Friday, November 16, 2012
Tuesday, August 7, 2012
Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead is available on Kindle for $5.99 to celebrate Jerry's Birthday. www.tangledupintunes.com
Saturday, April 14, 2012
Amazon.co.uk (in Kindle format only).
Friday, April 6, 2012
4-6-87 (25 years ago today) Listening to Blood on the Tracks for the first time
Excerpts from Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead
As I awoke in my bedroom, I sensed an unseasonable chill in the air on the morning of April 6, 1982. Opening the drapes, I was stunned by what I saw—marshmallow mounds of snow reflecting the amber glare of the sun. A day earlier, the trees were sprouting leaves, but now they sat like flagpoles on an Alpine ski course. Without much warning, Nanuet was blanketed by eighteen inches of powdery precipitation overnight. The freak blizzard may have delayed the arrival of spring, but it would not deter my plans to see the Grateful Dead in Philadelphia.
I called the Zolottlow brothers to ensure we were pressing on. The vote was unanimous: we would rendezvous with the Dead in Philly. Doug had planned on joining us, but he was stuck in Albany with the April blizzard blues. Waiting at the foot of my driveway with my flannel shirt billowing in the howling Nor’easter winds, I wondered how many hours the 118-mile journey might take. Seymour’s tiny white Honda sputtered up Carnation Drive, appearing smaller than ever in the only partially plowed street, glinting against the wintry landscape.
Slip-sliding our way south, Seymour navigated us through a treacherous twenty-mile stretch of the Palisades Parkway. The insanity of traveling in these hazardous conditions was an intense rush. Once we reached the New Jersey Turnpike, all roads ahead were clear. Mother Nature had spared the Garden State—smooth sailing to Philadelphia. I let out a vigorous, “Yeeee-haw!” This was my first road trip anywhere without my parents.
Slicing through the swamps and industrial wastelands of New Jersey, we passed the Oranges (East and West) and the Amboys (Perth and South) on our way to Exit 4, where the Walt Whitman Bridge and the City of Brotherly Love beckoned in the near distance.
Part II: http://visionsofdylan.blogspot.com/2012/02/deadhead-born-this-morning.html
4-6-87 Blood on the Tracks
There was something peculiar about stepping into the driver’s seat of Phil’s light brown Chevy Impala. I felt like I was cheating on my beloved Chevy, which was in the shop receiving an overdue tune-up. The seat and mirror of Phil’s car were aligned out of my comfort zone. I also forgot to bring a Dead tape along for the ride. Heading towards the village of New Paltz for my morning caffeine fix, I pushed in Phil’s tape, hoping I’d hear some Jerry. The tune was familiar. Dylan was singing “Tangled Up in Blue.” I pulled into the lot of McPeady’s, the local ma and pa shop, and scored a pint of dirty java that should have been served in a cup with a skull and crossbones warning label. Two sips could make you want to start training for a decathlon . At the time, I was masquerading as a student at SUNY-New Paltz. I had lots of spare time.
Heading home on Route 32 North, a familiar chord riff flowed gently to my ears. Dylan’s voice interrupted the serenity, “We sat together in the park, as the evening grew dark.” Oh my. This was my first rendezvous with the real “Simple Twist of Fate.” Up to this point, I’d only heard JGB’s unhurried cover. Dylan’s singing was sharp. The words were delivered with an intense poetic cadence. The acoustic accompaniment was spacious and lush at the same time—absolutely hypnotic, like leaves floating from trees. Dylan’s essence filled the car. This version was superior to the JGB version that I was fond of.
The next song had the same mesmerizing qualities of the first two. Dylan’s voice was filled with sorrow: “Oh, I know where I can find you, in somebody’s room. It’s a price I have to pay. You’re a big girl all the way.” Nothing had struck me like this since I discovered the Dead. My life was about to change.
I wanted to rewind the tape and absorb what I’d heard so far, but a wounded Dylan attacked: “Someone’s got it in for me; they’re planting stories in the press.” Each succeeding thought swallowed the previous one in magnitude until the final chorus climaxed with Dylan venting, “You’re an idiot, babe; it’s a wonder that you still know how to breathe.” No Punches were pulled—this was as real as it gets.
The Dylan switch in my brain was flicked on. What about those other albums—albums that gave birth to “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Mr. Tambourine Man?” There had to be plenty of gold in those mines. I also realized that I’d reached a traffic circle in Kingston, New York, eighteen miles past New Paltz. Phil was probably wondering where I had disappeared to with his car, but I knew he’d be psyched about my epiphany. I rewound the tape and listened to those four brilliant songs on the way back.
