‘BORGES’ POE”: Emron Esplin’s ground-breaking intercultural study reviewed

Now published in: ES Review: Spanish Journal of English Studies (Valladolid, Spain), No 39, 2018, pp. 307-311 (on-line at: https://doi.org/10.24197/ersjes.39.2018.307-311)

is my review of:

Emron Esplin, Borges’s  Poe:  The  Influence  and  Reinvention  of  Edgar Allan Poe in Spanish America, The New Southern Studies, University of Georgia Press, 2016, pp. xi+239, ISBN: 9780820349053.

This is a fascinating and groundbreaking study of the convergence of two of the Americas’ most important writers in the fantastic, detective and essayistic genres, and brings together in one place information on Borges’ readings of Poe that was previously available only in dispersed or summary form.

Extract:

Jorge Luis Borges famously wrote, speaking of Franz Kafka, that writers are the creators of their precursors, and certainly it is all but impossible today for anyone who has read Borges to read Edgar Allan Poe without the looming shadow of the great Argentinian. Poe’s presence in Borges is at the same time but a part of a wider phenomenon of the US author’s influence in Spanish America, extending to other celebrated writers such as Rubén Darío, Julio Cortázar and Carlos Fuentes. Equally, the Borges-Poe link is of a strength and solidity sufficient to justify the appearance, in the shape of the volume under review, of a book-length study.

The relationship between the two writers has been the subject of critical attention over time, the academic state of play as at the end of last century being summarised in a contribution by Graciela E. Tissera to the multi-author work Poe Abroad, edited by Lois Davis Vines and published in 1999. The extension and detail of Emron Esplin’s study reflect the multidirectionality of existing and potential Poe-Borges scholarship, in the light of the ceaseless revisits to Poe made by Borges across his writing career. The author is more than qualified for such a task, as coeditor of the collective volume of 2014, Translated Poe, which, as its title suggests, takes the internationalisation of Poe as its watchword.

There are multiple obvious similarities between the respective literary productions of Poe and Borges. Shared characteristics that might come to mind include: a cerebral and rational fascination with the bizarre and the fantastic; an emphasis on the literary work as made object or construct; and a career-long preference for brevity, for the short poem, the short story, the short nonfictional text (essay, prologue, review). At the same time, Borges’s comments on and use of Poe exhibit a marked selectivity. His interest in the American writer focuses primarily on three aspects: Poe’s detective fiction; his novel The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket; and his texts of literary theory, notably “The Philosophy of Composition.” (…)

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In a caged world – reflections on Suzanne Bier’s film BIRD BOX

Bird Box by Suzanne Bier – Netflix film, 2018, with Sandra Bullock

Suzanne Bier’s film Bird Box shows us the collapse of civilisation into human-made chaos and the possibility of a return to more natural ways of being. It begins with the spread of a collective psychosis which begins in Romania and spreads to Russia and then via Alaska to the US. Those touched by the psychosis become suicidal and self-destructive, as symbolised by multiple car crashes.

The US President decrees a state of emergency, closes the borders and advises not using social networks. At one point a character declares: ‘Let’s make the end of the world great again’. These are virtually the only ‘political’ references in the film. It is in no way a direct allegory of Trump’s America, but it does symbolise dangerous tendencies in the contemporary world as a whole. The internet is not present and is scarcely mentioned in the film, and indeed the social networks are not used. Eventually the internet goes down altogether. Mobile phones appear only to witness failed communications. There is no-one at the other end of the phone.

The collective psychosis is not a stand-in for the internet as such, nor should it be seen other than superficially as something external or non-human evil. We can see it as representing the current trend to irrationality which manifests itself across the globe in different forms of fanaticism and extremism – political, religious or around group identity.

The caged birds appear first when found in a supermarket; until the end they seem more a symbol than a part of the plot. Finally when they are released we can see them as emblems of the spirit of freedom that is blocked by the psychosis and can only express itself if humanity once again becomes closer to nature. The return to nature is symbolised by water (the river; crossing the rapids reminds us of the difficulty of the challenge), by the children (whose anonymity as ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ signifies that only on the other side can they fully become themselves), and by the calm space, surrounded by nature, of the school for the blind, in which paradoxically it is possible to see what those who appeared to see have been blind to.

In this film we see humanity tearing itself apart in demented self-harm, in a process to which technology is not the solution. Only through the eyes of a child or of a blind person can the return be glimpsed to more natural and less destructive forms of human communication.

JOSÉ SARAMAGO, MIGUEL DE CERVANTES AND FERNANDO PESSOA: THE LAST NOTEBOOK OF LANZAROTE

José Saramago, ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote: O diário do ano do Nobel’, Porto: Porto Editora, 2018, 269 pp., ISBN 978-972-0-03128-0

The International José Saramago Conference held in Coimbra (Portugal) from 8 to 10 October 2018 (see entry on this blog for 19 October) also saw the launch of ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’, the sixth and final volume in the series of Saramago’s diaries known as the Cadernos de Lanzarote, covering the year 1998 and part of 1999 and with an introduction by his widow, Pilar del Río. This material has been released only now, eight years after the novelist’s death, in the wake of its surprise discovery on Saramago’s home computer.

