Charlotte, NC Weekly News
On The Tracks
From Making Music
From Classic Rock
From Uncut by Nigel Williamson
From Record Collector by Peter Doggett
From BT Today by John Wade
From Eastside Journal by Claude Flowers
From Freewheelin' by JRS
From "The Wicked Messenger" (in ISIS) by Ian Woodward
From Freewheelin' by Robert Forryan
From ISIS by Derek Barker
From Charlotte, NC Weekly By Fred Mills
0 Brother, Where Art thou
Why the Bob Dylan mystique endures
The irony is this: For a man who spent the first three decades of his career assiduously cultivating personal mystique like normal folks maintain stamp collections, Bob Dylan, has since put a lot of time and energy in a wilful destruction of that mystique.
The norm in the'60s, 70s, and, portions of the 80s: abrupt stylistic turnarounds, well timed bouts of seclusion along with unexpected but equally well‑timed re-appearances, and savvy manipulation of the press, all feeding his fans' capacity for idolatry and willingness to speculate on Everything Dylan. The norm since 1988: a ferocious level (in Dylan terms, at least) of touring, something like 100+ shows annually, with a stripped‑down ensemble on what has become known as the Never Ending Tour (N.E.T.). The end result: By undercutting the axiomatic image of the superstar act who cultivates mystique by only coming out to play when there's product to promote, Dylan has created even more mystique for himself.
In the wake of the N.E.T. even the most well-armed Dylan biographers have been reduced to playing the "O Brother, Where Art Bob' game. Recent efforts such as Clinton Heylin's detailed, analytical Behind The Shades Revisited and Howard Sounes' more celebrity journalism-oriented Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan, while both excellent, engaging accounts, are hardly definitive. By the time the books were in stores, Dylan had laid down several additional chapters in the N.E.T. (One readily envisions authors secretly wishing Dylan would take a Cobain‑style shotgun cocktail or one last ascent to the porcelain throne a la Elvis ‑ the better with which to pen the proverbial tidy conclusion!) So as it turns out ‑ more irony ‑ the N.E.T. has been far more rewarding an experience for fans than scholars.
Which is where a recent Dylan book, a 9-CD boxed set, and you, gentle readers, come in.
As a British Dylan fan of some uncommon yet self‑aware obsession, Andrew Muir has transformed his experiences publishing a now defunct Dylan fanzine (Homer, the slut) into the book Razor's Edge: Bob Dylan & the Never Ending Tour (Helter Skelter Publishing). In part, it's a personal chronicle of one fan following the N.E.T. concert trail; Muir's account of his '93 face‑to- face with Dylan will strike a chord in anyone who has ever sweated buckets and babbled Swahili in the presence of an idol. The book also offers a refreshingly opinionated of Dylan The Performing Artist.
The key to Dylan's conversion from a jaded Entertainer to our premiere Troubadour, Muir contends, can be located on a Locarno, Switzerland, stage on October 5, 1987. There, stepping to the microphone, Dylan had an epiphany, which he would later relate in a Newsweek interview: "It's almost like I heard it as a voice. It wasn't like it was even me thinking it. I'm determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not. And all of a sudden everything just exploded. And I noticed that all the people out there... were looking at the main mike. After that is when I sort of knew: I've got to go out and play these songs. That's just what I must do."
Which is precisely what Dylan attacked with a vengeance a few months later. He never looked back. Muir recounts a '91 interview in which Dylan advised LA Times critic Robert Hilburn: "You're either a player or you're not a player.. If you just go out every three years or so, like I was doing for a while, that's when you lose touch. If you are going to be a performer, you've got to give it your all." Muir's book proceeds to detail an impressive battery of statistics supporting Dylan's avowal. Among them: 12 different line-up variations of the band performing 1,277 shows from 1988-2000 for a total of 20,516 songs, of which 419 were different selections ("All Along the Watchtower" gets the nod, at 878 concert airings, for most‑played), culled from Dylan's massive war chest as well as his extensive repertoire of covers.
Ah, covers. Dylan's propensity to go to the wells of other artists is frequently remarked upon as one of his most fascinating and revealing traits. Writes Muir, "What Dylan has always known is that there is the strength in, what we might roughly refer to as 'popular music' to move men's hearts, to shift mountains, to open up the better side of ourselves that we keep hidden away…All these covers transformed by Dylan's interpretative powers year after year in the N.E.T. ‑ somebody should gather them all together and put them out as a multi‑CP box set."
