Archive for October, 2022


The splendid decor of the Grand Rex venue in Paris, with its gothic and arabesque adornments recalling an Edgar Allan Poe interior, provided a fitting setting on 11 October 2022 for the first of three Parisian shows on the European leg of Bob Dylan’s Rough and Rowdy Ways tour – named after his most recent album from 2020 and scheduled to stretch from 2021 to 2024. This gig was actually my first opportunity to sample this tour, and before considering the concert I will make some general comments on the setlist, which has scarcely changed since the tour began.

The setlist is appended to this review as it was on 11 October, though my comments here will concern the entire tour so far. It is far from being arbitrary: indeed, it has obviously been very consciously constructed. It consists throughout of seventeen songs and currently features nine (originally eight) of the ‘new’ album’s ten tracks, the only one left out being ‘Murder Most Foul’, the sixteen-minute epic about the Kennedy assassination, presumably on grounds of length. These nine songs are complemented by seven (at first eight and later briefly six) older Dylan songs and one cover version (briefly two and later changed). The two classes of song (from the ‘new’ album/not from it) are carefully interspersed so that no more than two of the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs or two of the ‘old’ songs are performed sequentially: alternance rules, and the message is surely that the old complements the new and vice versa. There have been very few changes since the tour began. Over time so far, we have had ‘Early Roman Kings’ from 2012’s Tempest edged out by the new album’s ‘Crossing the Rubicon’; the Sinatra cover ‘Melancholy Mood’ substituted by ‘That Old Black Magic’ from the same stable; and, very briefly in California, for three shows, ‘Every Grain of Sand’ surprisingly replaced as closing number by a cover of the Grateful Dead’s ‘Friend of the Devil’. For the rest, the keyword is continuity: the setlist is a work of art.

The selection of ‘old’ songs might have appeared eccentric to some. This is no greatest hits selection, far from it – as commentators have inevitably observed, no ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, no ‘Like a Rolling Stone’. Nor is any particular album privileged, with the only two songs from the same album – ‘Watching the River Flow’ and ‘When I Paint My Masterpiece’ – being from a compilation (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971). Of the remaining Dylan compositions retained, the oldest is ‘Most Likely You Go Away (and I’ll Go Mine)’ (from Blonde on Blonde, 1966); the best-known ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’ (from John Wesley Harding, 1967); the most controversial ‘Gotta Serve Somebody’, from Dylan’s religious period (Slow Train Coming, 1979); and the best ‘Every Grain of Sand’, also from that period (Shot of Love, 1981), but on a whole other poetic level. This leaves the particular case of ‘To Be Alone With You’, from Dylan’s ‘country period’ (Nashville Skyline, 1969), rewritten to the point where it comes over as virtually a different and more complex song. Virtually all the ‘old’ songs have undergone, to a greater or lesser degree, lyric changes which are not necessarily improvements, the outstanding and fortunate exception being an effectively unchanged ‘Every Grain of Sand’.

To return to Paris, it is gratifying to signal that the collective atmosphere in the packed-to-capacity concert hall was extremely warm, convivial and sympathetic to a Dylan who was visibly in a good mood and obviously relishing the songs. His delivery tended to separate the songs’ lines and phrases into fragments, a technique which may be related to his age but which has the virtue of capturing phrases for reflection. This technique arguably did not take too well in his delivery on the opener, ‘Watching the River Flow’, where the phrases seemed more like bleeding chunks, but was better integrated in the immediately following numbers and allowed some precious deliveries of key phrases like ‘The city of God is there on the hill’ (‘False Prophet’) or the Shakespearean ‘winter of my discontent’ (‘My Own Version of You’). At the end, ‘Every Grain of Sand’ – in itself one of the best songs he has ever written – was performed with a declamatory energy that provided a remarkable culmination to the evening. The song which received the strongest ovation of recognition was the familiar ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’, but ‘new’ numbers including ‘I Contain Multitudes’ and ‘Key West’ were also greeted with strong applause, indicating that those present also knew and valued the recent material and saw Dylan as no museum-piece.

As the evening unfolded, the musicians’ performance was invariably superb, and Bob Dylan’s, though variable, at its best plumbed uncanny depths. After ‘Every Grain of Sand’, sections of the public cried out for an encore – a wish not granted, but nonetheless it was clear that artist and audience had enjoyed the spectacle to a similar degree. The Grand Rex had witnessed a fine and moving evening, and of which – for time passes – we, Bob Dylan’s audience, may not see the like again.

SETLIST (same for all this tour so far; songs from Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020) in italics)

Watching the River Flow (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971)

Most Likely You Go Your Way (and I’ll Go Mine) (Blonde on Blonde, 1966)

I Contain Multitudes

False Prophet

When I Paint My Masterpiece (More Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, 1971)

Black Rider

My Own Version of You

I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (John Wesley Harding, 1967)

Crossing the Rubicon

To Be Alone With You (Nashville Skyline, 1969; rewritten)

Key West (Philosopher Pirate)

Gotta Serve Somebody (Slow Train Coming, 1979)

I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You

That Old Black Magic (Fallen Angels, 2016; Sinatra cover)

Mother of Muses

Goodbye Jimmy Reed

Every Grain of Sand (Shot of Love, 1981)



The University of Jaén, cathedral city in the heartland of Spain’s olive grove country, was host on 29 and 30 September 2022 to the First International Conference on Popular Culture, an initiative conceived within the University’s English Department and the brainchild of the department’s chair, Jesús López-Peláez Casellas.