1998, as the book’s subtitle reminds us, was the year of Saramago’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and the book reflects this by including his Nobel lecture and acceptance speech, which had earlier been published together as ‘Discursos de Estocolmo’ (Lisbon: Fundação José Saramago, 1998). Curiously there is virtually no entry for the moment at Frankfurt airport on 8 October 1998 when Saramago was apprised of the honour, only the laconic jotting ‘Aeropuerto de Frankfurt. Prémio Nobel’.

The entries as a whole vary from one-liners through occasional pieces to reproductions of full-length articles and speeches from across 1998, including Saramago’s important addresses to the Guadalajara book fair in Mexico (on democracy in crisis) and to the Colegio de México (organised by Carlos Fuentes, on the author vs. narrator issue in literature).

Out of this rich and diverse material, I draw the reader’s attention to a piece whose existence I was not aware of and which I believe deserves to be better known. It appears between pages 112 and 118 as an entry for 31 May 1998, with no title and unsourced, and it is therefore not clear if it was given as a lecture and where it was published. In it, Saramago delineates an analogy between two giants of Iberian literature, Miguel de Cervantes and Fernando Pessoa, suggesting that despite one being Spanish from the 17th century and the other Portuguese from the 20th, key similarities bind them in their respective treatments of human identity.

Cervantes’ character Alonso Quijano metamorphoses into Don Quixote, a person with a different life-history and character traits. The historical Fernando Pessoa morphs into Alberto Caeiro, Álvaro de Campos, Ricardo Reis and Bernardo Soares, heteronyms whose biography and literary predilections are not those of their poet-creator, the orthonymic Pessoa. As Saramago puts it, ‘Conhecemos tudo da vida de Don Quijote de La Mancha, porém nada sabemos da vida de Alonso Quijano’ (‘We know all about the life of Don Quijote de La Mancha, but about the life of Alonso Quijano we know nothing’), until ’em um dia da sua insignificante vida Alonso Quijano decidiu ser outra pessoa‘ (‘one day in his insignificant life, Alonso Quijano decided to be another person‘) (114). In parallel, Saramago reads Fernando Pessoa’s ‘multipersonalização sucessiva’ as the poet ‘tornando … a ser alguém, na medida em que pôde tornar-se outro’ (‘becoming someone once again, to the extent that he could become someone else’) (116). He concludes that between Cervantes and Pessoa, if there are clear similarities in the search for the other, the outcomes are different, as, if ‘Pessoa dispersou-se noutros, e nessa dispersão, porventura, se reencontrou’ (‘Pessoa dispersed himself in others, and in that dispersal, it may be, he found himself again’), ‘Quijano substituiu-se a si mesmo por outro enquanto a morte não chegava para fazer voltar tudo ao princípio’ (‘Quijano substituted himself with another, until death arrived to send everything back to the beginning’) (118).

The complexities of the similarity/difference axis between the two Iberian icons are densely and carefully handled by Saramago in this piece. It is an article which the American critic (and great Saramaguian) Harold Bloom could have written, but to my knowledge Bloom has not ventured this particular comparison. There is a wealth of material in ‘Último caderno de Lanzarote’ of interest to students of Saramago and of literature, but this particular rescued gem is arguably the most interesting element of all, as it enshrines the appreciation of two essential figures of Iberian literature, Cervantes and Pessoa, at the hands of a third, none other than Saramago.

BLOOD ON 86 TRACKS: 6-CD SET CHARTS MAKING OF BOB DYLAN’S MASTERPIECE

The appearance of the 6-CD box set ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ as Vol. 14 in ‘The Bootleg Series’, Bob Dylan’s ongoing mega-collection of archive releases, is a landmark moment for his followers, as it charts the making of 1975’s ‘Blood on the Tracks’, considered by many if not most to be the best of all his albums.

It has already generated some excellent writing, by Alex Ross in the New Yorker (13 Nov 2018):
https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/bob-dylans-masterpiece-is-still-hard-to-find
(‘Bob Dylan’s Masterpiece Is Still Hard to Find’)
and Greil Marcus in Rolling Stone (25 Oct 2018):
https://www.rollingstone.com/music/music-features/real-life-rock-top-ten-746600/ ;
and in France, in the magazine Rock&Folk (No 616, Dec 2018), a review by Nicolas Ungemit (p. 81) and an article (‘Bob Dylan’) by Charles Figat (pp. 46-50).

Details of the release are:
‘Bob Dylan, More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14, Deluxe Edition’ (Columbia Records, 2018): 6 CDs with book/disc case with introduction by Ben Rollins, notes by Jeff Slate and detailed track listing; plus ‘Stories in the Press: Photographs, Writings and Memorabilia’, souvenir illustrated book with introduction by Ben Rollins, including reproduction of Dylan’s notebook for the songs.