Wish duly granted. Stepping up to the plate is bootleg label Scorpio, whose genuine Never Ending Tour Covers Collection 1988-2000 box set comprises 9 CDs and 162 tracks ‑ 138 unique tunes plus 24 significant variations ‑that represent every known cover song (save one) unearthed in the course of the N.E.T. It's a handsome set. The discs are all housed in mini‑LP jackets and a hinged 6"x6" box; a 28 page booklet outlines the tracks' origins, while a second 72‑page book includes song lyrics. Soundwise, there's the expected bootleg range, from "acceptable" to "pristine" but in all instances the compilers tapped the best available cassette, DAT or extant CD bootleg sources.
Matters of sonics and packaging aside, however, it's the scope of the project that makes Genuine Covers a crucial artefact. (Previous looks at the N.E.T. have invariably focused on highlights from a particular leg; Doberman's 1990 London/Paris Anthology and 1995 European Tour, both five‑disc sets, Scorpio's own Rock Of Ages 5-CD anthology of the Spring '00 US tour and Crystal Cat's sprawling 15‑volume/30‑disc series covering every stop on the Fall '00 Euro tour come to mind.) On the one hand, even the casual fan will be fascinated by, say, one‑off readings of Springsteen's "Dancing In The Dark," The Beatles, "Nowhere Man" or Hendrix's "Dolly Dagger." But given Dylan's unchallenged pre-eminence as an American songwriter, his public utterances and movements arguably carry greater weight than most celebrities, and one is left pondering what the man's concert choices say about his muse as well as our collective musical heritage.
The nine C‑Ds are sequenced thematically rather than chronologically. For example, Disc 6, "Crooning 'Neath The Moon," spotlights Dylan the balladeer, from "Moon River' to "I'm In The Mood For Love" to "Across The Borderline" (Ry Cooder). Disc 8, "Country Cousins," is heavy on Johnny Cash and Hank Williams as well as Lefty Frizzell and Steve Earle. Disc,5, "Folk‑Rot," features traditional folk classics such as "Duncan and Brady," "Jack A Roe'' and "Pretty Peggy‑0," while Disc 3, "Rock of Ages," finds Dylan revisiting his spiritual roots (long after his notorious dalliance with Christianity) via "Peace in the Valley," "Somebody Touched Me" and "Man of Constant Sorrow." And so forth. At 162 songs, there's a lot to absorb. Perhaps that suggests a further subtext of the set: Dylan the roving schoolmaster, an in‑person variation on the old Alan Lomax archivist model, performing nightly from his American lectern.
"Imagine you had lived in the early 17th century and could have made it to a public oration by John Donne, you'd go, wouldn't you?" proposes Muir in his book, in an offhand yet keen summary of just why Dylan still matters. Writes Muir, continuing with his Donne parallel, "You might have hankered for an inspired author's reading of 'The Sun Rising' or some other masterpiece…Yet you may have been offered a gloomy treatise based on 'The First Anniversary' instead. Then again you just might have got the best, most passionate exploration of Donne's thoughts and emotions you could ever have imagined. You might also get an entirely new work of insight and imagination, fused from the experience of a life that had soured the earlier optimism and grand vision into a fatalism bolstered by dark cynicism, and yet still shot through with wit and insight.
In either [Donne's or Dylan's] case, if you don't take your chances and go and hear a master at work, it's your loss."
There you have it, folks. Dylan's shows late last fall, routinely running over two hours, featured a healthy selection from the Grammy-nominated Love And Theft alongside choice Bob obscurities and a reasonable sprinkling of "hits" ("Watchtower," "Rolling Stone" et al) and, of course, an unexpected cover here and there. By all accounts, his band ‑ the current line-up of Tony Garnier, bass, David Kemper, drums, Larry Campbell, guitars, and Charlie Sexton, guitars, has been intact since mid‑'99 ‑ is his strongest ever, watching their leader intently lest they miss one of Dylan's notorious key‑ or tempo‑shifts; yet jamming together masterfully at the drop of 12‑bar progression like seasoned blues or jazz veterans. But as for what precisely to expect from Dylan's musical bag of tricks, well, not even Internet setlist compilers will lay odds on that. Talk about mystique: Bob only knows.
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From The Bridge by Terry Kelly
aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing...
