Archive for the ‘Sin categoría’ Category

SALMAN RUSHDIE AT THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS – ON CHILDHOOD READING, CINEMA AND TECHNOLOGY

When Salman Rushdie’s name is evoked, it is all too often forgotten that he is not only a polemical figure in the areas of politics and religion, but also – and first and foremost – a practising writer with, by now, a large back catalogue of fiction and non-fiction behind him which extends far beyond ‘The Satanic Verses’ and the oft-repeated controversies around that book.

Two recent texts featuring Rushdie have appeared on the US Library of Congress site, and as they do not appear to be particularly well-known, I now give them an airing on this blog.

1) The Library of Congress Magazine for July/August 2017 features an article, ‘Salman Rushdie tells the story of how he fell in love with reading’ (pp. 26-27) in which the author speaks of his childhood passion for reading and names some of the books and writers he read and enjoyed as a boy:

http://www.loc.gov/lcm/pdf/LCM_2017_0708.pdf.

He tells how when he was growing up in Bombay (today Mumbai), his home was fortunately near both a bookshop (called ‘Reader’s Paradise’) and a lending library, both replete with books in English, and between the two he was able to devour works by Lewis Carroll, Arthur Ransome, and, later, Erle Stanley Gardner (the ‘Perry Mason’ books) and ‘the writers so beloved by Indian readers – P.G. Wodehouse, Agatha Christie, and John Masters’ – as well as piles of comic books.

We may note that the adult books mentioned fall under different kinds of genre fiction – detective fiction, thrillers, humour, adventure: Rushdie’s more literary reading came later, but on this point he astutely remarks: ‘I’ve always thought my parents were smart not to force me to read only “good” books. As long as I was reading, they were content, and they were right. The habit of reading, once formed, will last a lifetime, and the good books get their turn in the end. What matters is to be seduced.’ Indeed, Rushdie’s reading is characterised by an eclecticism that has left its mark on his writing: books in all genres can be grist to the writer’s insatiably grinding mill.

2) The Library of Congress website also features a transcript, from the Library of Congress Book Festival held in Washington, D.C., of a dialogue that took place on 24 September 2016 between Rushdie and Bilal Qureshi:

http://stream-media.loc.gov/webcasts/captions/2016nbf/16_main_srushdie.txt

In this dialogue, Rushdie raises a multitude of themes, and among those of particular interest for his activity as a writer we may note the following:

– ‘The Thousand and One Nights’: Rushdie avows the influence on his own writing of the world-famous Arabic story collection (often believed to be of Indian origin), and especially its presence in his most recent novel, “Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” (the title is another way of saying ‘1001 Nights’). He also recalls that there are other similar agglomerations of stories in classical Indian literature, such as the “Panchatantra” and the “Ocean of the Streams of Story”. Rushdie thus places his own work within a very ancient Eastern tradition of storytelling.

– cinema: Rushdie also admits the influence of cinema on his work. He recollects how as an undergraduate in the late 60s he frequented the Cambridge Arts Cinema and how that venue introduced him to the work of the art-house directors who were so revered at the time: ‘I think I learnt at least as much in the movie theatres as I did in the library. There was this little theatre in Cambridge called the Arts Cinema, which like everything else no longer exists and now it’s a coffee shop. But I feel I got my education in that little room, … watching, you know, Godard’s “Alphaville” and Truffaut’s “Jules and Jim”, and Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal” and Luis Buñuel’s “[The] Exterminating Angel”, and so on. And I think (…) this book [his latest novel] is incredibly influenced by those films’.

– social media: Rushdie admits he has given up on Twitter – he has abandoned his onetime Twitter feed habit altogether, though he has felt obliged to keep his account open: ‘I think it’s very well-named, Twitter. It is this kind of twittering noise in your ear. And there was just a moment [when] I thought, I don’t want this noise in my ear any more. And I just stopped. And I haven’t missed it for a second, let’s say. And I mean I’ve had to leave the account alive, because if I delete the account, somebody will cybersquat my name within five seconds and will then be tweeting as if they’re me and I don’t want that.’

– e-books versus printed books: Rushdie also expresses scepticism regarding e-books and the Kindle. He declares: ‘So, they arrived, eBooks, and they went like a rocket (…) And everybody, including everybody in the publishing industry, panicked. And they got to about 17 or 18% of the market and they completely plateaued. And now, they’re actually dropping whereas the sales of this dinosaur of an object, the hardcover novel, sales are going up (…) Our bookstores were getting out of business, now bookstores are beginning to open rather than close.’