My own take follows, in which I will concentrate mostly on the song canon and lyrical aspects of this release.

**
Bob Dylan’s never-ending Bootleg Series marches on, and with this release reaches its Vol. 14 (actually the twelfth release, since Vols. 1 to 3 appeared as a single package). Since Vol. 8 the presentation of the releases has become distinctly postmodern, with multiple variants and permutations and only the most comprehensive (and expensive) avatars having definitive status for Dylan completists (if in our times of information overload that category of person still exists). This latest offering is available in an abbreviated 1-CD version and a full ‘deluxe’ 6-CD version (the latter accompanied by two souvenir books). The full version breaks new ground in being marketed as the series’ first limited-edition issue, the Dylan community having been warned that once the current run of pressings has been exhausted, it will not be reissued. This review will concentrate on the full version, given that the 1-CD release, even if it is the version that will remain on the market, offers but a highly incomplete selection.

The deluxe ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ won itself immediate special status among Dylan fans, even before release, for the irrefutable reason that it charts the complete recording sessions for ‘‘Blood on the Tracks’’, the album near-universally hailed by the singer-songwriter’s acolytes as his unsurpassed masterpiece. Michael Gray, already with a quarter-century’s hindsight, called it in 2000 ‘an album of genius’, ‘triumphantly showing more subtlety and nuance than anything he’d ever done’ (‘Song and Dance Man III: The Art of Bob Dylan’, London: Cassell, 2000, p. 8), indeed declaring: ‘This album is almost certainly his best’ (p. 181) – a judgment which later decades have vindicated.

This addition to the Bootleg Series thus joins 2015’s vol. 12, ‘The Cutting Edge’, which similarly gathered, in its 18-disc maximum variant, Dylan’s complete recording sessions for his other indisputable peak period, namely 1965-1966. Thus, what we already had for ‘Bringing It All Back Home’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’, we now also have for ‘Blood on the Tracks’.

All 86 tracks were laid down in 1974-1975, and with one exception all relate to ‘Blood on the Tracks’, the studio album finally released in January 1975. The exception is yet another recording (on my count Dylan’s fifth to have official release) of the folk standard ‘Spanish is the Loving Tongue’, which, while pleasant enough, feels like an intruder. The remaining 85 tracks consists of variants on a total of 12 songs – the ten that appeared on the 1975 album, plus two that surfaced later, ‘Call Letter Blues’ and ‘Up to Me’.

For all that Dylan’s listeners know them so well, it is useful to recall the ten remarkable songs which graced the finished ‘Blood on the Tracks’ that appeared on the world’s delighted markets in January 1975: five in versions emanating from the New York sessions of September 1974, namely ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Meet Me in the Morning’, ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’; and five re-recorded in Minneapolis in December 1974, i.e. ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, ‘Idiot Wind’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’. ‘Call Letter Blues’ and ‘Up to Me’ were omitted, most likely as being too similar respectively to ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Shelter from the Storm’.

The fascination exerted by the new compilation is despite the fact that the six discs do not really contain any brand-new revelations. There are no previously unknown songs, and no undiscovered significant lyrical variations. The notes to the first of the two souvenir books outline in all requisite detail the 86 tracks’ origins and, where relevant, previous release(s).

It is worth mapping the tracks that had official release between the 1975 album and today, appearing on compilations, soundtracks or B-sides, not least because several feature alternate lyrics and highly different performances. The earliest are ‘You’re A Big Girl Now’ (17 Sept 1974, Take 2, remake) and ‘Up To Me’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 2, remake 3,) which surfaced in 1985 on the 3-disc compilation ‘Biograph’, the latter song coming as a surprise to most listeners. Then in 1991, on ‘The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3’, came ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ (16 Sept 1974, Take 2), ‘Idiot Wind’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 4, remake), ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ (19 Sept 1974, Take 3, remake 2), plus Take 2 from 16 Sept 1974 of the previously unknown ‘Call Letter Blues’; the first three all offered significant lyrical variants. Later, a version of ‘Shelter from the Storm’, similar but (see below) not identical to Take 1 of that song from 17 Sept 1974 saw the light of day, first on the film soundtrack ‘Jerry Maguire’ (1996) and subsequently on the 1997 compilation ‘The Best of Bob Dylan’; and finally, Take 1, remake from 19 Sept 1974 of ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ had surfaced in 2012 as the B-side to a single fronted by ‘Duquesne Whistle’. The years between 1985 and 2012, then, saw the official release of six of the ten ‘Blood on the Tracks’ songs in alternate versions, plus the two songs dropped from the album. The four songs of which no official alternate takes existed till now were ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, ‘You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go’, ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘Buckets of Rain’.

