Planet Waves

“In this age of fibreglass I’m searching for a gem”

Planet Waves
B. Dylan

I don’t know who started it or how it started but it became a tradition and a ritual. We (Dave, Robin, Frank, Norm, Paul, Al and Mike to name some of the main participants) lived in a house on the corner of 4TH Ave and Balaclava in the Kitsilano neighbourhood of Vancouver. They say it has become very exclusive and expensive there now. Then we had a single mother with an almost teenage daughter living next door to us. She was convinced that the RCMP (she called them “The Horsemen”) had killed her husband who had been a heroin dealer.
The tradition was turning a Saturday (if we were working or any afternoon if we weren’t) into a Tequila Sunrise or Bloody Caesar or Harvey Wallbanger day. We all supplied the ingredients if we could plus whatever beer and smoke were available, threw open the doors and windows and cranked up the stereo.
It is incumbent upon residents of Vancouver to take advantage of every sunny day there. Even the British climate doesn’t seem as depressing as the long, grey, cold, wet stretches of days and weeks which occur in Vancouver winters. Maybe it’s not so bad for natives but we weren’t natives and knew very few. Everyone was from somewhere else.
I remember Meddle and Band on the Run and Peaceful Easy Feeling blaring out across the postage stamp lawn as we played frisbee or catch with a football.
The one which was played the most on those days was Planet Waves.
It was the last time Dylan recorded in a studio with The Band. They had already toured with him as The Hawks and they toured again in support of Planet Waves. Not a bad backup band.
They honed their chops in Toronto backing up Rompin Ronnie Hawkins, The Hawk.
In The Last Waltz (1978) Robbie Robertson describes Ronnie Hawkin’s pitch upon hiring the talented teenagers as something like, “the money ain’t great, but you’ll get more pussy than Frank Sinatry”.
The Hawk was from the southern US and had plenty of experience in small bars there where the band onstage was separated from the audience by chicken wire to protect them from missiles like beer bottles thrown their way. He says he was a hard taskmaster. He didn’t want a backup band which learned songs on stage or made a lot of mistakes. He made them practice and practice hard.
The Hawk was recently interviewed by George Stroumboulopoulis on Canadian tv about his miraculous recovery from pancreatic cancer. A young healer (an underground healer, one not recognized by the established system) heard of his plight and helped him recover. Now he’s still laughing about the miracle and, as he tours, sharing his joy.
The best known song on Planet Waves is Forever Young. It’s obvious when you listen to the lyrics why Rod Stewart covered it. I don’t know whether he added some words of his own, but every parent, rock star or not, can understand the sentiment behind the lyrics of the song.
On side 2 of Planet Waves The Band whipped up one fast version with their electric jug band style, but the slow version on side 1 with Robbie Robertson’s tasty licks is one of the best rock songs ever written in my opinion.
I know some people can’t stand Dylan’s music and his voice even though it’s in key and timed properly, but anyone who admires the power of the English language has to, at least, respect him as a writer.
“Twilight on the frozen lake, North wind about to break…” are ten words which open Never say Goodbye and an instant image is conjured up in the listener’s mind.
Planet Waves also contains Going, Going, Gone which is another song created with great lyrics and the collaboration of musicians which doesn’t overpower the lyric content. It is a good example for all bands who have realized that the most beautiful music is created by individuals contributing to the song, not trying to stand out from everyone else.
There were a lot of women around that house but, unfortunately, one look at the state of the kitchen and bathroom discouraged most from living there. I have to admit that someone only making it to the kitchen sink before they threw up on a Tequila Sunrise Day was a little much. Naturally, none of us had washed any dishes for a long time and that made it worse.
The sunny days got fewer when Fall hit and gradually petered out. The occupants reached a low point in January when we watched the Superbowl on acid with no food and the sound turned up to drown out the sound of the wind and rain lashing the street outside.
Then someone got out of jail and landed there, bringing quick visits from cops when he ran outside and threw beer bottles at motorists passing by on 4th Ave. The carefree, sunny days of Planet Waves were gone.
“My dreams are made of iron and steel, with a big bouquet of roses hanging down,
from the heavens to the ground”
Planet Waves
B. Dylan