‘Sometimes I had to go and give a talk at Google, you know, in Mountain View, California .. [an] audience entirely composed of 21-year-old techies .. And I said to them,  … this is a very remarkable piece of sophisticated hardware.  (…) What happens if you drop your laptop in the bath?   (…) So, if you drop that [a printed book] in the bath, it does not lose its data, you know?  You just have to dry it out.’

‘20 years ago, you could have a book, and now it’s 20 years old and you’ve still got it and you can still read it perfectly easily. It doesn’t need to be translated into some other technology that will be obsolete in five years’ time (…) So, you see, this, the book, this is most sophisticated. And that’s why it survives.’

Rushdie, then, returns to the tried and tested print medium – to reading books and, of course, writing them:

– ‘I’m just going to do this old-fashioned thing’

– ‘Write novels?’

– ‘Writing books. Yeah’.

 

FROM ESCH-SUR-ALZETTE TO EDGAR ALLAN POE: THE ELLERGRONN NATURE PARK

 Just outside Esch-sur-Alzette, in southern Luxembourg’s resurgent rustbelt, on the border with France lies the Ellergronn nature park, established on the site of the former Cockerill coalmine, closed in 1967:

www.esch.lu/tourisme/nature_sport/Pages//reserve_naturelle_ellergronn.aspx

Today the park includes a welcome centre, a museum of mining, a restaurant (An der Schmëdd), and a glorious stretch of beautifully preserved woodland, including the alders which give Ellergronn its name.

Our visit to Ellergronn took place on a special ‘nature day’, with the park opening its doors to a wider public and proposing various activities and events.

From the moment we entered the precincts, the rusting remains of a mining rail line surrounded by greenery invited us to step back in time and enter an older, slower world. Then along the road leading to the main complex, there came into view a horse-drawn carriage – which would return several times, be it passengerless or carrying a contingent of wide-eyed children. Driver and passengers alike looked as if they had stepped out of a photograph from the 1950s. Moments later, we found ourselves in the entrance to the complex, where a jazz quintet was proudly performing vintage New Orleans material.

 

 

The main purpose of our visit was to sample the breathtaking woodland walks around the site, and there we could appreciate both the tallest of beeches, ashes and alders and the smallest details of nature, from wild strawberries to ochre-winged fritillary butterflies. Yet the visit also offered up an unexpected centrepiece, in the restaurant where we had lunch before embarking on the walk.

The restaurant offered traditional fare – suckling pig and cordon bleu with mushroom sauce, both served with a fresh crispy salad – and, like the rest of the site, felt like a veritable time-warp. The decor included an enormous candle tree in white wax. A polished wood radio straight out of the 50s, its dial listing the stations of the time, competed with a collection of ageing vinyl records.

Positioned next to the table where we ate, there reposed a strange object: a phrenological bust, with a map of the supposed different divisions of the human brain, signed with the name L.N. Fowler.

For an admirer like myself of Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849), this was a beacon into the past. Phrenology, a physio-psychological system devised by a German called Johann Spurzheim (1776-1832), held that the key to an individual’s character lay in the structure of their brain, divided up (as in the map on Fowler’s bust) into different organs corresponding to particular qualities. It was all the rage in Europe and the US in the 1830s and 1840s, and, if today dismissed as a pseudo-science, then enjoyed considerable scientific respectability (one can argue today that it did in a broad sense anticipate contemporary neurological notions of localisation of function in the brain). It also stimulated the literary creativity of writers such as Walt Whitman and, crucially, Edgar Allan Poe, who incorporated phrenological notions in his work – in stories such as ‘The Imp of the Perverse’ and ‘Some Words with a Mummy’ (both published in 1845) – with an attitude poised somewhere between ambivalence and fascination.

The bust in the Ellergronn restaurant is an example of the articles marketed by the brothers Orson and Lorenzo Fowler. The latter is the L.N. Fowler of the bust: together they  ran the Phrenological Cabinet, an establishment in New York which promoted the new discipline and dealt in phrenological paraphernalia. In an essay of 1845 on the poems of his famed contemporary Longfellow, Poe not only discusses phrenology and its claims but also refers directly to ‘the marvels and inconsistencies of the Fowlers’ (Poe, ‘Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’, published in ‘The Aristidean’ (New York) 1845; repr. in Poe, ‘Essays and Reviews’, ed. G.R. Thompson, New York: Library of America, 1984, 759-777 (760)).

The person behind this bust was, then, known to Edgar Allan Poe. To find a Poe-related object in a restaurant in a nature park on the border between Luxembourg and France might appear unlikely indeed. Yet surprising though the discovery may be, it also testifies to the universality of the nineteenth-century American writer, to the multiplicity of connections between his prescient literary work and our world of today. For those with the knowledge and with eyes to see, sooner or later all roads can lead back in time to Edgar Allan Poe!