 

    

 

Lyric differences are an obvious issue when one evaluates different recordings of the same song, but in the case of this release absolute novelties are conspicuous by their absence: indeed, in live performance over the years Dylan has rehandled the words of both ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ and ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ far more radically than anything that emerges as genuinely new on this release. There are lyrical divergences between New York and Minneapolis for ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘Idiot Wind’, ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’ and ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, but for the three first-named the differences concern versions that appeared on ‘The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3’ and thus entered Dylan lore decades back. The New York sessions themselves meanwhile throw up surprisingly few lyrical variants of any significance: the only ones worth writing home about are for ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ and ‘Shelter From the Storm’. Nonetheless, what is new is that we now and for the first time have all the recorded lyric variants, outtake or finished version, together in one place.

For ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’, ‘Shelter from the Storm’ and ‘Meet Me in the Morning’, what we have by comparison with the released album is, in each case, an extra stanza. In the first-named, an additional (sixteenth) stanza coming between stanzas 11 and 12 of the released version, we have the privilege of extra data on three of this complex song’s protagonists:

‘Lily’s arms were locked around the man that she dearly loved to touch
She forgot all about the man she couldn’t stand who hounded her so much
I’ve missed you so, she said to him, and he felt she was sincere
But just behind the door he felt jealousy and fear
It was just another night in the life of the Jack of Hearts’.

This stanza was, however, known to the more assiduous among Dylan’s followers, having appeared in the official lyrics books since ‘Lyrics 1962-1985’ in 1988 (the Christopher Ricks variorum edition of 2014 includes it as an ‘unsung verse’). It was also sung by Joan Baez in her performance of the song on her 1976 live album, ‘From Every Stage’.

The box set offers four versions of ‘Shelter from the Storm’, all from 16 September 1974. One (Take 3) is incomplete; of the remaining three, Take 4 is the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ version, Take 2 is very similar, and the only version with substantive lyrical variation from the standard release is Take 1, which the track listing claims to have been ‘previously released on the Jerry McGuire [sic] original soundtrack’ (‘More Blood, More Tracks’, Rollins/Slate book/disc case, p. 52). In fact it is not exactly that version: it has the same vocal and guitar tracks but also features piano and bass parts which have been edited out of the Maguire take (which incidentally – in a reissue not mentioned in the ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ print material – had a second release in 1997 on an obscure compilation that was not released in all markets (and not in the US), ‘The Best of Bob Dylan’, where the notes credited it to the film. Curiously, Slate’s detailed notes on the songs tell a different story from the track listing, admitting that ‘it’s this version, without bass and piano [my italics] that is used in the film Jerry Maguire’ (book/disc case, p. 29). The Maguire/Best Of version thus both is and is not present here. What it and Take 1 do share is an extra stanza, coming in as sixth and bringing the song’s stanza count up to eleven. Attentive Dylan listeners may recognise it, but it appears in no published lyrics book, not even the Ricks variorum. On Take 1, the standard stanza 6 (‘Now there’s a wall between us’) becomes stanza 8; standard 7 stays in its place; and standard 8 to 10 become 9 to 11. The additional stanza reads:

‘Now the bonds are broken, but they can be retied
By one more journey to the woods, the holes where spirits hide
It’s a never-ending battle for a peace that’s always torn
Come in, she said, I’ll give you
Shelter from the storm’

Finally, ‘Meet Me in the Morning’ appears on this compilation in a version earlier released only on a Dylan rarity, namely as the B-side to the single featuring ‘Duquesne Whistle’ which appeared in 2012 to promote Dylan’s album ‘Tempest’. This differs from the standard ‘Blood on the Tracks’ version by including an extra stanza: otherwise it is the same take. The ‘new’ material comprises an extra fourth stanza between standard stanzas 3 and 4, with standard 4 and 5 thus becoming 5 and 6. The edited, 5-stanza version which appeared on ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is not included in the box set. The extra stanza had, though, been included in the various lyrics books, with the variorum edition again noting it as ‘unsung’. It runs:

‘The birds are flyin’ low, babe, honey I feel so exposed
The birds are flyin’ low, babe, honey I feel so exposed
Well, I ain’t got any matches and the station doors are closed’