WB Yeats Sailing to Byzantium (1928)
The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there, such as go to Bob Dylan concerts. I saw Dylan at Birmingham NEC in 1989, the year after the launch of the so‑called Never Ending Tour. In fact, that's a lie. I recall very little of the actual concert, but I do remember standing outside the venue and hearing the band sound‑checking an instrumental version of Red River Valley, Once inside, I sat several hundred miles away ftom the stage, peering at a distant figure I guessed was Bob Dylan. Of the performance, I again only have vague memories, nothing but memories. But I do recall Bob singing Ricky Nelson's eternally pretty Lonesome Town and the then new and attractive stop‑start pop of Congratulations. If I remember correctly, Dylan wore a silver suit, which sparkled attractively in the NEC's cavernous gloom. This could be the same silver suit he's wearing in a photograph that adorns the cover of the late John Bauldie's hard‑to-find 'Diary Of A Bobcat' (Wanted Man, May 1995).
In that 90‑page gem of a book, which contains apparently offhand but telling commentary and self‑deprecatory humour in equal measure, Bauldie says this about that very same concert: "During Congratulations, Bob hits a low note and sounds, just for an instant, exactly like he does on the band version of She's Your Lover Now. Such are the thoughts that occupy me during this quite marvellous concert." I wish I'd said that. I also wish my seat had been good enough to evoke such an oblique perception and make the concert marvellous for me too. But that's the problem with the analysis of any live performance: there are as many heartfelt critiques as there are people in the hall. Conventional critical wisdom rubs up against subjectivity to form a contentious cocktail. This is doubly true when talking about Bob Dylan in concert. Dylan constantly rewrites the book of performance art, subverting the traditional concept of how a song should be performed; treating his back catalogue as simply a primed canvas for extempore development; winging it for all he's worth, with one hand waving free. Listening to the end results can be either exhilarating or exasperating. (In truth, often the latter). But capturing the essence of Dylan's impromptu performing genius remains a tricky endeavour.
Andrew Muir, in 'Razor's Edge: Bob Dylan and the Never Ending Tour' (Helter Skelter, £12.99 and £20), has a simple agenda: to tell one fan's story of the whole experience. In his introduction, Muir admits that being a dedicated disciple of the Never Ending Tour suggests "a degree of obsession that borders on the unbalanced." Certainly, it would be hard to think of any artist who engenders such obsessive behaviour. Whether following Dylan around the globe for more than a decade is a healthy activity is a question Muir ultimately never really answers. There's possibly also room for some Hornbyesque thesis on the predominantly male preserve that is the Bobcat business. But an even thornier question broods over the text: has the Never Ending Tour ultimately been good for Dylan or his art? Is it the supreme example of the self‑generating resourcefulness of a major, chameleonic artist ‑ or an epically futile waste of time? Answers on a postcard please. While 'Razor's Edge' is a useful adjunct to every self‑respecting fan's arsenal of tapes, CDs, CD‑Rs, MP3s, mini‑discs and all the rest, the book repeatedly struggles to make the grade as illuminating prose. Shackled to a chronological framework, the narrative trots dutifully after our hero, from concert hall to hockey stadium to ice rink, marking the highs and lows of each show or the vagaries of the allegedly crucial set lists. (But isn't the acid test HOW rather than WHAT Dylan performs?). Often, the reader feels like a sullen child, unwillingly dragged around the world's grey, enervating rock music stadia by a rather over‑zealous distant relation, forced to note this or that harmonica solo or lyric variation, until listening to Dylan feels like an aesthetic obligation. While Muir's passion for Dylan in performance is obvious, his problem is bringing such feelings alive on the page. There are more longueurs than rainy days in Hartlepool, with his prose frequently veering between the pedestrian and the purple: "By the end of the first verse I could have died and gone to heaven. As the song continued, I revelled in Dylan's every word; his every facial expression; his every movement. My senses were in overdrive" (P.57). Just a few pages later, a performance of Like A Rolling Stone evokes this temperate response: "It felt as if the energy both on and off the stage could fuel a starship to the farthest reaches of the galaxy" (P.61). While not doubting for a moment the emotion and candour behind these descriptions, such writing simply curdles the narrative. There is surely an English ironic version of Larry Sloman's offbeat 'Rolling Thunder' book to be written, but Muir's glimpses of life on the margins of the Never Ending Tour are too fleeting and often descend into bathos: "The weather was glorious and I was taken to the picturesque tourist village of Rudesheim which just happens to be the home of a famous ‑ and utterly adorable ‑ brandy coffee" (P.130). A touch of inappropriate descriptive machismo can also replace insight: "Dylan really opened up, changing emphasis all over the place, riding the song like a bucking half‑tamed mustang" (P. 122‑123). When Muir attempts a partial overview of Dylan's career, the result can be upper case confusion: "The Rolling Thunder Revue tours of 1975 and 1976 were specifically an attempt to root his psyche in the Romantic Artist/Genius/Travelling Minstrel carrier of the American Dream locale."(P. 193). I think I know what Muir means here, but a hunch is not as good as a clearly grasped ‑ or expressed ‑ idea. At such moments, a more thorough editor could have made this a sharper, more focused study.