 

Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan – debate en la Feria del Libro de Madrid, 3 de junio de 2017 / The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs – debate at the Madrid Book Fair, 3 June 2017

Tras la polémica atribución del Premio Nobel de Literatura para 2016 al famoso cantautor estadounidense Bob Dylan, se celebró, el sábado, 3 de junio de 2017 y en el ámbito de la programación de Portugal como país invitado en la Feria del Libro de Madrid, un debate, patrocinado por la Embajada de Portugal en Madrid, que reunió a algunos de los principales traductores de la obra cantada de Dylan al castellano y al portugués, bajo el título ‘Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan’.

El evento tuvo lugar en el Pabellón de Portugal, dentro del recinto de la Feria en el Parque del Retiro, siendo la Embajada portuguesa representada por el Consejero de Cultura, Pedro Berhan da Costa.

 

El debate tuvo como participantes a los traductores Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa  (para el portugués) y José Moreno (para el castellano) y fue moderado por el Dr Christopher Rollason, experto en tema dylaniano (en las fotos que siguen aparecen en la secuencia: José Moreno, Christopher Rollason, Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa).

Las ediciones oficiales en inglés de las letras de Bob Dylan han sido cuatro hasta la fecha, conforme a una lógica cumulativa, cada nueva edición agregando las composiciones más recientes. Ha habido ediciones en 1975, 1985 y 2004, siendo la más actual ‘Lyrics 1961-2012’, Nueva York: Simon & Schuster, 2016, existiendo también una edición variorum publicado en 2014.

La primera, tercera y cuarta de esas ediciones han sido traducidas al español, respectivamente en 1975, 2007 y 2016. Esta última edición es: ‘Letras completas 1962-2012’ – traductores: Miguel Izquierdo, José Moreno, y Bernardo Domínguez Reyes, Barcelona: Malpaso, 2016.

En lengua portuguesa, también en base de las ediciones oficiales de Simon & Schuster, han salido hasta la fecha los dos volúmenes ‘Canções 1’ (2006) e ‘Canções 2’ (2008) – traducidos por Pedro Serrano y Angelina Barbosa, Lisboa: Relógio d’Água, encontrándose prevista la salida de un tercer volumen, ‘Canções 3’, con los mismos traductores y en la misma editorial, para actualizar el acervo.

El debate del 3 de junio de 2017 fue la concreción de una excelente idea, la de juntar a los respectivos traductores portugueses (equipo completo) y españoles (representados por José Moreno) para expresarse sobre los desafíos que plantea la traducción de las letras de Dylan y de la canción en general, pues si Bob Dylan ha conseguido la fama mundial que le ha valido el galardón del Nobel, esto en cierta medida se debe también al hecho de la traducción de su obra en múltiples lenguas.

Entre los muy variados aspectos evocados en un debate que resultó ser tan profundo como estimulante, podemos destacar los aspectos siguientes:

*la diferenciación entre adaptación (versiones en otro idioma para ser cantadas) y traducción (versiones que pretenden comunicar el significado del texto, para ser leídas);

*la literariedad de la letra traducida (se destina en primer lugar a ser leída y así se puede sostener que es un fenómeno incluso *más* literario que la letra original);

*la situación de la canción como ‘género bajo’ relativamente a otros géneros, notablemente el muy nobelizado género del teatro, también de tipo multimedia pero de mayor prestigio;

*la naturaleza híbrida de la obra de Dylan, que abarca elementos tanto de la ‘cultura alta’ como de la ‘cultura baja’;

*la multiplicidad de citas en las canciones de Dylan, que pueden ser literarias, musicales, cinemáticas y sobre todo bíblicas;

*la dificultad inherente en traducir elementos de estas canciones como la ambigüedad y los juegos de palabras;

*el hecho de que las traducciones de la obra dylaniana en lenguas ibéricas hayan salido casi exclusivamente en España y Portugal y no en Iberoamérica, fenómeno que según los presentes puede explicarse por el protagonismo iberoeuropeo que caracteriza la edición en español y portugués en general.

No cabe duda de que este evento habrá servido para potenciar y desarrollar el interés, de parte del público lusófono e hispanófono, en temas tan apasionantes como la naturaleza de lo literario y las posibilidades e imposibilidades de la traducción. E incluso un sólo día después de ese debate, el 4 de junio de 2017, salió al mundo, finalmente, la tan esperada Conferencia del Nobel de Bob Dylan: http://www.svenskaakademien.se/en/nobel-lecture

en el cual el cantante evocó la presencia de la literatura en su obra, desde Homero al ‘Moby Dick’ de Herman Melville, sin olvidarse, en un hermoso toque ibérico, de su lectura de una obra a la vez tan español y tan universal como … nada menos que el ‘Quijote’ …

Y así sigue el debate sobre la naturaleza y los límites de la literatura, al cual el evento de la Feria del Libro de Madrid no dejó de representar valiosa aportación.