The three ‘missing’ stanzas are all of quality, and detailed analysis would show that all three add something to their respective songs. Also important, though hardly a new discovery, are the substantial lyric variations between New York and Minneapolis affecting ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, ‘Idiot Wind’ and to a lesser extent ‘If You See Her, Say Hello’. Thanks to The Bootleg Series vols. 1-3, these lyrical differences have been well enough known for almost three decades, but it may be as well to suggest here that there is no question of superiority/inferiority as regards Dylan’s rewriting of these songs. For ‘Tangled Up in Blue’ it may be regrettable that Minneapolis eliminates the third-to-first-person modulation in favour of first person throughout, but Dylan used the same technique on the released version of ‘Simple Twist of Fate’, and employing it twice on the same record could have looked like overkill. By contrast, Minneapolis improves on New York in stanza 3 by shifting the scene of the drifter-narrator’s second job from L.A., ‘loading cargo onto a truck’, to the more atmospheric New Orleans, ‘on the fishing boats / Just outside of Delacroix’. In stanza 6 too, Minneapolis scores over New York by replacing the rather thin lines beginning ‘He was always in a hurry …’ by a more precise location in time and place, on Montague Street and with ‘revolution in the air’. In the case of ‘Idiot Wind’, New York and Minneapolis have completely different musical backgrounds inviting head-to-head comparison. New York has a reference to the I Ching, a gesture towards Chinese spirituality unparalleled in Dylan, while Minneapolis replaces the Chinese text by a more mundane ‘fortune-teller’. On the other hand, it is Minneapolis, not New York, that has the killer lines: ‘Idiot wind / Blowin’ like a circle around my skull / From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Capitol’, triumphantly replacing the less expressive ‘Blowin’ like a circle around my jaw / From the Grand Coulee Dam to the Mardi Gras; in a stroke of genius, Dylan traces a west-east line across a United States no longer of carnival but where something is rotten in the heart of government. Meanwhile on ‘If You See Her, Say Hello,’ the changes, though confined to one stanza, got Pete Hamill’s sleevenotes pulled from later pressings of the album, as he had quoted lines (‘If you’re makin’ love to her / Kiss her for the kid …’) from the song’s New York avatar that did not correspond to what Dylan sang on the album. Also worth mentioning is the presence in the box set (in multiple takes but with no important lyric variations) of a neglected song, ‘Up To Me’ – which includes lyrical gems like ‘I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity’ and ‘Was I a fool or not to protect your real identity?’, but despite being available since 1985 via ‘Biograph’ has never fully received its due, the likes of Michael Gray, Christopher Ricks and Stephen Scobie mentioning it but in passing.

The packaging includes, in the second book (‘Stories in the Press’), material of relevance to the lyrical aspect. Pete Hamill’s ill-fated sleevenotes appear, though as a screenshot-type full-page facsimile, not as text, and thus not in user-friendly from. There is also the intriguing reproduction of pages from a notebook of Dylan’s that maps parts of the songs’ composition, containing manuscript lyrics for seven of the songs from the released album plus ‘Up To Me’ (including the extra stanzas for ‘Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts’ and ‘Shelter From the Storm’) – together with, intriguingly, another nine songs which never made it to the sessions, let alone the album, and which if I mistake not were hitherto totally unknown and will no doubt be providing Dylanologists with fresh woods and pastures new to explore. The compilers committed an error in the marketed version of the box, leaving out four pages corresponding to an eighth ‘Blood on the Tracks’ song, ‘You’re a Big Girl Now’, plus part of ‘Tangled Up in Blue’. However, diligent fans spotted the omission and informed the record company, who apologised and made the missing pages available (and downloadable for free) via Dylan’s official site at: http://www.bobdylan.com/news/missing-notebook-pages/.

It is of course part of Dylan mythology that, for the half of the album’s songs concerned, the New York recordings (or those hitherto known) are preferable to their Minneapolis equivalents, and that in some universe of Platonic forms the ideal ‘‘Blood on the Tracks’’ would therefore consist of ten triumphant New York numbers, with Minneapolis defenestrated. Thus, for Alex Ross, ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is the ‘greatest, darkest album of [Dylan’s] career’, but the released album, while he admits it has ‘eloquent defenders’, is to his ears not as good as the New York ‘masterpiece of melancholy’ and ‘cuts out much of the complexity’. Greil Marcus, by contrast, argues that aspects of ‘Blood on the Tracks’, notably the New York sessions, have been ‘overpraised and overfetichised’ over the years. From a different point of view, Charles Figat asks: ‘Pourquoi cet album est-il si important?’ (‘Why is this album so important?’) and answers: ‘Peut-être parce que le chanteur y atteint un sommet d’écriture et s’y livre comme jamais auparavant’ (‘Perhaps because on it the singer reaches a peak in his writing and gives of his all like never before’) (Figat, p. 46), thus praising Dylan’s achievement without privileging a given variant.

Alex Ross notes that it is now possible to ‘assemble the original “Blood on the Tracks” from [the contents of] “More Blood, More Tracks”‘ and even lists the track sequence for doing so. This is indeed the case, but curiously what cannot be done is to assemble the released ‘Blood on the Tracks’ from this collection, thanks to the discrepancy between the edited and unedited takes of ‘Meet Me in the Morning’. Postmodernist once again, this capacious box set fails to hold within it the full ‘authentic’ components of the ‘Blood on the Tracks’ that everybody knows. It could have included a remastered version of the released album, as was done earlier in the Bootleg Series for ‘Self Portrait’, but if ever there was such an idea it was dropped.

All in all, I would prefer to avoid sterile argument about ‘what’s real and what is not’, and suggest that now that we have all the recordings at our fingertips, to promote or prefer one ‘Blood on the Tracks’ over another, New York over Minneapolis or vice versa, is simply unnecessary: each listener can choose. ‘More Blood, More Tracks’ as a whole confirms ‘Blood on the Tracks’ as Dylan’s best album, his ‘Sergeant Pepper’ or ‘”Heroes”‘, and allows us an unforgettable glimpse into the work-in-progress of a Bob Dylan at the height of his powers.