Despite the book's ostensible aim of providing "one fan's story" of the Never Ending Tour, I craved a far more oblique, fractured, first‑person approach. Despite cameo appearances by the hat‑waving Larry (Lambchop) Eden, and Muir's brief tales of hardship about his job interfering with the Never Ending Tour, his narrative is often curiously impersonal and unspecific. I wanted Muir to ditch his dutiful chronology; to get off the incessant treadmill of concert hall and tape swapping; to take a walk around the block and capture a wider perspective on the whole Dylan discipleship business, beyond the claustrophobic world of shows and those damn set lists. Accordingly, the chapter dealing with Muir's meeting with the great man in Camden, London, in July 1993 is a bravura piece and easily the best thing in the book. The story is familiar enough to Dylan fanzine subscribers, but Muir relates his VIP encounter with humour and sweaty‑palmed honesty. After a tip‑off, the author sprints across London to strategically position himself in a restaurant, just feet away from his hero (who was being photographed, in his unassuming, 'Look‑at‑Me‑the‑Reclusive‑Superstar' top hat, for the cover of World Gone Wrong). Nervously clutching a copy of his exotically titled fanzine, Homer, the Slut, Muir proffers a copy to Dylan, who swivels round to face an awestruck fan teetering on the brink of total paralysis. As Dylan mumbles an acknowledgement, Muir wittily recalls: I am dead. It is not a pleasant feeling. I want my mummy and daddy. I want the ground to swallow me up and never let me out again" (P. 100). Not content with a single audience with His Bobness, Muir bravely and deftly performs another strategic move, forcing Dylan to walk past him on the way out. Dylan duly pauses and flicks through Muir's magazine, muttering "This is eh, uh, really interesting," before squeezing the author's left shoulder (such details are crucial to Bobcats) after thanking him for a copy. Muir's state of Dylanic ecstasy is complete: "I am now beyond death, beyond rebirth, beyond nirvana. I am also almost completely incapable of movement (P.102). Obviously, this sort of incident is a gift to a writer, but I wanted Muir to employ this same, funny, self‑effacing authorial voice to his whole experience of the Never Ending Tour ‑ not simply the edited highlights. Occasionally, Muir does manage to escape the confines of the concert timetable. At one point, he muses interestingly on the nature and development of the songwriting, echoing a Dylan interview by making a neat distinction between the intuitive early songs, which seemed to spring unbidden from Dylan's precocious and prodigious creativity, and the post Blood On The Tracks material, which often relies on consciously learned songwriting techniques. As Muir usefully notes: "This is not to say there was no craftsmanship before ‑ far from it ‑but that the intuitive touch which led to a naturally formed, cohesive web of imagery and symbolism, that had lit those songs from within their crafted stanzas, was missing." (P. 108).
I read this book in four or five sittings, but I don't know how many rock fans only moderately interested in Dylan will stay the fact‑filled course. In his final chapter, Muir examines the legitimacy of the Never Ending Tour, which Dylan referred to in a typically dismissive, tongue‑in‑cheek comment in the liner notes to World Gone Wrong, warning fans: "don't be bewildered by the Never Ending Tour chatter." I hate to be lukewarm about any Dylan book, particularly one by such an obviously committed, informed and passionate fan and advocate as Andrew Muir. 'Razor's Edge' is an honest exploration of one fan's story. But there's a weirder, wider and more richly detailed book still to be written about the strange business of following Bob Dylan around the world.
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From On The Tracks by Steve Michel
At something like 4,237 concerts, Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour is probably too big a topic for any one book to encompass satisfactorily. Andrew Muir's book is a game attempt to try to wrestle the topic to the ground, and if it's not totally satisfying, that's not because Muir doesn't make a spirited run for it.
The NET is different for each fan. I have my version of the tour: all the Dylan shows in the San Francisco Bay Area over the years, plus some, plus a lot of tapes at first and now CDs and MP3s. The same is true of all fans. Muir does justice to our own versions of the tours by presenting his version of it. tie talks about all the shows he's seen, in varying levels of detail, along with a lot of stories of how he came to the concerts and the people he attended them with. That's important, as your perception of a show is colored by those around you (as he makes plain with his story of the Roseland shows dominated by Deadheads).
