Blonde on Blonde – Bob Dylan (1966)

This has got to be one of my favourite albums of all time!!

1960s: Days of Rage


Blonde on Blonde is the seventh studio album by American singer-songwriterBob Dylan, released on June 20, 1966 by Columbia Records. Recording sessions began in New York in October 1965 with numerous backing musicians, including members of Dylan’s live backing band, the Hawks. Though sessions continued until January 1966, they yielded only one track that made it onto the final album—’One of Us Must Know (Sooner or Later)‘. At producer Bob Johnston‘s suggestion, Dylan, keyboardist Al Kooper, and guitarist Robbie Robertson moved to the CBS studios in Nashville, Tennessee. These sessions, augmented by some of Nashville’s top session musicians, were more fruitful, and in February and March all the remaining songs for the album were recorded. Blonde on Blonde completed the trilogy of rock albums that Dylan recorded in 1965 and 1966, starting with Bringing It All Back Home and Highway…

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The junky genius of Alexander Trocchi | Tony O’Neill | The Guardian

The plotless beauty of his writing, and its fearless look at the emptiness of his own life, put ‘the Scottish Beat’ on a par with Kafka and Camus.

My scow is tied up in Flushing, NY, alongside the landing stage of the Mac Asphalt and Construction Corporation. It is now just after five in the afternoon. Today at this time it is still afternoon, and the sun, striking the cinderblocks of the main building of the works has turned them pink. The motor cranes and the decks of the other scows tied up round about are deserted.

Half an hour ago I gave myself a fix.

So begins Cain’s Book, Alexander Trocchi‘s incredible novel of existential dread. Young Adam, its predecessor, is better known, but the latter is the “Scottish Beat’s” classic.

Asked to name the best existential literature, most of us would probably say Albert Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre or Franz Kafka. But Cain’s Book actually takes the reader one step further into the philosophical world of existential angst than any of them. It positively drowns us in a word of unremitting absurdity and meaninglessness.

A roman à clef, Cain’s Book details the life of one Joe Nechhi, a Glaswegian heroin addict living and working on a scow in New York’s Hudson harbor. It is a book almost entirely devoid of plot: Nechhi occasionally details trips into the city to score heroin, recollects his childhood in Glasgow, or talks of his attempts to write a book. What is incredible about the book is its unrelenting bleakness, and the sheer poetic quality of Trocchi’s writing.

Heroin for Trocchi, as Remainder author Tom McCarthy noted in a lecture on Cain’s Book recently, “is a moveable void: taking that void around the city with him, in him, he ensures that he inhabits negative space constantly. This is his poetic project and it’s also the way his whole perception system works at its most basic level (the two are the same).”

In real life, Trocchi seemed very glad to cut himself off from his peers, saying that his only concerns as a writer were “sodomy and lesbianism”, that those were the only interesting subjects in the previous 20 years of Scottish writing and that “I have written it all.”

Sadly, Cain’s Book was his last. As the 60s gave way to the 70s, Trocchi’s addiction to heroin took its toll and his talent lay pretty much squandered. The stories of his wild and tragic life are infamous and extensively documented in many of the leading “swinging 60s” biographies (Marianne Faithfull’s account of doing drugs with Trocchi is one of the best). Despite his addictions, and his sad death at the age of 59, Trocchi left us some of the bleakest, most beautiful writing to come out of the 60s.

In Cain’s Book the writing is all – the words ebb and flow like the inky blackness of the Hudson River. Trocchi’s descriptive powers are mesmerising: one barely even notices the lack of narrative drive until after the book has been put down.

His other books includes some interesting pseudonymous pornography for the Olympia Press. (Titles like Helen and Desire, Sappho of Lesbos and White Thighs deliver their smut with a Sadean political edge.) Young Adam, of course, was turned into a successful film starring Ewan McGregor, and helped to raise the author’s public perception a little. But it’s Cain’s book that best fulfils Trocchi’s hopes for “the invisible insurrection of a thousand minds”.

Alexander Trocchi

Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece, “Blood on the Tracks,” Is Still Hard to Find | The New Yorker

By Alex Ross (New Yorker Magazine)

In September, 1974, Bob Dylan spent four days in the old Studio A, his favorite recording haunt in Manhattan, and emerged with the greatest, darkest album of his career. It is a ten-song study in romantic devastation, as beautiful as it is bleak, worthy of comparison with Schubert’s “Winterreise.” Yet the record in question—“Blood on the Tracks”—has never officially seen the light of day. The Columbia label released an album with that title in January, 1975, but Dylan had reworked five of the songs in last-minute sessions in Minnesota, resulting in a substantial change of tone. Mournfulness and wistfulness gave way to a feisty, festive air. According to Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard, the authors of the book “A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of ‘Blood on the Tracks,’ ” from 2004, Dylan feared a commercial failure. The revised “Blood” sold extremely well, reaching the top of the Billboard album chart, and it ended talk of Dylan’s creative decline. It was not, however, the masterwork of melancholy that he created in Studio A.