Conference: José Saramago, 20 Years of the Nobel – Coimbra (Portugal), October 2018

From 8 to 10 October 2018 I had the pleasure of attending the international conference ‘José Saramago: 20 Anos com o Prémio Nobel’ (José Saramago, 20 Years of the Nobel), held at the Convento de São Francisco conference centre in Coimbra to mark the 20th anniversary of the award in 1998 of the Nobel Prize for Literature to José Saramago (1922-2010), novelist, dramatist, essayist and more and the first Portuguese-language writer to receive that honour. The conference, whose official pages are at:
https://www.uc.pt/fluc/clp/cijs
and https://www.josesaramago.org/congresso-internacional-jose-saramago-20-anos-premio-nobel-coimbra-8-10-outubro/
was co-sponsored by a number of entities, notably the Centre for Portuguese Studies of the University of Coimbra’s Faculty of Letters and the Fundação José Saramago. The opening ceremony was attended by, among others, the President of the Republic and Saramago’s widow, Pilar del Río. The co-organisers were Professor Carlos Reis and Professor Ana Paula Arnaut, both of the Faculty of Letters.

Presented at the conference was the hitherto unpublished final volume of Saramago’s ongoing notebook ‘Cadernos de Lanzarote’, corresponding to the time of his Nobel.

The plenary lectures, panels and presentation sessions encompassed a vast range of topics related to the life’s work of the Portuguese Nobel, from perspectives ranging from the literary and the political/journalistic through to the theological, and the atmosphere was at all times both welcoming and intellectually stimulating. The proceedings concluded with a lecture by Carlos Reis on character and allegory in Saramago, a moving address by Pilar del Río, and an excellent theatrical adaptation of the novel O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis.

Summaries of the papers can be found at:
https://www.uc.pt/fluc/clp/cijs/cijs_res,
and the text of my own paper, ‘The reception of José Saramago’s O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis in the Anglophone world: translation and criticism’, is on-line at: http://www.yatrarollason.info/files/SaramagotranslationRicardoReisPAPER.pdf

(Photos: Scenes in Lisbon associated with O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis)

 

Bringing together a multitude of specialists and attended by some 200 people, this memorable event will indeed serve to further broaden and deepen research and dialogue at global level in the ever-fecund field of Saramago studies. Participation was a pleasure, and post-conference debate will be eagerly awaited!

JOSÉ SARAMAGO AND PORTUGUESE LITERATURE AND LANGUAGE: ON-LINE RESEARCH RESOURCES

My current research activity on Portuguese literature in general, and José Saramago in particular, has unearthed the existence of a wealth of invaluable research material in the field (and also on Portuguese language matters), which I now share. I am pleased to add that everything listed here is open access and free of charge!

PORTUGUESE LITERATURE IN GENERAL

Instituto Camões: Revista ‘Camões’ – on-line collection:

http://cvc.instituto-camoes.pt/conhecer/biblioteca-digital-camoes/revistas-e-periodicos/revista-camoes

FERNANDO PESSOA AND HETERONYMS

Virtually the complete works, at: Arquivo Pessoa – Lisboa: Obra Aberta CRL, 2008 – http://arquivopessoa.net

JOSÉ SARAMAGO

Biblioteca Nacional de Portugal – a wealth of archive material, to be explored at:

http://purl.pt

Notably, the original typescript, with corrections, of Saramago’s ‘O Ano da Morte de Ricardo Reis’: http://purl.pt/13872

Fundação José Saramago:

https://www.josesaramago.org/

  • Bibliography of works by and on Saramago:

https://www.josesaramago.org/bibliografia-ativa-de-jose-saramago/

https://www.josesaramago.org/bibliografia-passiva-de-jose-saramago/

  • Revista digital ‘Blimunda’ – on-line collection:

https://www.josesaramago.org/revista-digital-blimunda-i/

  • Revista de Estudos Saramaguianos – on-line collection:

https://estudossaramaguianos.com/

**

PORTUGUESE LANGUAGE

http://www.portaldalinguaportuguesa.org/main.html

and on the 1994 spelling reform:

http://voc.cplp.org/

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The compilers of this material, and Portugal’s academic, literary and cultural milieux in general are to be congratulated on making so much useful material available, in user-friendly form and free of charge. A luta continua!

REVIEW of: ‘A TREE WITH ROOTS’: FAIRPORT CONVENTION & FRIENDS AND THE SONGS OF BOB DYLAN

REVIEW of:

A TREE WITH ROOTS: FAIRPORT CONVENTION & FRIENDS AND THE SONGS OF BOB DYLAN

UMC, 2018 – identification: ISLAND 675 893-1- sleevenotes by Patrick Humphries 

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Albums of covers of Bob Dylan’s songs come in many shapes and sizes: brand-new versions or historic recordings, genre-specific collections (reggae, blues, gospel), and multi-artist versus single-artist tributes. Over the years, artist-specific volumes have included albums by Odetta, the Hollies, the Byrds, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joan Osborne, and, as recently as this year, Bettye LaVette. Of these, most were fresh recordings, the Byrds’ offering being an exception as consisting of previously released material.

