Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I'm Not There

After its release on DVD, I was finally able to see Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. It managed to meet my expectation, and even exceed them in some areas. Here are a few of my first impressions:

Out of the whole movie, the song whose placement seemed most apt to me was The Monkees' "(I'm Not Your) Stepping Stone." This is far from the best song in the movie, but the way it is used speaks volumes. It is played at a party during Bob's hectic 1966 tour. Superficially, Bob is being used as a stepping stone to wealth by people like Albert Grossman. On a deeper level, the song, like all pop music, is a construction. Being the Monkees, this stands out even more as they were put together out of American Idolesque auditions. They didn't play instruments or write songs when they started. (To be fair, in their later years the Monkees did try to seize creative control and wrote their own material and played their own instruments, and it wasn't half bad.) "Stepping Stone" is a fantastic pastiche of The Who, which is made even more ironic by the doubling that comes from them singing "you won't find me in your book of Who's Who's." What makes this further intersting, is that this song is, out of all of the Monkees early work, their most anti-establishment song and, though it is a Who pastiche, it also has another dimension to the sound which is unmistakeably authentic in the sense of uniqueness. All of these, of course, echo the debates surrounding Dylan post-Newport. Thus, there are several layers to the song worth explicating in relation to the Dylan myth.

One thing I had hoped for was for the various Dylans to meet up, as I thought this idea as very fertile for creating all sorts of ideas. The only time this happened, however, was when Billy the Kid is riding through town and Woody Guthrie runs out of a saloon and begs for his help, right near the end of the sequence where Arthur Rimbaud is reading from "Advice For Geraldine On Her Miscellaneous Birthday." Unfortunately, this encounter was all too brief and ultimately unresolved. The camera cuts away, and so we don't know if one Dylan saves the other, so that a multiplicity of selves can exist simultaneously, or if the other Dylan cuts off self by leaving Guthrie there to die. Also, of course, due to constraints of time period, the film takes a more surreal turn than usual by placing Guthrie of 1959 in the same scene as Billy the Kidd in 1911, putting this dangerously close to losing the viewer altogether. (Had the times been blended more often throughout, the viewer would be prepared for it and it wouldn't be an issue; a good film teaches its audience specific ways to view it.)

The reason I place 1911 as the year is from a later scene with Billy the Kidd. In this scene, Pat Garrett is coming to town, but not to kill Billy because he has already (supposedly) done so. In Peckinpah's Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid, the Kid dies, replete with a hymn called "Knockin' On Heaven's Door." This movie sets up an alternate reality where Kid escapes and survives in seclusion, a ragged rebel forever on the fringes of a society that has rejected him. When Garrett comes to town, to build a railroad, the year is mentioned as Garrett and Billy engage in a hilarous showdown of wits that is among my favorite moments in the film.

On a final note, from reading literature surrounding the film's release, I was led to believe there were seven Dylans and that Christian Bale played Jack Rollins and Pastor John (the Revelator). I was pleased to find out this isn't true, but that Jack Rollins, as he ages, becomes Pastor John. I felt this was a fantastis move on Haynes' part because it shows the tradition of preaching which informed the folk movement and especially Dylan's early finger-pointing songs. In fact, "Pressing On" is the least preachy song Jack Rollins sings in the movie.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

The Theme Time Albums: A comparative review

Three compilations have recently been released in relation to Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour on XM radio. The first to be released was Chrome Dreams' Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. The other two were supposed to be released simultaneously on February 26: Hear Music's Artist's Choice and Ace's Theme Time Radio Hour, although I had difficulty finding the latter in the States until recently (thus this review's tardiness). I'm still not sure which is best, but as a relative buyer's guide, I hope to analyze each collections strengths and weaknesses. First, the tracklistings:

Chrome Dreams CD5019 The Best of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour (142 min. approx)

