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Music for the summer. A review.

Two new albums have have made the pandemic tolerable. They are Gigaton by Pearl Jam and Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan. Yes, they represent two diametrically opposite music styles. But music somehow represents points that have helped me in different periods of my life.

Gigaton by Pearl Jam is comprised of twelve songs. I have to say that I enjoy listening to all twelve songs. The styles of the songs run the gamete in terms of the musical spectrum that is the Pearl Jam sound. While the album comes out at a time which is odd in the continuing story of America, with the rioting and the pandemic, the words sound genuine about this point in time, a reflection of the past and hope for tomorrow.

Gigaton Album Art Cover.

A hard thumping grunge sound sets the tempo of the album with the albums first two songs, “Who Ever Said” and “Superblood Wolfmoon”. This is that characteristic Pearl Jam sound that I have learned to love over the years. Suddenly, I am whisked back to my high school/college days with a sound reminiscent of the Talking Head in “Dance of the Clairvoyants”. Experimental for Pearl Jam but well conceived. Then it’s a round-trip change with a quasi-Zeppelin sound in “Quick Escape”. Throw in another style change with “Alright”. “Seven O’Clock” is probably my favorite song on the album, largely because of the words, the excellent annunciation by Vedder, and the crisp music to tie everything together. “Never Destination”, “Take the Long Way” and “Buckle Up” continue in terms of experimentation, a return to the past, and reflections of other musical styles. All over the map on these three tunes but clearly they need to be listened to multiple times in order to grow into them. Then we switch gears with “Comes and Goes, with its strong guitar and haunting words of loss. The album is then rounded out with “Retrograde” and “River Cross”. Both songs are offer a strong finish to a great album. I cannot wait until they are touring again.

Pearl Jam

In the end, I can only conclude that we have five talented musicians who actually like each other, enjoy their music and have not let success ruin them. I am glad. I hope that they continue for another 20 to 30 years because I need another band to help me navigate through life, much like the Canadian trio RUSH who stopped performing several years ago.

The other album is Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan. Clearly a significant change from Pearl Jam. The 2 CD set contains his first album with new songs in eight years. The sound is the Dylan of late. The words are the Dylan of the ages. After listening to the nine new songs on disc one, I envisioned a future of hearing Dylan. Either on the stage at the Telluride Blues and Brews festival in September, or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April. Both have been postponed because of the pandemic. Both are music festivals that I greatly enjoy, and can hope that my vision comes true in 2021.

Album cover for Rough and Rowdy Ways, by Bod Dylan.

The two CD set contains ten songs in total. Disc one has nine songs and Disc two contains a single song. “I Contain Multitudes” starts off the album and is not associated with the poem by Walt Whitman, or the book by Ed Yong. But they could be…

Whitman writes about” Song of Myself”. It is a poem was divided into fifty-two numbered sections for the fourth (1867) edition and finally took on the title “Song of Myself” in the last edition (1891–2). In section 51 there is the following:

The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them.
And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.
Listener up there! what have you to confide to me?
Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening,
(Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.)
Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)
I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab.
Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper?
Who wishes to walk with me?
Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?

The subtitle of Yong’s book is “The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life”. In both cases, and in alignment with the Dylan song, they appear to be reflections on one’s self.

“False Prophet” follows up and one is left to wonder if Dylan is talking about himself. I think not. The music continues through “My Own Version of You”, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”, and “Black Rider”. I find them as if Dylan is reflecting on old themes that I often hear in his music: people, places, the times and travels and roads taken. But “Black Rider extends those themes to envision finality or death, but it is unclear. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” reminds me of a blues song, hitting those themes of people, places, times and travels. “Mother of Muses” pays homage to the ancient Greeks and I wonder if the Nobel Laureate is trying to get all classical on us. “Crossing the Rubicon” is probably my favorite song on the album. It represents a reflection of the past, and shows signs suggesting that all things, including life, are finite. Let’s remember that Dylan is almost 80 years old and perhaps even he feels his mortality. Disc one ends with “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)”, the second longest tune on the album, singing about themes as diverse as the town of Key West, places in Europe, and reminiscing about the age of poetry in Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac, musicians like Armstrong, Hendrix, and Holly. Although several of the other songs on the album are intertwined with many people throughout history: Edgar Allen Poe, the Rolling Stones, Indiana Hones, Ann Frank, Leon Russell, Truman, Elvis, Martin Luther King, to Thelonious Monk, I wonder if Dylan is trying to find his own place in history. He should not worry.