This conference had a two-strand structure. One strand comprised panels and papers on multiple different aspects of popular culture (or low culture, or mass culture); the other consisted of three plenary lectures and various papers on the work of one major artist emanating from popular culture but not confined to it, namely Bob Dylan.

The three plenary addresses on Dylan all took a holistic approach to Dylan’s work, with the emphasis on the literary and musical intertextualities that make his songwriting a culturally complex phenomenon, remembering that his hybrid art won him the Nobel prize for Literature in 2016. The plenary speakers were: Antonio Ballesteros of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (open university, Madrid); the prestigious poet and novelist Benjamín Prado, an avid Dylan fan who affirms that every one of his books contains a Dylan reference; and independent scholar and Dylan critic Christopher Rollason (myself). 

The briefer papers on Dylan covered a range of more particular facets of the artist – his relation to television advertising (Jiri Mesic), his cultivation of insult compared to Shakespeare’s (Nadia López-Peláez Akalay), and his anti-war stance (Ishan Alwan Muhsin Al-Sweidi).

The remaining papers explored the most varied topics – Spanish stereotypes in British TV comedy (José Ruiz Mas), rock poet Patti Smith’s memoirs (Pilar Sánchez Calle), TV and film franchises and intralingual dubbing (Lucas Baeyens), awakening of minds through different musical genres (Ana Valverde González), and Batman as ‘American hero’ (Benjamín Carrascal Meneses).

The qualitative standard of the contributions was high and the atmosphere was fully propitious to debate. This event demonstrated the importance of intellectual rigour in the study of popular culture, which in our times is something not to be ignored by academia. The appellation ‘first conference’ throws out the promise of more to come, a prospect which, it is to be hoped, will come to fruition following in the steps of this highly successful inaugural event.

For fellow Dylanites: My lecture was entitled ‘Relationships of ownership: Bob Dylan and his sources’, and focused on three songs (‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’, ‘With God On Our Side’ and ‘I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine’) and the older songs that lie behind them.


La Universidad de Jaén, ciudad catedralicia en el corazón de las tierras de olivares de España, acogió en los 29 y 30 de septiembre de 2022 el Primer Congreso Internacional de Culture Popular, iniciativa del Departamento de Filología Inglesa de la Universidad concebida por su catedrático, Jesús López-Peláez Casellas.

Este congreso tuvo una estructura dividida en dos hileras. Una comprendía paneles y ponencias sobre múltiples y diversos aspectos de cultura popular (o cultura baja, o cultura de masas); la otra consistía en tres conferencias plenarias y varias ponencias acerca de la obra de un artista mayor cuya producción emana de la cultura popular sin ser limitada por ella, o sea Bob Dylan.

Las tres conferencias plenarias adoptaron un acercamiento holístico a la obra dylaniana, con el énfasis en las intertextualidades literarias y musicales que hacen de su producción un fenómeno culturalmente complejo, recordando que su arte híbrida le valió el Premio Nobel de Literatura en 2016. Los oradores plenarios fueron: Antonio Ballesteros, de la Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (Madrid); el prestigioso poeta y novelista Benjamín Prado, fan acérrimo de Dylan que afirma que cada uno de sus libros tiene alguna referencia a Dylan; y el estudioso independiente y crítico dylaniano Christopher Rollason (yo). 

Las intervenciones más breves sobre Dylan abarcaron una gama de facetas más particulares del artista – su vínculo con la publicidad televisiva (Jiri Mesic), su cultivo del insulto comparado con el mismo fenómeno en Shakespeare (Nadia López-Peláez Akalay), y sus posicionamientos antibelicistas (Ishan Alwan Muhsin Al-Sweidi).

Las restantes ponencias exploraron temas de los más variados – estereotipos españoles en comedias televisivas británicas (José Ruiz Mas), las memorias de Patti Smith, diva de la poesía rock (Pilar Sánchez Calle), franquicias de televisión o cine y doblaje intralingual (Lucas Baeyens), el despertar de la conciencia por medio de diversos géneros musicales (Ana Valverde González), y Batman como ‘American hero’ (Benjamín Carrascal Meneses).

El nivel cualitativo de las contribuciones fue alto, y la atmosfera fue plenamente propicio al debate. Este evento demostró la importancia del rigor intelectual en el estudio de la cultura popular, la cual en nuestros tiempos no es algo que debe ser marginado por el mundo académico. La denominación ‘primer congreso’ lanza una promesa de que habrá más, perspectiva que, con suerte, fructificará siguiendo los pasos de este muy exitoso evento inaugural.

Para dylanitas: Mi conferencia tuvo como título ‘Relationships of ownership: Bob Dylan and his sources’, centrándose en tres canciones de Dylan (‘Ballad of Hollis Brown’, ‘With God On Our Side’ and ‘I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine’) y las canciones más antiguas que les subyacen. .