Disc 1

1. Carter Family - Keep On The Sunny Side
2. Ruth Brown - (Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean
3. George Zimmerman and the Thrills - Ain’t Got No Money To Pay For This Drink
4. Sister Wynona Carr - The Ball Game
5. The Ink Spots - Java Jive
6. Bessie Smith - Send Me To The ‘Lectric Chair
7. Leroy Carr & Scrapper Blackwell - Papa’s On The Housetop
8. Big Joe Turner - Married Woman
9. Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson & His Orchestra - Alimony Blues
10. John Brim - Ice Cream Man
11. Duke Ellington & His Orchestra - Tulip Or Turnip
12. Chuck Berry - No Money Down
13. Bing Crosby - Brother Can You Spare A Dime?
14. Gene Vincent - Race With the Devil
15. Chuck Berry - Brown Eyed Handsome Man
16. Freddie Bell and the Bellboys - Hound Dog
17. Little Walter - Last Night
18. Luke Jones and His Orchestra - Disc Jockey Blues
19. Blind Willie Johnson - John The Revelator
20. Percy Mayfield - Louisiana
21. Sonny Boy Williamson I - Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
22. Pee Wee Crayton - Telephone Is Ringing
23. The Five Blind Boys of Mississippi - Jesus Gave Me Water
24. Sleep LaBeef - All The Time
25. Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown - Midnight Hour
26. Al Dexter & His Troopers - Pistol Packin’ Mama

Disc 2

1. Screamin' Jay Hawkins - I Put A Spell On You
2. The Turbans - When You Dance
3. Louis Armstrong - When It’s Sleepy Time Down South
4. Slim Gaillard & His Flat Foot Floogie Boys - Matzoh Balls
5. Tampa Red & Big Maceo - Let Me Play With Your Poodle
6. Carl Perkins - Tennessee
7. Bill Monroe - Blue Moon Of Kentucky
8. Eddie Boyd - Five Long Years
9. Leadbelly - Christmas Is A-Comin’
10. The Chimes - Zindy Lou
11. JB Lenoir - Don’t Touch My Head
12. Joe Clay - Don’t Mess With My Ducktail
13. Roy Montrell - (Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone
14. Buddy & Ella Johnson - Alright, Okay, You Win!
15. Hank Williams - I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry
16. Jimmie Revard & His Oklahoma Playboys - Lose Your Blues And Laugh AtLife
17. Billie Holiday - Good Morning Heartache
18. Carl Perkins - Blue Suede Shoes
19. The Ravens - Deep Purple
20. Bob Downen - Blue Yodel # 1 (T For Texas)
21. Little Junior Parker - Mystery Train
22. Sister Rosetta Tharpe - This Train
23. Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers - Why Do Fools Fall In Love
24. Duke Ellington - Take The ‘A’ Train
25. Hank Penny - Taxes, Taxes
26. Dinah Washington - Richest Guy In The Graveyard

Starbucks Entertainment/Sony BMG artist's choice (45:39)

1. Pee Wee Crayton - Do Unto Others
2. Clancy Eccles - Don't Brag, Don't Boast
3. Stanley Brothers - My Fields Have Turned Brown
4. Gus Viseur - Flambee Montalbanaise (Valse)
5. Red Prysock - Hand Clappin'
6. Lol Hoopii & His Novelty Quartet - I Like You
7. Ray Price - I'll Be There (If YOu Ever Want Me)
8. Stuff Smith & His Onyx Club Boys - I'se A Muggin' (Part 2)
9. Charlie Jordan - Keep It Clean
10. Junior Wells - Little By Little (I'm Losing You)
11. Patty & the Emblems - Mixed-UP, Shook-Up Girl
12. Getatchew Kassa - Tezeta (Fast)
13. Flaco Jiminez - Victimas Del Huracan Beulah
14. Wanda Jackson - I Gotta Know
15. Billie Holiday & Her Orchestra - I Hear Music
16. Junior Parker - Pretty Baby

Ace CDCH2 1202 Theme Time Radio Hour

Disc 1

1. Grandpa Jones - Turn Your Radio On
2. Leroy Carr and Scrapper Blackwell - Papa's On The Housetop
3. Paul Chaplain & His Emeralds - Shortnin' Bread
4. The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army
5. The Valentines - Gun Fever (Blam Blam Fever)
6. Al Dexter & His Troopers - Pistol Packin' Mama
7. The Hurricanes - Pistol Packin' Mama
8. Otis Rush - Homework
9. Jerry Butler - He Will Break Your Heart
10. Eddie Noack - Take It Away Lucky
11. Betty Hall Jones - Buddy, Stay Off The Wine
12. Charlie Rich - Tears A Go-Go
13. Li'l Millet & His Creoles - Rich Woman
14. Ernie Chaffin - Laughin' & Jokin'
15. Memphis Minnie w/ Little Son Joe - Me And My Chauffeur Blues
16. The Stanley Brothers - If I Lose
17. Jimmy Nelson - I Sat And Cried
18. Patsy Raye & the Beatniks - Beatnik's Wish
19. The Donays - Devil In His Heart
20. George Jones & Melba Montgomery - Let's Invite Them Over
21. Sister Rosetta Tharpe w/ Sam Price Trio - Don't Take Ev'rybody to BeYour Friend
22. Billie Holiday - Good Morning Heartache
23. James Carr - Pouring Water on a Drowning Man
24. Mary Gauthier - I Drink
25. Memphis Slim - Mother Earth