Beyond the shows he attended, he attempts to survey each year, each tour, discussing example shows of each one. He makes a good stab at it; my tape choices might be different, certainly in many cases my favorite songs would be different. Once again, he makes us wish for a central location online for all these shows, so books like this could point at those locations, and others could further annotate his book by linking to different performances. Alas, that's not likely to happen at least for some time.
Two comments: First, the town Gregory Peck referred to at the Kennedy Center honors is spelled La Jolla not La Hoya (as it is pronounced). And, two, it was a real pleasure to see Muir cite the video of "Idiot Wind" from the Warfield 1992 show. It's funny, I've never gotten around to actually seeing the video, even though 1 was standing next to the person who made it during that excellent concert. So it goes, and I need to get a copy of that tape.
In sum: an excellent read; an attempt to get a handle on a big topic, and a book that is worth reading and re-reading.
Issue 279; August 31 2001
Respected Dylan expert Andrew Muir documents the ups and downs of the road with one of the world's most influential singer/songwriters, by recounting his own, and other fans' sometimes curious meetings with Bob. Refreshingly, it manages not to descend into a work of fan worship and is surprisingly honest. Should make fascinating reading for Dylan enthusiasts.
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From Making Music
Razor's Edge is exactly what it is says it is, if you're not a dyed in the wool Bobcat it could be rather heavy-going. For the uninitiated, Bob Dylan (ask your parents) has been touring since 1988. The fan's view is that this is unique experiment in rolling reinterpretation of the song catalogue of the last century's greatest songwriter. More cynical souls may ask whether quantity isn't being substituted for quality and why doesn't Bob get a life. Muir is a fan, but not uncritical, and he has a gift for understatement that really brings home how bad the 1993Hammersmith shows must have been. However, therein lies the problem: do you care? This is a labour of love for a small audience and all kudos to the author and publisher for doing it. But if you're not sure, check it out carefully before spending.
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From Classic Rock
MORE WORDS HAVE TUMBLED AROUND THE FEET OF BOB Dylan during this, his 60th year, than ever before. Razor's Edge, which at first glance appears to be little more than a painstaking run through of Dylan's exhausting tour schedule of the past 11 years, actually focuses more effectively on the dark heart of the author's own considerable devotion.
Not that it isn't fact stacked and stuffed full of train spotter scrutiny. All Dylan books, I'm afraid, have to be that way. But the entertainment factor is rescued as Muir loses his analytical control and falls headlong into gushing adoration. The most astonishing segment, naturally, being the moment that Muir comes face to face With his idol in a Camden Town restaurant. The pivotal moment of Muir's life, one strongly senses.
Curiously compelling, fleetingly weird, occasionally sad.
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From Uncut by Nigel Williamson
Highly enjoyable ride down the endless highway of Dylan's road years.
It began one day in a small theatre in Concord, California on June 7th 1988 and it hasn’t stopped since. Over the last 13 years Bob Dylan has played 1,300 live shows on his way down a restless highway which he himself has dubbed "the Never Ending Tour".
While millions of words have been spent analysing Dylan's earlier back pages, the NET years are by far the least documented. It's easy to see why. They have not been particularly productive in the recording studio (when would he find the time?), and it would be exhaustive and expensive to have followed Dylan's endless criss-crossing of the globe.
And yet it remains one of the most fascinating aspects of his long and enigmatic career. What makes a man in his late forties decide he wants to grow old riding a tour bus when he could be at home tending the roses?
Andrew Muir has had the suitcase in hand for much of the period, too, doggedly trailing Dylan around the world, and his highly readable account of the concerts is nicely balanced with his own anecdotes. Then in the last chapter he attempts to answer the "why" question, and it's one of the finest pieces of recent Dylan commentary. After examining all the theories from Huck Finn to the trapped road junkie ( and largely rejecting them), he comes to a simple but meaningful conclusion by turning the question around. Why SHOULDN'T Dylan be touring?
Seen in this light, a new picture of Dylan at 60 emerges, in which the continued reworking of old songs is not a sign of a loss of artistic creativity but rather the core of his craft - and the rest of us should surely be hugely grateful that the greatest artist of our time is prepared to reinvent his magic before our eyes over and over again.
Nigel Williamson. UNCUT September 2001.
