Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan’s Bootleg Series, Volume XII
I wrote post after post about Volume XI, last year’s terrific excavation of The Basement Tapes -a brilliant piece of work that goes in deep and finds song after song. Hell, how about that cover of “I’m Your Teenage Prayer”? -this was Dylan in his natural habitat rehearsing, goofing, helping out the Band and himself.
But Volume XII? I don’t know what to add to the conversation. Sure, it is, simply, a must own: the greatest songwriter of the 20th Century in 1965 – 1966, at the peak of his powers… if I had $500 I’d buy the 300 track Collector’s Edition. But it isn’t quite what it appears to be.
Take a listen to the transition between “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, from the third take incomplete and the take three remake complete: somewhere between the two the song came into focus, he found the lick that changes the tune, the pace, his singing. But where did it come from? This is the promise that isn’t quite kept,even on the 20 song “Like A Rolling Stone”. What you would have needed was a tape recording as Dylan played with the song at his home, performed it over and over again: at some point he would have improvised his way into it. If he had found it through jamming, I think it would be here. It isn’t a band thing, he must have found it alone.
There is another question here, was the difference between take seven and take eight of “Visions Of Johanna” simply a decision to go slower? Take 5 is the blues but what happened to get him to take eight? There is the genius and really, how can you show genius? Show film of a EEG as he thought “hey, wait a second, slow the sucker down” as “activity in the visual part of an analytical person’s brain would amp up to take in as much information as possible an, the visual cortex would shut down., which allows them to block out the environment, look inward, and “find and retrieve subconscious ideas,”? I guess I’m complaining because I want to see it and can’t. On XI, you have day after day of rehearsal and literally hear the songs come together but on XII, you have a different thing going on: these are all studio outtakes. How can you reveal “Visions Of Johanna” and also? How can you explain the artistic decision to make it quiet. The raucous “Vision” is great but it doesn’t really show anything, it doesn’t illuminate the one know and love..
Lyrically, XII has nothing much happening we don’t already know. With exceptions, the changes are for syllables, clarity and pruning. An exception: “Medicine Sunday” is what we came for, an early take on “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” meets “Temporary Like Achilles” but there aren’t enough of those tracks. And any way, we know most of the rest from I – III. “I Wanna Be Your Lover” is his greatest Beatles nod -but we knew that.