Disc two, at just under 17 minutes, contains the single song “Murder Most Foul”. Here is Dylan reminiscing about the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963. While it is lacking in music (overall it is very simple), it is the spoken words by Dylan, tying the horrors of that day in Dallas to the culture and period of the 60’s. I wonder briefly is this is his attempt at rap? The song itself covers the period in which Dylan was most vocal about the American experience: the war in Vietnam, injustices in our society. These are the tunes of Dylan’s past that I was introduced to in college that I enjoy listening to over and over. While the voice has changed over the years, the themes, and the power of the words have not.

I doubt that my kids will ever enjoy his music, and share the meaning behind the words as I do, but I can at least try.

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Rolling Thunder Revue. A review

Rolling Thunder Revue is a movie? A documentary? It is a look back in time of Bob Dylan and friends during a concert tour by Martin Scorsese. It is currently on a Netflix. It is as much a movie about music from a Dylan tour as it is about a period of time in this country. In 1975 and again in 1976, Dylan is accompanied by a number of musicians in a series of shows throughout the United States and Canada. The movie shows actual performance clips from the tour, along with interviews from many of the actual performers and participants of the show, then and now. The movie is intertwined with stories of the period.

I was first introduced to the music of Bob Dylan in college in 1979. A senior in my dorm my freshman year, who went by the name of Commander Nichols was a big Dylan fan. Up until that time, my music interest included the Clash, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Rush. I often characterize periods in my life by the music that I listen to. In 1976, it was the summer of Frampton Comes Alive. By 1979, it was the Clash and London Calling, competing with Rush and Hemispheres. My first

concert was on the Hemisphere’s Tour. Supper Bowl weekend in Pittsburgh. Of course the Steelers were in the big game. I was in high school, and well that trip, I can save for a future posting.

And Commander Nichols was also the person who introduced me to Neil Young. It only took me 32 years to see Neil Young in concert. Yet I digress. Back to Bob Dylan.

As with all rockumentaries, the clips of music are intertwined with interviews from the performers, friends, and fans. In the case of this movie, we have Bob Dylan, then and now. There were some really great musicians who performed in the Rolling Thunder Review. They included Joni Mitchel, Joan Baez, Ramblin Jack Elliot. Poetry by Allen Ginsberg. The band that backed up the musicians was really good. They had their own stories that was interesting. The story behind Dylan’s kabuki masks during the tour was tied to Dylan visiting the band KISS. Why? Simply because the young violinist touring with Dylan was dating one of the band members in KISS. As I see the irony, Rush toured with KISS. I have seen Rush five times in concert. Somehow all things are interconnected. But again I digress. I watch these movies for the music. It definitely needed more music and less story telling.

Some of the movie dealt with Rubin Carter and the “story of the Hurricane”. Hurricane is a great Dylan song from the album Desire, released in 1976. Still other songs come from my favorite Dylan album, which is Blood on the Tracks, released in 1974. Of course there were some of the usual Dylan tunes, especially, Knocking on Heaven’s Door, A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and Mr Tambourine Man. I haven’t bought a Dylan album/CD in years but I understand that one of the recently released bootleg albums has outtakes from the Rolling Thunder Revue.

The concert performances are great. Some of the stories of the times were interesting. I particularly liked the time when Dylan and Ginsberg visited the grave of Jack Kerouac. There they are filmed reading some lines from Kerouac’s book “On the Road”, and they sing some songs and discuss their experiences from Kérouac. I thought this clip clearly identified with the period. I thought it interesting that the tour traveled from city to city on buses, yet Dylan drove a motor home. There were some interviews with politicians, Jimmy Carter and others, that I thought didn’t add much value to the story. We don’t learn much about Dylan during this time, but it is clear to me that he just enjoyed playing music with his friends, both in a concert hall, and in other avenues.