 

The new compilation credited to ‘Fairport Convention & Friends’ is a hybrid affair including both standard/well-known studio material and rarities (live performances, outtakes, radio recordings): the tracks in the second category, though all previously released at some point or other, have not in general been widely diffused. The ‘& Friends’ billing suggests that this simultaneously is and is not a Fairport Convention album, reflecting the complex history of what is generally considered the UK’s greatest ever folk-rock band. Fairport have a long and chequered CV, extending from their foundation in 1967 right up to the present day, marked by innumerable personnel changes, entries, exits, re-entries and reunions (today’s Fairport membership includes one founder member, Simon Nicol, but is rather far removed from the group’s classic lineups). Of the roll-call of ex-Fairporters, the two most celebrated are songwriter-guitarist Richard Thompson, still going strong and honoured in 2011 with an OBE (Order of the British Empire), and the wonderful female vocalist Sandy Denny, who died tragically young in 1978. The ‘friends’ rubric in the title reflects the fact that there are recordings included that are credited not to Fairport, but (‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’) to Sandy Denny as solo performer, or (‘Too Much of Nothing’) to the short-lived but impressive Fairport offshoot band Fotheringay. Apart from Denny and Thompson, the vocal performers featured include Fairport’s first female vocalist, Sandy’s predecessor Judy Dyble, Ian (later Iain) Matthews, who left Fairport early but went on to have a hit with his group Matthews Southern Comfort with Joni Mitchell’s ‘Woodstock’, and Australian-born Trevor Lucas, who fronted Fotheringay and became Sandy’s husband. The tracks selected are all from Fairport’s early and middle periods, nothing later than 1977 being included, despite the band’s continued existence since: indeed, everything was recorded within Sandy Denny’s lifetime.

Fairport were from the beginning great admirers and signal promoters of the songwriting of Bob Dylan. The sleevenotes by long-standing Fairport chronicler Patrick Humphries informatively chart how what he calls Dylan’s ‘powerful  all-pervasive influence’ was lived out in the music of the UK’s premier folk-rock group. The album consists of 17 tracks, of which 13 can unqualifiedly be called Bob Dylan compositions. Of the others, ‘Jack o’Diamonds’ (from the album ‘Fairport Convention’, 1968) consists of extracts from a poem by Dylan featured on the rear sleeve of his ‘Another Side of Bob Dylan’ album, set to music by one Ben Carruthers; ‘Days of ’49” (live performance) is a song from the folk tradition covered by Dylan on ‘Self Portrait’; ‘The Ballad of Easy Rider’ (hard-to-find studio track) is a song by the Byrds’ Roger McGuinn but with input from Dylan in the chorus; and ‘Si Tu Dois Partir’ (from the album ‘Unhalfbricking’, 1969, and as a single Fairport’s one and only UK chart hit, peaking at No 21) is Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ transmuted into a pastiche cajun number sung in improvised French. The above songs are all credited to Fairport, with Trevor Lucas taking lead vocal on ‘Days of ’49’, Ian Matthews on ‘Jack o’Diamonds’ and Sandy on the other two.

The 13 pukka Dylan songs (where no vocalist is specified the vocals are a collective effort) are:

Credited to Fairport: ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ (radio session; the only track featuring Judy Dyble), ‘Dear Landlord’ (outtake from the ‘Unhalfbricking’ sessions; Sandy on vocals), ‘Open the Door Richard’ (radio), ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ (album track from ‘What We Did on Our Holidays’, 1969) and ‘Percy’s Song’ (radio; both Sandy on vocals),’George  Jackson’ (live; Trevor on vocals), ‘Tomorrow is a Long Time’ and ‘Down in the Flood’ (both live with Sandy on vocals), ‘All Along the Watchtower’ (live; Trevor on vocals), ‘Million Dollar Bash’ (album track from ‘Unhalfbricking’), and ‘Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door’ (live; Sandy on vocals).

Credited to Sandy Denny: ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ (pre-Fairport solo recording).

Credited to Fotheringay: ‘Too Much of Nothing’ (track from the album ‘Fotheringay’, 1969; Trevor on vocals).

Fairport early acquired a reputation for covering material from the more obscure crannies of the Dylan œuvre, and this is reflected in the compilation’s song selection. As might be expected, the ‘Basement Tapes’ songs are particularly well represented (with ‘Down in the Flood’, ‘Million Dollar Bash’, ‘Open the Door Richard’ and ‘Too Much of Nothing’), Fairport having been bitten like so many others by the 1967 acetate bug (they never, though, recorded ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’, albeit the title ‘A Tree With Roots’ comes from that basement song!). Apart from the basement material, ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’, ‘Percy’s Song’ and ‘I’ll Keep With Mine’ were all unreleased by Dylan at the time of recording.