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From Record Collector by Peter Doggett
RAZOR'S EDGE:Bob Dylan & The Never Ending Tour
Helter Skelter. hardback £20,paperback £12.99
Never mind the Never Ending Tour: there were Dylan shows in 1993 when individual songs seemed Never Ending. If spring 1990 was paradise, and 1991 hell, then 1993 was purgatory. Yet the tour continued, and last autumn's UK dates won Dylan his best live reviews here since 1978.
As Andrew Muir's very personal history of Dylan's epic, endless excursion explains, the obsessive fan's experience of Dylan on the road is entirely different from that of the media, or of the casual bystander who catches an occasional show to cross another 60s legend off their list. There's room on the shelves for a musical history of Dylan's last 13 years, or a show-by-show catalogue in the style of The Deadhead's Taping Compendium. But Razor's Edge is something more intangible, and yet possibly more engrossing: one man's response to another man's journey.
Muir never attempts to hide the depths of his obsession, and as a fellow traveller (although not remotely as obsessed, of course) I found the most enjoyable parts of his account were those rooted in his own experiences. His hilarious description of his sole meeting with his hero, in a Camden Town cafe, is the highlight of the book, while his ever-changing response to Dylan's mercurial progress Is often much more revealing than his straightforward narrative of facts and events.
At the heart of his book is the idea that each Dylan fanatic carries around his own version of the Never Ending Tour in his head. Muir's is a vertiginous parade of pleasure and pain, miraculous triumphs and crushing disappointments, seasoned with two enigmas: what on earth is Dylan doing, and why is Muir watching him do it?
The book ends with the dry statistics of the Never Ending Tour, but the lasting impression of Razor's Edge is the absolute compulsion of the loyal fan - and the unique ability of Bob Dylan to fascinate his audience even in his darkest and least rewarding moments. Anyone who's shared that fascination should read this book.
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From BT Today by John Wade
There have been many other books on Dylan, but what caught the attention of top music publishers Helter Skelter when he put forward an idea about covering the later years of Dylan's career and what fans refer to as The Never Ending Tour.
"Dylan has been touring continuously for the past 13 years, a tour that began on 7 June 1988 in California and is still going strong today," said Andrew, a teleworker based in Cambridge.
"My aim was to put this vast and unwieldy tour into some kind of perspective, to examine its importance in the context of Dylan's career and to chronicle the comparisons and contrasts between each leg.
The Never Ending Tour has become a phenomenon in my own life, having travelled to a substantial number of these shows over the years and listened to tapes or watched videos of many of the others."
The result is a book that has already won acclaim form music press critics, who have been delighted to see a book on this area of Dylan's life - although that wasn't the original concept.
"I began by writing a book on Dylan's lyrics with a final chapter on the tour," said Andrew. "The publisher liked that chapter and asked me to expand on it. Then theyrealised the book was too long and threw out the first part, concentrating only on the tour.
Andrew now has another publisher interested in the original section, which he will complete with a review of the new Dylan album out next month.
Razor's Edge - Bob Dylan and the Never Ending Tour, has been published in a signed limited edition of 500hardbacks and 3,000 paperbacks at £20 and £12.99 respectively.
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From Eastside Journal by Claude Flowers
BRINGING IT ALL BACK HOME: Several publishers issued biographies of music legend Bob Dylan during May, to coincide with the singer's 60th birthday. A new volume arrived at stores this week, too late to take advantage of the b'day hype but too entertaining to overlook.
In ``Razor's Edge: Bob Dylan & the Never Ending Tour,'' author Andrew Muir poses an interesting question: How has the listening public been affected by Dylan's ``Never Ending Tour,'' his unbroken fifteen-year run as a live performer?
Some audiences take Dylan for granted, trusting that he'll return to their city sooner or later (F.Y.I., a Washington gig looks likely for September/October). Others are swept into Dylanmania, collecting recordings of his shows, discussing him on the Internet, and scheduling their lives around his itinerary, doing whatever it takes to immerse themselves in His Bobness as thoroughly as possible.
The best parts of ``Razor's Edge'' come when Muir discusses the devotion of music buffs. In a warm, informal writing style (almost too informal at times; there are several typographical errors), he captures the highs and lows of the concert-going experience, from the excitement leading up to a show to the mind raking annoyance of sitting next to jerks who'd rather converse during a song than listen to it in polite silence.
There is also a priceless scene in which Muir recounts seeing Dylan in a restaurant, and wrenching up the courage to introduce himself: ``What am I going to say? I have no idea. Staying alive is only barely within my grasp at this moment. Thinking stopped some time ago.''