For decades, the first “Blood” circulated on a bootleg called the New York Sessions. The compact disc that I picked up in a basement Greenwich Village store had a pleasant overlay of vinyl noise—the result of a transfer from a test pressing. Although several of the tracks have shown up in Columbia’s long-running Bootleg Series, the perennial absence of the full album has made fans wonder whether Dylan is wary of revisiting a turbulent time of his life, when his first marriage, to Sara Lownds, was dissolving. Dylan has denied that “Blood” is autobiographical; in his memoir, “Chronicles: Volume One,” he suggests that the songs were based on Chekhov. Artists tend to dislike personal readings of their most personal work.

Last month, Columbia issued “More Blood, More Tracks: The Bootleg Series, Vol. 14.” Available both as a single-disk compilation and as a six-CD “deluxe edition,” it is both more and less than what Dylan obsessives have been tiresomely clamoring for. The logical move would have been to include the entire album in its initial guise. Yet the single disk gives you only two of the test-pressing tracks, alongside some admittedly riveting outtakes. The box set has all of the discarded tracks, but they are scattered through a complete chronological survey of the four days of sessions—five and a half hours of Dylan at the height of his powers. You will have to study the track listings to assemble the original record. The elusiveness of “Blood on the Tracks” has been integral to its allure, and so it remains.

The Morgan Library, which owns the autograph manuscript of “Winterreise,” also possesses a five-inch-by-three-inch red spiral notebook in which Dylan wrote down lyrics for “Blood on the Tracks.” A hardback book included with Columbia’s “deluxe edition” reproduces forty pages of sketches. Some of them are sung more or less as written on both incarnations of the album:

He woke up, the room was bare
He could didn’t see her anywhere
He told himself he didn’t care,
pushed the window open wide
Then felt an emptiness inside
to which he just could not relate
Brought on by a Simple Twist of Fate

Other lyrics never saw the light of day, and are brutally confessional: “Doomed (led) by a heart that wanders astray / Trapped by a brain that I can’t throw away . . . Was it really 12 years ago, well, it seems like just the other day . . . And it’s Breaking me up with only myself to blame.”

Clichés about heartbreak feeding genius fail to explain the singular potency of “Blood on the Tracks.” The rawness of feeling is certainly there, but it is joined to meticulous craftsmanship in the working-out of words and music. The notebook shows constant, obsessive revision—a sort of perfectionism of disaster. “Idiot Wind,” the extended primal scream at the heart of the album, is seen in drafts so crowded with marginal additions that they are hardly legible. Often Dylan doesn’t cross things out, instead superimposing alternatives:

The priest wore black on the seventh day and waltzed around on a tilted floor
stepped all over me
After you (came down on me) you said you never saw my face before
did me in
done
(After you stepped all over my head, you said ya never wanted to see my face no more)
I BEG YOUR PARDON MADAM
(thru the circles round your eyes)
IDIOT WIND – BLOWIN EVERY TIME YOU MOVE YOUR JAW
FROM THE GRAND COOLIE DAM TO THE MARDI GRAS
(blowing thru the hot and dusty skies)

Such collisions of hallucinatory images and dour realism—the waltzing priest, the marital argument—are common in Dylan’s work, yet here the literary touches seem less an artful device than a form of extreme emphasis. What’s more, the writing process is open-ended: images are shuffled around through successive drafts and, later, through successive takes in the studio. That priest waltzes on a tilted floor; then he waltzes while a building burns; then he sits stone-faced. The wind blows from the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras, then to the Capitol.

The music that Dylan wrote for these lyrics has a chilly, clammy air. His guitar is in open-E tuning, meaning that all six strings of the guitar are tuned to notes of the E-major triad: E, B, E, G#, B, E. As a result, the tonic chord rings rich and bright. But each verse begins with a jarring A-minor chord, which tends to land awkwardly. The middle note easily strays off center, souring the sound. Occasionally, a stray F-sharp bleeds through, adding a Romantic tinge. The unwieldiness of the progression is at one with the fraught atmosphere of the text.

The emotional violence is troubling. The word “idiot” is flung down twelve times. Some lines are openly assaultive: “One day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes, / Blood on your saddle.” Here, Dylan’s original approach makes a substantial difference. He made four complete takes in New York, plus several rehearsals and false starts. Each time, he has only a quiet bass guitar backing him. (A ghostly organ was later overdubbed.) The tempo is slow, the delivery subdued. All this is at odds with the song’s smoldering rage, and the contradiction gets resolved in the final chorus, where Dylan shifts from the second person to the first-person plural: “Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats / Blowing through the letters that we wrote . . . We’re idiots, babe, it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.”

Many Dylanists will disagree with me—the second “Blood” has eloquent defenders—but to my ears the later version, recorded with six pick-up musicians in Minnesota, cuts out much of the complexity. Mannerisms overtake the singer’s delivery. “Idiot” becomes “yidiot,” and a goofy pirate yowl periodically intrudes: “I woke up on the roadside, daydreaming about the way things sometimes aaahhhhhrrrre.” (When he does this on one of the New York takes, Tony Brown, the bass player, laughs out loud.) The admission of shared responsibility at the end doesn’t register: you’re carried away by the momentum of the band.