Wednesday, March 28, 2012
People don't live or die/ People just float
She gone with the man in the long black coat
Sunday, March 25, 2012
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead.
TRACK SIX: U.S.BLUES
Grateful Interventions…A preview of the 1985 NBA Draft in the style of Moses Malone…The pros and cons of hitchhikers…Sweating bullets in Cincinnati…Ominous clouds in Buffalo…The party’s over at RFK…
The Alpine shows were tight, welcomed consistency after the Helter Skelter Spring tour. On the second night, the “Saint of Circumstance” jam raged, and The Boys opened the second set with the Derek and the Dominoes classic, “Keep on Growing,” featuring Phil Lesh on lead vocals. Lesh had recently emerged from a ten-year singing hiatus. A new Deadhead chant was born: “Let Phil sing.” I wanted to chant: “Bad idea.” The beloved bassist, who wore tie-dyes and looked like a chemist, had a distinct vocal style—awful as can be. This didn’t matter to Deadheads. Tight-knit crowds crave simplistic mantras to chant. In Yankee Stadium they yell, “Boston sucks,” and in the Boston Garden they holler, “Beat L.A.” When Phil Lesh sang, I cringed.
June 23, 1985, was a travel day. Our crew fiddled around Lake Geneva all day and then started the journey towards Cincinnati by sundown. We picked up a hitchhiking Deadhead who looked like a young Rodney Dangerfield in a Hawaiian shirt. His name was Steve Miller. His sticky bud made us fly like eagles, and his stinky feet made us roll down the windows. We had an intervention and ordered him to put his boots in the trunk. Doug’s Alpine Masters sounded sensational as I pressed on for five hours before pulling over to sleep in an Indiana service area.
For their Twentieth Anniversary concerts in Berkeley, the Dead broke out “Cryptical Envelopments,” an Anthem of the Sun beauty that had been sitting on the shelf since 1970. In Cincinnati we were treated to a Cryptical Loop: Cryptical Envelopments -> Drums -> Space -> Come A Time -> The Other One -> Cryptical Envelopments. A la 1985, Garcia’s voice crackled through this segment, but the loving intent was palpable.
Driving away from River Bend, I gushed about Garcia’s nifty fretwork on “Let It Grow.” Had I been looking at road signs, I might have been warned about the winding pavement that veered sharply to the right. Without time to stomp on the brakes, I snapped the wheel to my right in a desperate attempt to save myself and my crew from flying off the mountainside. The tires screeched louder than a bullhorn, and my Chevy Caprice was airborne—cups, cans, tapes, pipes, and sunglasses in orbit. I stuck the landing on the road like a gold medal skier in the downhill, still cruising at a 60 MPH clip. My crew was silenced with acute shock syndrome.
Tangled Up in Tunes is available at www.tangledupintunes.com This 1978 Chevy Caprice is a dead ringer for my tour mobile.
Monday, March 19, 2012
Walkin' a road other men have gone down
"Song to Woody" is the masterpiece that emerged from those sessions. Oddly, this fabulous tribute never made an appearance on any of Dylan's greatest hits albums. It's one of the first songs that Bob wrote, but it's the heartfelt performance that makes "Song to Woody" come alive. The singing is honest and attentive. This is a twenty year-old kid paying tribute to his dying idol straight from the heart. It has a timeless feel. A heightened sense of excitement strikes me every time I hear it. In that regard it reminds me of "Mr. Tambourine Man."
"You're No Good," the opening track of Bob Dylan, is a freewheeling blues blast that sets up "Talkin' New York," Dylan's account on his first year in The City. In reality, New York was very kind to Dylan, but that doesn't work in the talkin' blues format. However, through his own experience, Dylan tuned into the universal struggle of the hungry artist arriving on the island of Manhattan. Whether it was his intention or not, Dylan already had a knack for expressing thoughts for the "countless confused, accused, misused, strung-out ones an’ worse."
The rest of the album is a hoot. Dylan's singing and harp playing on "Baby Let Me Follow You Down" is delightful. I hear shades of what's to come on Nashville Skyline. On "Highway 51" we hear the classic blues riff that Dylan would use on "It's Alright Ma." Throughout this record Dylan's passion for the blues is on display, a passion that would dominate every album since Time Out of Mind."House of the Rising Sun" and "Man of Constant Sorrow" are intense performances that confirm Dylan was a master student of American Roots music at the age of twenty.
Happy anniversary Bob! Thank you John Hammond.