``Razor's Edge'' is loads of fun, packed with witty insights. What the book lacks -- but needs most of all -- is an index to aid cross-referencing. Muir should also have included a chronological list of Dylan's live performances, detailing the location of each concert and the songs played.
Perhaps Muir could expand his book at some point in the future. After all, the Never Ending Tour earned its name for a reason.
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From Freewheelin' by JRS
There is another recently published book which reminded me of a certain fact that may have been part of the reason why I have started thinking so earnestly about Visions of Johanna of late. In his book Razors Edge Andrew Muir records that at Portsmouth in September 2000 Dylan played Visions of Johanna together with it's Blonde on Blonde stable mate Fourth Time Around for the very first time in the UK since 1966. I was in the audience at Portsmouth that night, though not in 1966, and thus it was the first time I had heard the songs performed live. Perhaps that was when I also heard the first whimper of the black-eyed dog, who knows? But it was a very useful fact in book that is not totally about facts.
Razors Edge resembles the Captains log from the Starship Enterprise, and indeed a most enterprising project it is too. In a thorough manner and with clarity of expression Andrew treks through the Never Ending Tour, charting the entire landscape of that phenomenon; recording encounters with myriads of characters along the way; taking full stock of the emotions experienced on the various journeys travelled with Bob Dylan. It is the ultimate memoir of time well spent, not only by the writer but also by many of us, yet, at the same time, it is a guide book for those who may wish to undertake, by reference to the recordings, similar journeys in the future. Razors Edge is a unique and remarkable account of a personal voyage in a much wider journey through the lives of both the fan and the artist: an important, historic document of and for our times. Captain Kirk would have been proud of this particular log and 1 would say that only enjoyment could be gained by being beamed up into the pages of this book. Well done Andrew, although do I envy you. Your task is, for the time being, done and magnificently so. Your demons have all now been slain. Mine are just appearing.
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From "The Wicked Messenger" (in Isis) by Ian Woodward
On the premise that Dylan's "never-ending toury" started on 7 June 1988 in Concord, CA, this book actually begins a little before that. There is a very quick scoot through the "religious period" of 1979 to 1981 and a bit more on the events of the mid-1980s, the debacles and the near-triumphs. One chapter down, the scene is set and we're off on a 12year voyage around the globe at the rate of about 100 concerts a year, give or take the odd argument about what constitutes an N.E.T. concert and what does not. The book ends around the middle of 2000, the last show covered in detail being on 11 May 2000 in Köln.
Firstly, this is not essentially a fact-filled book. Yes, there is a 17-page supplement by Olof Björnor giving a statistical overview up to the end of 2000 - the various legs of the tour, the number of shows per leg, the total number of song performances (over 20,500), the titles of all the different songs performed (year by year), the most frequently performed songs, which albums the songs are taken from, the various band line-ups, the periods when the various band members were there and, finally, a list of all the guest musicians (over 60) and the dates that they appeared. But, no, the essence of this book is not to catalogue the facts of the tour. For example, there is no list of all the concert dates on the N.E.T.
Secondly, if I gave the impression, in my opening paragraph, that this is a book about all of the N.E.T. concerts, I apologise. The author has neither reviewed every show on the tour nor every show he has attended in person. Quite a lot of the commentary relates to shows which have come to him by way of audience recordings. In addition, the text also covers events in Dylan's life which, though not part of the N.E.T., occurred contemporaneously.
Third, the author does not limit himself to Dylan's performances. He also describes his own experiences attending Dylan shows in this period. This includes the problems of getting to shows whilst holding down a job and the other fans met along the way. Some of these encounters have resulted in lasting friendships and co-operation. Some of the characters may even be known to you.
Four, in the middle of the book is the author's meeting with Dylan, at a restaurant in Camden Town during a break in the making of the Blood In My Eyes video. Some may have read this elsewhere before but it bears repeating.
By combining all these various strands, the author has produced what might be a fairly turgid account into something that is eminently readable. You may not agree with all his views of particular shows or of particular performances of particular songs but I think you will find yourself carried along by his enthusiasm, the high standard of the writing, his dry humour and, as people who have followed the vagaries of Dylan's performances in this period, by the familiarity of it all. The references and allusions can be fun, too; for example, the attribution of Dylan wandering around Belfast Airport in 1993 as a scene from Pinter or Beckett was apposite and caused me to sigh "Ah, with Godot on our side".
