Forty Years of the Basement Tapes and "the force of reality"
Okay folks, 2009 is the 40th anniversary of the mysterious appearance of the Great White Wonder. In 1969, I found it in a record shop in Grand Rapids, Michigan and haven't stopped listening to the material since. The heart of the 2-LP bootleg was the first release of what has been since known as "The Basement Tapes" and if you haven't heard (or LIVED) with those songs, I feel sorry for you.
As much a product of the collaboration of Dylan with the Band than a "Dylan" album, nothing in my lifetime approaches the camaraderie, the spontaneity or the soul of the 128 tracks they recorded with a borrowed microphone over the summer of 1967. Garth Hudson ran the mike and played organ. Danko, Robertson, and Manuel did what they could, and they liked it enough to bring back Helm from the oil rig he was working on. For decades bits and pieces of the informal sessions leaked out and I listened the whole time.
This blog is about authenticity. There is an authenticity in these tracks we have not been privilege to since, and that's all I can say without seeming inflated, maudlin or even at this stage of my life, tearing up. Manuel is gone. Danko is gone too, that hit me the hardest. (In my life of listening, I have never heard anyone give all they had the moment the recording light was on more than Danko except maybe Elmore James, and he only knew one song)
Dylan, of course, has a new disc coming out this month. Levon, a gentleman I have had the honor to meet, survived cancer with memorable courage and hosts the now legendary "Midnight Rambles" a stone throw from where the basement tapes were recorded. Sometimes Garth shows up, he still lives nearby as well. Since the complete tapes have never been legally released, I might as well crib a bit of Dylan's latest interview as well. I'm sure there are enough copies floating around that no one is going to sue me, and since I have no money I'm not too worried. If you dig around, you will probably find all the tracks. It's a lot easier now than it was 40 years ago, and when the complete set is finally released, probably after all of us are gone... they'll take their place along the Hank Williams radio shows, Willie Nelson's solo work before he hit it big and Bob Wills Radio Transcriptions as some of the most authentic, joyous and honest recordings made in the 20th Century.
Let Mr. Dylan explain it for you:
Do you think of yourself as a cult figure?
A cult figure, that's got religious connotations. It sounds cliquish and clannish. People have different emotional levels. Especially when you're young. Back then I guess most of my influences could be thought of as eccentric. Mass media had no overwhelming reach so I was drawn to the traveling performers passing through. The side show performers - bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas the Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the rollercoaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it. The sledge hammer of life. It didn't make sense or seem real. The stuff off the main road was where force of reality was. At least it struck me that way. When I left home those feelings didn't change.
But you've sold over a hundred million records.
Yeah I know. It's a mystery to me too.
Labels: Dull Tool Dim Bulb Jim Linderman