Dylan Context In his 1963 poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie,” a young Bob Dylan vents his disillusionment and disgust with the corrupt modern world. He resents the relentless social pressure to conform to warped, shallow, materialistic values. He is searching for some defense from the siege against his soul. Part holy invocation and part profane howl, he cries out,
Graley - I am hopelessly behind in my Dylan content including yours (the rest of my life keeps interfering) and just got the chance to sit down and give this the attention it deserves. This is amazing. I can’t explain why but at times when you took us through the performances I had tears in my eyes. Laura has said so much above I don’t need to add anything but bravo!
That was such a fun read! Not for the first time it struck me how much these pieces on Dylan’s concerts through the years carry on the spirit of Paul Williams. Like him, you transport us directly into the audience. But the thing is, when I first read Paul Williams, the fact that he was describing recordings I hadn’t heard was both exciting (so much out there for me yet to discover), and frustrating (how could I get my hands on them??). So your decision to publish these pieces on Substack, as well as your generosity to include the recordings in the text, means that we can hear them as well as read about them, and the effect is much more than the sum of its parts: it allows us to be right there with you. I’m glad you’ve decided to share your thoughts on Cincinnati Dylan in this way!
What a fascinating concert, due to the length alone, but also because the concerts in the early 80s are such emotional rollercoasters: the push and pull between sacred and secular music always has you wondering where his head and his heart are at. That version of Simple Twist of Fate is incredible – somehow both driving and urgent, as well as light and breezy. And speaking of Paul Williams, I can’t think of a more beautiful way to describe Dylan’s vocal than as the “vehicle for the expression of the group heart”. So good! As you know, I always love your writing about Clydie King and the way you articulate her immense importance for Dylan’s performances and the group sound (and thanks for the generous shoutout). That performance of I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight is wonderful - It’s not just that her vocals bring a real soul sound, but sometimes I feel like Clydie out-Bobs Bob – not just is her phrasing so free, but she just has that “coolness” that Dylan embodies, and she not only meets him there, but pulls him further in. No idea if that makes sense, but that’s how it felt listening to this song, which really works astonishingly well as a duet, although it feels more like a dance.
Side note: I need to know which hats Bob bought at Batsakes.
I love the theatrics of the band playing one song without him (and what a performance that is!!), and then his return to the stage basically starts from scratch, just Dylan, and then slowly the rest of the band reassemble, it’s so effective, and gives him both an opportunity to breathe, but also to change tone completely before ramping things up again. I LOVE that version of Dead Man Dead Man. I’ve long been obsessed with the live version from New Orleans little more than a week later (10 November – it's on a Japanese live compilation I found years ago), but this one is just as great. I had never heard that version of “When He Returns”, and it completely blew me away. I’m fascinated with the choice to change the arrangement so drastically. You describe hearing Dylan finding his way in unfamiliar waters, which makes total sense, but my impression was almost the opposite. The best way I can describe it is that in the arrangement of the early days, it was like Dylan was singing a gospel song, but here, it sounds like he’s turned it into a Dylan song? It’s more blues, more r&b, more rock n roll – and that, to my ears, puts Dylan vocally in his comfort zone, where he can experiment where to take the song within these more familiar parameters. So even though he and the band are working out the song on the spot, Dylan was in his element. I love the repeated “When He Returns” at the end – like the song has left the church and is now on pop radio. Absolutely stunning and deeply moving!
Thanks for taking us along on this journey, Graley!