I cannot, in all fairness, describe Razor's Edge as an absolutely essential purchase but I doubt if you will regret buying it. Rather like a Dylan concert, the more you put into it, the more you'll get out of it. It will cause you to think again about the ups and downs of the last 12 or 13 years and it will cause you to extract those old concert tapes or CDs, the ones you haven't played in years, and to put them on the machine again. The photos, mainly by Duncan Hume (no relation!), have not been published before.
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by Robert Forryan
Preview: "Razor's Edge - Bob Dylan & The Never Ending Tour"
By Andrew Muir
Recently I have had the huge pleasure of being asked to proof-read Andrew Muir's forthcoming book on the Never Ending Tour. I'm a lucky fellow! It's a true fan's odyssey written for fans. I think that every contributor to this magazine will enjoy this book immensely. Andrew looks at the Never Ending Tour from its opening night at Concord in June 1988 right through to the British Isles tour of 2000. When first I heard of this project I admit to having a few unspoken doubts. I did wonder if it was possible to write about show after show after show and still make it interesting - I wondered if my interest could be maintained past the first 100 pages. I needn't have worried. The author succeeds in his self-imposed challenge with style and with humour. The book works for me primarily because Andrew is able to intersperse his own comments - on shows he has either attended, listened to on tape or watched on video - with a wealth of other material, the sort of material which makes up a fan's life: the tour outtakes.
Maybe not everyone has had Andrew's experiences, but every fan will relate to the memories and emotions described. This variegated journey includes newspaper reviews, comment on shows by fans, the struggle to hold your position on the concert hall floor and those crucial first meetings with Bob Dylan and, more importantly, the amazing Lambchop!
Some of this material we have read before in magazines, but it is great to have it here, digitally re-mastered in book form. There is also a lot of incidental information that the reader picks up along the way, much of which was new to me, though I am probably less well-informed than many of you. Most of all this book drove me back to the tapes and CD-Rs. I couldn't wait to revisit Concord '88 and Hammersmith '90 -shows I haven't listened to in years. In this sense, as in so many others, the book is a triumph. A must for all 'Freewheelin' readers.
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From Isis by Derek Barker
Bob Dylan & The Never Ending Tour
by Andrew Muir
The first thing to say about 'Razor's Edge,' is at last we have an author and a publisher who have the courage to put out a book that concentrates on latter day Dylan! I understand 'Mind Out Of Time,' volume Ill of the Paul Williams' trilogy, will cover from 1987 onward, but this time around Williams has been unable to find a publisher for the book and appears to be self-publishing.
Through 'Razor's Edge,' Muir sets out to examine the importance of the Never Ending Tour and to place the last thirteen years of Dylan's life (and ours), in the context of his overall career. The first seventeen pages of the book are taken up with a career retrospective, against which the N.E.T can be viewed.
Over the next couple of hundred pages - starting with the first N.E.T. show, June 7 1988, Concord Pavilion, Concord, California - Muir begins to dissect Dylan's live performances and much more to boot.
The book is well written, carefully researched - though in reality Andrew only needed to have kept a diary - and at times extremely humorous. 'Razor's Edge' is very much one fan's story of the N.E.T, and the reader probably ends up learning as much about Andrew Muir as they do about Bob Dylan. For instance; In part, Andrew blames his meeting with Dylan in Camden, London for the demise of his Dylan 'zine 'Homer, the slut.' That being the case I am pleased that the opportunity of meeting Mr. Dylan has not yet come my way.
To close we are served up more than twenty pages of never-ending statistics, courtesy of Olof Bjoroner's internet web site.
'Razor's Edge' is very much a book for the ardent Dylan enthusiast and probably only an ardent fan would understand, or for that matter want to understand, all that is being portrayed.
Obviously, any work that looks deeply into performance art will be a subjective one. Therefore, the object of the author must be to send the reader back to their bootleg records, CDs, CDRS, mini-discs, MP3s, or even those not so /good ol' C-90 cassettes; remember those? Well, 'Razor's Edge' did that for me, and I'm sure it will do it for you. As an aside; can anyone tell me how so many of those tapes became separated from their cassettes and ended their days tangled in trees and bushes, or simply strewn across the highways and byways of the planet?
In conclusion, the general public - that faceless majority again- will probably find this book hard going. Readers of this magazine will either love it or hate it, but one thing's for sure; they will certainly want to read it.
Published in May 2001 in paperback and as a limited edition hardback.
See also...Manchester Convention feedback on Chapter Eight