So in the end, we have a snapshot of the time during a Bob Dylan tour. We don’t learn much about the music, except for Hurricane. The snippets of music are intertwined in the stories, not the other way around. Bob Dylan said that he didn’t remember much of the tour, but he was able to tell some detailed stories about the people and such. He said that there was nothing left from the tour, yet we know that there are tracks of the music and videos from the tour. EBay has some original posters and tickets from the tour for sale. As for me, I’d like to get the hat.

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one bourbon, one scotch, and one beer…

Woke up this morning and in the shower I found myself singing the George Thorogood and the Destroyers tune “One Bourbon, one Scotch and one Beer”. Not sure why. Didn’t have a drink the night before. Whatever. It was just running through my head.

As I was reading early in the morning before getting the kids up, I looked up the lyrics and the history of the song. Often such studies start with Wikipedia. There I was able to read that the song was first written and recorded by Amos Milburn in 1953, and with some different lyrics by John Lee Hooker in 1966. Finally the George Thorogood version was comprised of two separate John Lee Hooker songs in 1977.

Anyway, the tie to the picture that I included is my list of summer drinks, which I think will help me pass my summer evenings home alone while reading.

Buffalo Trace is one of my favorite bourbon’s. I describe the taste as sweet with a hint of brown sugar, vanilla, and toffee. I really enjoyed my visit to their distillery in 2017 when my daughter was competing at the Kentucky Horse Park. The Macallan is a tie to Rush. Their great drummer, Neil Peart is a fan of Macallan and I agree with his taste. My first drink was from a bottle of the 15 year old that was a present from a coworker. The flavors include oak, honey, spicy and orange zest. And finally, the Samuel Adams Summer Ale has a bright citrus flavor comprised of orange, lime and lemon. It taste great after working outside for a few hours.

Anyway, I find periods of my life are defined by songs. I’m guessing this is the summer of one bourbon, one scotch and one beer. Of course, all in moderation.

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Reading is Fundamental

Today starts the final week of the school year for my son and daughter. Every year the schools send out information about summer reading programs, books to read, things to try to get the kids to read during the summer months. It’s a great idea and I try to do my best to get my children to read over the summer. There are two approaches that I take to accomplish this.

The first approach is pure capitalism. They get to choose the book and if it meets with my approval, then they read it. For every book that they read, I will pay them twenty dollars. The book has to meet with my approval, otherwise, the legal minds that are my children will argue over what constitutes a book. There is no prescribed number of pages, it cannot be a short story or a comic book. A collection of short stories is fine, but they have to read all of it. There is no quiz, or essay. I just need to see them reading. They are not speed readers, so devouring 100 pages in a day will cause me to question the actual reading. But it is the honor system, which I try to impress upon them is as important as being able to communicate well. The art of communication is dying in our society, between texts and tweets and emoji’s. It is certainly something that I struggle with and try my best to get it right. But I will let you be the judge based upon my blog posts.

The second approach is to lead by example. By that I mean if they see me reading, perhaps they will also read. I cannot ask them to do something that I then will not also do. I’m not going to pay myself twenty dollars, but I am going to read. One reason will be to generate ideas for future blog postings.

For the start of my summer reading, I have chosen a book that has constantly gotten the better of me. On a Facebook post once, I commented in the category of things people may not know about me is that I have managed to read the Bible twice, cover to cover. Odd as I am not a religious person, but we can explore that in some future blog. No my challenge for the summer will be my fourth attempt to read Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand. Why? First is that being a Rush fan, their songs were influenced by the writings of Ayn Rand. Yes, I have seen the movies but the story is as important today as when it was written. Every time I start reading a book, I put the date and where I am at the time I am reading it. For this start, I wrote “here is hoping that the 4th time I will finish”. My copy is worn, having been purchased in the summer of 2011. I think I bought it as part of a trip to go see Rush in concert.

I’ll keep you informed of the summer reading challenge for both me and my kids. I’ll have more words tomorrow as I explore this new world of blogging and work to improve my own communication skills.