There are omissions: ‘Open the Door Richard’ was also done by a later Fairport Convention incarnation on their 1989 studio album ‘Red and Gold’; Richard and Linda Thompson also covered ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ and Ian Matthews did ‘It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry’ (both on hard-to-find releases); the GPs, a one-off group mainly of ex-Fairporters fronted by Richard Thompson, did ‘Going, Going, Gone’; and – probably the most significant omission – in 1982 a reunited incarnation of Fairport, again including Richard Thompson, included a version of ‘Country Pie’ on their live album ‘Moat on the Ledge’.

If I have a cavil about the selection, it is over three songs. The version found here of ‘Percy’s Song’ is not that from the landmark album ‘Unhalfbricking’, but a radio offering (and was earlier released on ‘Heyday’, a 1987 collection of radio sessions). Similarly, the versions included of ‘Down in the Flood’ and ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’, though fronted by Sandy, are live tracks and not those to be found on her respective studio solo albums ‘The North Star Grassman and the Ravens’ (1971) and ‘Sandy’ (1972). I would suggest that the standard studio versions of these three songs, apart from being of very high quality and in no way needing substitution, are of greater historical interest. It would have been better either to use those versions, or to expand the album into a compilation with variants: indeed, between variants and omitted items there would have been enough material for a double CD!

Quibbles apart, what matters most is the enjoyability and listenability of the material chosen. The overall musical and vocal quality is, as should be expected from Fairport Convention, extremely high. Perhaps not all of the ‘new’ tracks are fully up to standard: ‘Dear Landlord’ sounds unfinished, too much the outtake which it is; ‘Lay Down Your Weary Tune’ comes over as a bit thin (and Judy Dyble was never the best vocalist) and is over-shortened (only two stanzas out of five plus chorus). Meanwhile the great majority of Sandy’s vocals are impeccable – her solo ‘It Ain’t Me, Babe’ is stunning, her performance on ‘I’ll Keep It With Mine’ is operatic, and ‘Tomorrow Is a Long Time’ and ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door’ find her deep inside song and emotions. Trevor Lucas’ forceful vocals also impress, notably on ‘Days of ’49’ and ‘Too Much of Nothing’ – though in the choruses to the latter he uses the lyric variant ‘Say hello to Marian’ (instead of ‘Say hello to Vivian’), which Dylan had explicitly condemned when Peter, Paul and Mary covered the song.

This album was long overdue, and is a remarkable record of the creative interaction between British folk-rock’s finest ensemble and the songwriting genius of Bob Dylan. The master’s songs are interpreted, cherished and transformed by the likes of Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson and Trevor Lucas, maximum exponents of their genre at the height of their powers. Fairport’s tree has set down deep roots indeed, and this excellent compilation of vintage recordings more than merits a place in any Dylan acolyte’s collection.

TRACK LISTING AND SOURCES (my grateful thanks to Antonius Bohnen for supplying this):

01-Si Tu Dois Partir [f You Gotta Go, Go Now] (2:20) [Unhalfbricking, 1969]; 02-Jack O’Diamonds (3:30) [Fairport Convention, 1968]; 03-Lay Down Your Weary Tune (3:38) [Fairport UnConventional – BBC Session 1967, 2002]; 04-Dear Landlord (4:05) [Ashley Hutchings The Guv’nor Vol. 1 – 1969, 1994]; 05-Open The Door, Richard (3:05) [Live at the BBC – 1970, 2007]; 06-I’ll Keep It With Mine (5:52) [What We Did On Our Holidays, 1969]; 07-Percy’s Song (5:26) [Heyday – BBC session 1969, 1987]; 08-The Ballad Of Easy Rider (4:55); [Guitar/Vocal (Richard Thompson) – Liege and Lief session outtake 1969, 1988]; 09-It Ain’t Me, Babe (3:42) [Sandy Denny – box set (Sandy Denny), demo 1966, 2010]; 10-George Jackson (3:44) [Fairport album ‘Nine’ – live 1973 bonus-track reissue, 2005]; 11-Tomorrow Is A Long Time (3:56) [Gold Dust- Live At The Royalty (Sandy Denny album), live 1977, 1998]; 12-Days Of ‘9 (6:18) [Come All Ye- The First Ten Years – box set, live 1973, 2017]; 13-Down In The Flood (3:38) [Come All Ye- The First Ten Years [1968-1978] – live 1973, box set, 2017]; 14-All Along The Watchtower (4:23) [Many Ears To Please- Live in Oslo 1975, 2006]; 15-Too Much Of Nothing (3:54) [album ‘Fotheringay’ (Fotheringay), 1970]; 16-Million Dollar Bash (2:55) [Unhalfbricking, 1969]; 17-Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door (4:28) [Who Knows Where The Time Goes?” – live 1974, Sandy Denny box set, 1985].

Note added 10 January 2019:

This article has now been published in:  The Bridge (Gateshead, UK), No 62, Winter 2018, pp. 75-79.