with all its blurry black and white photos as well as those of the sunnier Woodstock days. After skimming through some choice tracks late on Friday night, I was bound to go all the way on Saturday, listening straight through six discs’ worth of songs with hardly a break. It was quite a trip – it lifted my spirits immensely. I mean, this is mid-1960s Bob we’re talking about. Anybody who knows me knows he doesn’t do a thing for me. Yet, by Sunday I had made a playlist of Basement Favourites and was listening to it continuously. Never mind that among the 16 songs, there were only three Dylan originals. An essential part of his performing brilliance is his deeply respectful and often audibly heartfelt approach to covering other people’s songs. That alone is sufficient reason for me to be extremely excited by the prospect of an album of standards that no-one else could make. Just like with the Basement Tapes, his name will be written in flames all over it, his own heart’s beat behind the music, his handwriting in the words. Listen closely.
Considering how the Basement Tapes set jumped into the pre-Christmas release slot ahead of BOTT, it’s compiled & packaged beautifully. Of course, Blood On The Tracks holds a place that few other albums could ever approach, and to temporarily abandon the idea of a BOTT themed Bootleg Series release seems regrettable no matter the replacement. Still, the Tapes were quick to reveal their pleasures. Only after I’d listened to everything all the way through once, and to my Basement Favourites several times did I even approach the book of notes that came with the box set. Outside influences on my initial reaction to these things needs to be carefully avoided. Don’t give me museum audio guides or roadmaps to the sound, do not explain the words. Let the art speak to me freely and I will respond before seeking outside responses. Under the best circumstances, these will be corresponding with the work too, rather than ascribing meaning and explaining the unexplainable at the core of artistic creation. Dylanological writing can be frustrating in that regard at the best of times. Heylin’s notes out of the way, I found Sid Griffin’s essay evocative in its own right, much closer to the intuitive reaction that these works require than scholarly methods could ever get. If there is anything to be criticised about this release, it’s that Sid didn’t get to write it all. It’s a refreshing perspective. Jack of course agrees. They’re buddies after all. Don’t look sideways.
What about the songs then?
… and without going frustratingly dylanological over them?
These are my Basement Favourites. They make me unreasonably happy – no mean feat given I’ve been falling apart for months, to the point where any music would physically sicken me and where any sound was a noisy intrusion on my inner battles. Surprisingly enough, I find some of this collection immensely soothing. It doesn’t even matter that most of them aren’t happy songs. If anything, it’s even better that way – even more touching.
These songs just speak to me – loving deeply and not letting go easily. Lovelornness. Bitter-sweet memories, painful flashbacks. Every little detail etched irrevocably into the soul – reality details and the details of dreams. Lines stand out the way Bob sings them, echoing feeling, but instead of deepening sadness, somehow purifying – easing my mind with simplicity, sort of mentally uncluttering… but I will say no more.
I’ve been replaying them in my mind ever since the Tapes were released.
Jane Fates’s playlist
1. I Forgot To Remember To Forget
2. You Win Again
3. Still In Town
4. Bells Of Rhymney
5. Spanish Is The Loving Tongue
6. The Auld Triangle
7. Four Strong Winds
8. The French Girl (x2)
9. Song For Canada
10. People Get Ready
11. Young But Daily Growing
12. Sign On The Cross
13. A Satisfied Mind
14. Santa Fe
15. 900 Miles From My Home
16. If I Were A Carpenter
17. I’m Not There (1956)
Liz’s Basement playlist
1. See You Later Allen Ginsberg
2. You Ain’t Going Nowhere Take 1
3. Folsom Prison Blues
4. Crash on the Levee
5. Bells of Rhymney
6. The French Girl
7. If I were a Carpenter
8. This Wheel’s on Fire
9. Open the Door Homer
10. Get Your Rocks Off
11. Clothesline Saga
12. Odds & Ends Take 1&2
13. Blowin’ in the Wind
14. It Ain’t Me Babe
15. Dress It Up Better Have It All
16. It’s the Flight of the Bumble Bee
17. On a Rainy Afternoon
18. I’m Not There
19. Santa Fe
Really it was the quality. I know it’s hardly a studio quality but I did find A Tree With Roots pretty hard going. This isn’t! It’s like taking off a scratchy old jumper and putting on a cashmere sweater I very quickly relaxed into. And there’s so much… 6 CDs, so it’s quite a trip listening to.
I was surprised when the next day I’ve found myself with I’m Your Teenage Prayer stuck in my head! It’s catchy! I like it….& it’s ironic!
That’s it. I need more listens but I’ve been Losing it on the River with the new guys! I also want to do all the cross referencing with the new edition of the Sid Griffin Million Dollar Bash book.
More here. This tells you everything you need to know.
Million Dollar Bash, revised & updated edition
Additionally, here’s the real Bob telling you about the Basement, songwriting and some nuthin’.
In These Modern Times
Assorted Basement favourites that surfaced again:
You Win Again
was played outside the Basement & in concert 3 times (1986, 2004 & 2005), as well as a version with Willie Nelson for a TV special, which they briefly rehearsed.
Folsom Prison Blues
was played quite a bit in the early ’90s, twice more in 1999 and once in 2005. Here’s a ’99 one:
Spanish Is The Loving Tongue
was played outside the Basement & in concert twice, at the 1974 Friends Of Chile benefit, and once again on the 1976 leg of the Rolling Thunder Revue.
The French Girl
only made it to the rehearsal stage outside the Basement, in 1987 with The Grateful Dead. It’s quite nice, too – not too far removed from the Billy Parker era.
People Get Ready
was played outside the Basement & in concert only once so far, in Buenos Aires in 1991.
It was also recorded for Renaldo & Clara in 1975, and for the soundtrack of Flashback in 1989.
Young But Daily Growing
A pre-Basement version here, recorded at young Bob’s first proper concert, at Carnegie Chapter Hall, Nov 4, 1961. I’ve always loved both of them – never could decide which one I like better.
Crash On The Levee (Down In The Flood)
after a 1972 live debut, the standard opener of live shows in 1995-97, retired until 2000, kept over for 2001, and resurfaced once each in 2002 (Newport Folk Festival) and 2005. 1995 is one of my favourite pre-2002 NET years.
You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere
was first brought out of the Basement in 1997 and has been played a lot since. It’s always fun… oohh-ee! Can’t find one of the more recent ones online, though.
This Wheel’s On Fire
was played outside the Basement & in concert many times since 1996, most recently in 2012. Here it is… try to spot Bob. He’s the one soloing on piano.
Blowin’ In The Wind
Of course, not a Basement song as such, but… ah, let’s have this for sentimental reasons. Happy, hatless & shaking hands with Derek.
It Ain’t Me, Babe
Ditto… but it’s Renaldo, so that’s a good reason to post it.
A Satisfied Mind
opened the Saved album in 1980, but wasn’t played in concert at the time. Bob brought it to the stage only once, in 1999, when “the best band in the land” regularly played gospel/bluegrass covers.