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Sailing to Philadelphia Considered

Like the bears in the zoo which plod the same circle day after day, I dutifully checked the Pynchon section of the public library. The past years of habitual checking had produced nothing but it was part of my routine.
Then, one day, there was a new book in the Pynchon section. I took it home with great expectations. Intellectual memories were blurred by time but the feeling of excitement was the same.
I had read Gravity’s Rainbow and V so many years before that I had forgotten what they were about. But I had a strong feeling, took it for granted, that Thomas Pynchon was an important writer to me.
Life intervened and I never got to finish the book of seven hundred pages. It was called, MASON AND DIXON.
Years later when a Mark Knopfler cd came out, I bought it and listened with relish to SAILING TO PHILADELPHIA, the song. He does it as a duet with James Taylor.
Returning from three years in Europe, I spent $40 of the $60 with which I landed in Ottawa, on a concert featuring Dire Straits and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Mark Knopfler’s the only concert I’ve gone to see in the past thirteen years, since we moved to the country.
In other words, I am a Mark Knopfler fan. I even liked his instrumental duets with Chet Atkins.
James Taylor’s songs and voice and his connections to Apple Records and Jimmy Buffet and Carly Simon sent thoughts in another direction.
Then, suddenly, I heard the words to the song. I realized what the characters, each of whom had a voice, one of Mark Knopfler and one of James Taylor, were saying. They were sailing to Philadelphia to draw the Mason – Dixon line.
I assumed, at first, that it was a coincidence. Then, in an interview, Mark Knopfler said that he had respectfully distilled the 700 page book into a two minute song. He was exploring the phenomenon that is America and this was a part of it which he articulated in his own way.
Now that Pynchon ‘s 1000 page novel is about to be published, Ian Rankin discloses, in a Guardian interview on the dogmatika.com website, that he is a real Pynchon nut. He was going to do a PHD on the writer.
Ian Rankin reminds me that Pynchon dedicated Gravity’s Rainbow to Richard Farina.
I think he was married to Mimi and they played folk music. For sure he wrote a book called BEEN DOWN SO LONG, LOOKS LIKE UP TO ME which was popular. I can’t remember anything about that book but I know that it was the source of many weird names considered for rock bands of the day.

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Inarticulate Speech of the Heart Considered

If you overlook the financial calculations involved in recording, selling and buying, it becomes difficult to assess the worth of a piece of music to anyone. Music, no matter what kind, is valuable in itself. It can transcend time, language and cultures.
Van Morrison’s album, ‘Inarticulate Speech of the Heart’, is a collection of original songs which celebrates the spiritual side of people. It isn’t a bunch of songs dedicated to the description of a relationship between two people, but a demonstration of the creative spark, a recognition of the muse and a long range point of view of the human race. Not a love song to be found.
Few will go to the trouble of locating, buying and listening to the cd, alone, through to the end, perhaps in their favourite writing space, but if they did. If they did, they would find background music, muted, to create by, or upbeat songs to which to dance a jig or with which to hum along.
To each their own, choosing the music to background their writing, some preferring music with no lyrics, some no sound at all.
But for those who like a little music in the background, this album has everything. The instrumentals are similar to some of Mark Knopfler’s creations.
It would be a waste of time for me to try to describe each song in detail. That’s why Van Morrison wrote and recorded them.
In fact, the album has a release date of 1983. It’s over 20 years old and it’s the first time I’ve looked closely at it. Except for the cover which is clever and beautiful.
The songs can lighten up a room and pull one’s self out of self centred thoughts or draw one into deep contemplation. They can raise one’s spiritual eyes for a moment.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe it will take two or three plays of this disc for others to appreciate it. I don’t know and delving analytically into it isn’t what I usually do. I just know that it’s nice to have it on in the background when I’m rereading what I’ve written the day before or when I’m checking out websites.
These songs which I know by heart often start me off writing before I switch to lyricless jazz.
It also helps with broken hearts, hangovers and situations of loneliness.

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