Disc 2

1. Aretha Franklin - Chain Of Fools
2. Joe South & the Believers - Walk a Mile in My Shoes
3. Alton Ellis & the Flames - Cry Tough
4. The Clash - Tommy Gun
5. Roy Montrell - (Everytime I Hear) That Mellow Saxophone
6. Patrice Holloway - Those DJ Shows
7. Lonnie 'the Cat' - I Ain't Drunk
8. Charles Mingus - Eat That Chicken
9. Bobby Peterson Quintet - Mama, Get Your Hammer
10. Slim Gaillard - How High The Moon
11. Sons of the Pioneers - Cool Water
12. Geraint Watkins - Only A Rose
13. Berna-Dean - I Walk in My Sleep
14. Jack Teagarden's Chicagoans - Stars Fell On Alabama
15. Merle Haggard & the Strangers - Mama Tried (The Ballad From KillersThree)
16. Dinah Washington - Big Long Slidin' Thing
17. Bobby Darin - Black Coffee
18. The Cats and the Fiddle - I'd Rather Drink Muddy Water
19. George Zimmerman & the Thrills w/ the Bubber Cyphers - Ain't Got TheMoney To Pay For This Drink
20. The Yayhoos - Bottle And A Bible
21. Jimmy Patton - Okie's In The Pokie
22. Louis Jordan - If You're So Smart, How Come You Ain't Rich?
23. Santiago Jimenez - Ay Te Dejo En San Antonio
24. Bo Diddley - Mona
25. The Modern Lovers - Roadrunner (Twice)

Technically, the Starbucks CD is a Dylan mix tape rather than a collection of songs drawn from his radio show. The CDs package is one big advertisement for the show, though, and Dylan has played many of the artists on his radio show. It seems like these songs could all be culled from episodes that have yet to air. I think it counts.

Below, the sets are judged on tracklisting, sound quality and packaging.

The Tracklistings:

The two strictly Theme Time sets would seem to have an unfair advantage here; they clock in at 52 and 50 selections as opposed to a mere sixteen, but not necessarily so.

The larger selections both have problems. Four songs are overlapped -- "Ain't Got No Money To Pay For This Drink," "Papa's On the Housetop," "Good Morning, Heartache," and Al Dexter's "Pistol Packin' Mama." Furthermore, several of the selections are readily available elsewhere (White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army," Frankie Lymon & the Teenagers "Why Do Fools Fall In Love?," Hank Williams "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," Carl Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," etc.). Part of the joy of Theme Time Radio Hour is hearing the weird pecularities in the long-ignored masterpieces Dylan continues to unearth. Putting popular selections on compilations of music from the show sort of defeats the purpose. The Chrome Dreams unauthorized set is worse about this, but the Ace Records authorized version includes many songs which, while not played daily on the radio, are already in the hands of many collectors, such as Memphis Minnie's "Me and My Chauffeur Blues," Memphis Slim's "Mother Earth," and the Modern Lovers' "Roadrunner." All together, the Ace Records collection added 34 of its 50 songs to my collection, the Chrome Dreams collection added 32 of its 52 songs to my collection, and the Starbucks collection added 15 of 16 songs, giving it the highest percentage of fresh, collectable material.

Still, each set has something essential that the others don't. Chrome Dreams brings John Brim's "Ice Cream Man" and Slim Galliard's "Matzoh Balls" to the table. Ace Records' compilation contains the Yayhoos' "Bottle and a Bible" and Lonnie "The Cat's" "I Ain't Drunk." artist's choice has Stuff Smith and Sol Hoopii.

Sound quality:

Starbucks probably wins, followed closely by Ace records. Some of the stuff on Chrome Dreams is great, but other tracks sound phoned in.


When it comes to packaging, Ace wins out. Their extensive liner notes, plethora of archival photographs and cool cd labels take the cake. Chrome Dreams had some good liner notes, but a frankly boring package otherwise. Starbucks' offering held the interest of Dylan-penned liner notes, but, for the most part, gone were the cryptic parables of the notes to an album like World Gone Wrong. They were in parts unmistakably Dylan, but for the most part didn't stir the reader like one had hoped they would.