Friday, March 9, 2012
Three months after John Lennon was gunned down by a madman, I hopped on a bus headed from the Nanuet Mall to the Port Authority. Howdy New York, howdy Grateful Dead. My first show was a blockbuster, although I didn't realize it then. I walked into MSG as Jerry ripped his way through a most exotic Feel Like a Stranger jam. Althea was next followed by a long blues jam after which, Weir screamed, C.C.C...C.C. Rider, Hi! I was vaguely familiar with these songs, but I hit pay dirt with "Ramble On Rose," a rousing version of my favorite tune. Garcia's guitar screeched and squealed, tuned into an unusual frequency, for just this night. I couldn't appreciate the nuance at the time for it was my debut as a critic.
From the third tier, sitting next to me were my non-Deadhead high school friends who were sleeping. I was confused by quick-picking numbers like Deep Elem, El Paso, and Birdsong. The set ended most abruptly with a hot Minglewood. Very strange. We also had tainted weed, the kind that gives you a headache, makes you cough, but doesn't get you right.
China Cat >Rider > Samson, Estimated, UJB, Good Lovin' and U.S. Blues, but I couldn't connect with the never ending spiral jams. That was a shame because the Grateful Dead would never play a hotter Cat > Rider. The Cat is long and wonderfully understated, and the Rider seethes, but I'd yet to crack the Dead language barrier. After worshipping the tapes a few months later, I also realized that Stranger, Althea and Rose were all time great versions.
Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Jerry's Top Ten Dylan Covers
Saturday, March 3, 2012
The Music Never Stopped
Seagulls with massive wingspans glided around us; other seagulls were perched on the rail preparing for takeoff. Brilliant sunshine bounced off the Chesapeake Bay as the Dead thundered in my Chevy. Doug rocked back and forth—a devotee in a contented trance. As the velocity, pitch, and poignancy of Jerry’s guitar intensified, Doug’s mug glowed–stunned admiration. Pointing at the tape deck as if Garcia was in our presence, Doug said, “This is deranged. How does Jerry think of this stuff?”
I wondered when we might see land again. We’d been on the Chesapeake Bay Bridge for fifteen minutes, and there was just water, road and birds ahead and water, road and birds behind. I was driving straight into an Alfred Hitchcock sequel. It then occurred to me that I was, in fact, driving. I was so stoned I forgot I was captain of the ship.
There were three hipsters in my backseat—Doug’s Deadhead companions from SUNY Albany—Stempel, Genowa and Beehaw. They were quiet cats. Their very names seemed to do all the talking for them. Our destination was Hampton, Virginia: Waffle House, Holiday Inn, hippie chicks, Grateful Dead. Paradise Waits.
Hampton was usually the first stop on the Grateful Dead’s spring tour. For some people, spring begins when the first pitch is tossed from the mound at Yankee Stadium. For Doug and me, and thousands of other Deadheads, crossing the Chesapeake Bay Bridge signified the commencement of spring.
There are few pleasures commensurate to roaring down the road while the tunes are-a-thundering. Audio transcendence is possible as long as your car can rev up to seventy without rattling, and the windows are rolled up. Yes, the windows must be sealed to bounce the sound around so you eardrums are filled with nothing but rhythm and melody. You breathe in guitar and exhale staccato bursts of air, in an attempt to echo the singers. The bass rattles your bones as the organ sweeps through the pores of your skin. A tiny portion of our brains can handle driving while all this goes down. Accessing that nugget of my mind, I delivered us to the Hampton Coliseum safely on April 9, 1983.
As the boys tuned up for the second set, I identified the sacred twangs from Jerry's guitar. Doug and I grabbed each other and yelled, “Help on the Way!” hugging and jumping in time to Phil’s thumping bass. The rest of the band continued to doodle aimlessly. If this turned out not to be “Help on the Way,” our premature celebration would have looked pretty silly. Luckily, it was the tune we craved. It had been six long years since the Grateful Dead played "Help on the Way" on the East Coast. These were glorious times.
Tangled Up in Tunes: Ballad of a Dylanhead www.tangledupintunes.com
Saturday, February 25, 2012
Wednesday, February 22, 2012
I sought The Holy Grail, “Morning Dew.” A rarely-played jewel, The Dead only played the Dew when they had IT going on. A cyclone of psychedelic sound was unleashed in the jam between “Truckin” and “The Other One.” I hollered and yodeled approval; the band was ripping. Now I had mental telepathy working: The Dew, Jerry. For the love of God, please play the Dew. Weir sang, “Cowboy Neal at the wheel, the bus to never ever land; Coming, coming, coming around; coming around, coming around; coming around.” The time had come.
A fractioned second of silence framed the moment. Jerry struck the magic Dew chord.
Tangled Up in Tunes Ballad of a Dylanhead is available in paperback or on kindle www.tangledupintunes.com