All through the New York sessions, you hear a persistent downward tug in the voice, a grimace of regret. Even the album’s livelier numbers, such as “You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go,” can be wrenched into the abyss; on one take, the tempo drastically slows, giving an almost tragic tinge to a line like “I’ve only known careless love.” The potential downside is a tendency toward relentlessness: one piece after another in the key of E, spiralling through love and loss. The final album offers more variety. The Minnesota band gives a rollicking energy to the cinematic yarn of “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts.” Arguably, that song suffers under the austere New York style, though I love it anyway.

Ultimately, the long-running debate over the competing incarnations of “Blood on the Tracks” misses the point of what makes this artist so infinitely interesting, at least for some of us. Jeff Slate, who wrote liner notes for “More Blood, More Tracks,” observes that Dylan’s work is always in flux. The process that is documented on these eighty-seven tracks is not one of looking for the “right” take; it’s the beginning of an endless sequence of variations, which are still unfolding on his Never-Ending Tour. In an article from 1999, I notated some of Dylan’s live revisions of “Simple Twist of Fate.” The “More Blood” book reproduces alternate lyrics that were written on stationery from the Hotel Drei Könige am Rhein, in Basel. Dylan is still at it. The other night, in Durham, North Carolina, he sang:

He woke up and she was gone
He didn’t see nothing but the dawn
Got out of bed and put his shoes back on
Then he pushed back the blinds
Found a note she left behind
What’d it say? It said you should have met me back in ‘58
We could have avoided this, ah, little simple twist of fate.

To assemble the original “Blood on the Tracks” from the eighty-seven takes on “More Blood, More Tracks,” select tracks 69 (CD 5, No. 3), 71 (CD 5, No. 5), 34 (CD 3, No. 3), 76 (CD 5, No. 10), 48 (CD 4, No. 2), 16 (CD 2, No. 5), 11 (CD 1, No. 11), 59 (CD 4, No. 13), 46 (CD 3, No. 15), and 58 (CD 4, No. 12).

Source: Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece, “Blood on the Tracks,” Is Still Hard to Find | The New Yorker

International Times

1960s: Days of Rage


International Times (it or IT) is the name of various underground newspapers, with the original title founded in London in 1966. Editors included Hoppy, David Mairowitz, Roger Hutchinson, Peter Stansill, Barry Miles, Jim Haynes and playwright Tom McGrath. Jack Moore, avant-garde writer William Levy and Mick Farren, singer of The Deviants, also edited at various periods. … The paper’s logo is a black-and-white image of Theda Bara, vampish star of silent films. The founders’ intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s It girl, but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident and, once deployed, not changed. Paul McCartney donated to the paper as did Allen Ginsberg through his Committee on Poetry foundation. International Times was launched on 15 October 1966 at The Roundhouse at an ‘All Night Rave’…

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Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters

1960s: Days of Rage


“The Merry Pranksters were cohorts and followers of American author Ken Kesey in 1964. Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters lived communally at Kesey’s homes in California and Oregon, and are noted for the sociological significance of a lengthy road trip they took in the summer of 1964, traveling across the United States in a psychedelic painted school bus called Furthur or Further, organizing parties and giving out LSD. During this time they met many of the guiding lights of the mid-1960s cultural movement and presaged what are commonly thought of as hippies with odd behavior, tie-dyed and red, white and blue clothing, and renunciation of normal society, which they dubbed The Establishment. Tom Wolfe chronicled their early escapades in The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test; Wolfe also documents a notorious 1966 trip on Further from Mexico through Houston, stopping to visit Kesey’s friend, novelist Larry…

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Coney Island of the Mind – Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1958)

1960s: Days of Rage


“This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of Coney Island of the Mind, Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s landmark second volume of poetry. In commemoration, New Directions has recently released a new hardback edition of the book, complete with a CD of the author reading the bulk of its poems, as well as selections from Pictures of the Gone World, his first collection of verse. Such an elaborate republication is highly appropriate–for time has revealed Coney Island of the Mind to be not only a book of great cultural importance, but also a major classic of modern poetry. As a social phenomenon Coney Island of the Mind is truly remarkable. With roughly a million copies in print, few poetry collections come anywhere close to matching its readership. Raw sales, though, only tell part of the story. Along with Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl

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Kenny Wilson at Bath Royal Literary and Scientific Institution 12th July 2017

This is a video of my talk at BRLSI in July. It’s not great quality but you get the whole thing! I originally put it on YouTube but it got blocked because of my use of two Bob Dylan songs. This was a bit disappointing but I have decided to upload it here instead. I hope Bob won’t mind too much, he always seemed to understand the true value of copyright theft and plagiarism!

Me? I’m having trouble with the Tombstone Blues!