**

The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs – debate at the Madrid Book Fair, 3 June 2017

Following the controversial award of the Nobel Prize for Literature for 2016 to the celebrated US singer-songwriter Bob Dylan, on Saturday, 3 June 2017 a debate was held, under the auspices of the Madrid Book Fair (with Portugal as this year’s invited country) and the Portuguese Embassy in Madrid, bringing together Dylan translators into Spanish and Portuguese, under the title ‘Las traducciones ibéricas de las canciones de Bob Dylan’ (‘The Iberian translations of Bob Dylan’s songs’).

The event was held in the Pavilion of Portugal, in the precincts of the Fair in the Parque del Retiro. The Portuguese Embassy was represented by the cultural attaché, Pedro Berhan da Costa.

The participants in the debate were the translators Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa  (Portuguese) and José Moreno (Spanish). The debate was moderated by Dr Christopher Rollason, author of numerous publications on the work of Dylan (the photo below shows, in order, José Moreno, Christopher Rollason, Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa).

To date there have been four official editions in English of Bob Dylan’s lyrics, following a cumulative logic with each new edition adding the most recent compositions. Editions appeared in 1975, 1985 and 2004, the latest  being ‘Lyrics 1961-2012’, New York: Simon & Schuster, 2016 (there is also a variorum edition published in 2014).

The first, third and fourth of those editions have been translated into Spanish, respectively in 1975, 2007 y 2016. The most recent is: ‘Letras completas 1962-2012’ – translated by Miguel Izquierdo, José Moreno and Bernardo Domínguez Reyes, Barcelona: Malpaso, 2016.

In Portuguese, also on the basis of the official Simon & Schuster editions, two volumes have appeared so far, ‘Canções 1’ (2006) e ‘Canções 2’ (2008) – both translated by Pedro Serrano and Angelina Barbosa, Lisbon: Relógio d’Água. A third volume, ‘Canções 3’, is under way, with the same translators and publisher, thus bringing the lyrics in Portuguese up to date.

The debate of 3 June 2017 was the outcome of an excellent idea, namely to bring together the respective Portuguese and Spanish translators (for the former the full team, the latter represented by José Moreno) to speak on the challenges raised by the translation of Dylan’s lyrics and of song lyrics in general.

The worldwide fame which Bob Dylan has achieved and which has led to his Nobel is, after all, to some extent also due to the translation of his work into numerous languages.Among the varied aspects discussed in a debate which proved to be both exhaustive and stimulating, we may mention the following:

*the differentiation between adaptation (versions in another language intended to be sung) and translation (versions aimed at communicating the sense of the text and intended to be read);

*the literariness of the translated text (intended primarily to be read and thus arguably a *more* literary phenomenon than the original lyric);

*the position of songwriting as a ‘low genre’ vis-à-vis other genres, notably the theatre, also a multimedia genre but many times rewarded with the Nobel;

*the hybrid nature of the work of Dylan, which comprises elements from both ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’;

*the multiplicity of quotations and allusions in Dylan’s songs – literary, musical, cinematic and, above all, biblical;

*the difficulty inherent in translating elements in the songs such as ambiguity and wordplay;

*the fact that the translation of Dylan’s work into Iberian languages has been carried out almost exclusively in Spain and Portugal and not in Latin America, a circumstance explained by those present as related to the position of predominance enjoyed in general by Europe-based publishers in their respective language markets.

There is no doubt that this event has served to stimulate and develop interest, on the part of the Portuguese- and Spanish-speaking public, in topics of major significance such as the nature of the literary and the possibilities and impossibilities of translation. Just one day after the Madrid debate, 4 June 2017 saw the publication, at last, of Bob Dylan’s eagerly awaited Nobel lecture: http://www.svenskaakademien.se/en/nobel-lecture – in which the singer evoked the presence of literature in his work, from Homer to ‘Moby Dick’, while not forgetting, in an attractively Iberian touch, his reading of a work at once as Spanish and as universal as … ‘Don Quijote’!

And so the debate continues on the nature and limits of literature, a dialogue to which this recent event at the Madrid Book Fair has constituted a more than valuable contribution.

 

 

XII Festival del Flamenco, Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxemburgo) / 12th Flamenco Festival, Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg)

Entre el 4 y el 20 de mayo de 2017 se celebró en la localidad luxemburguesa de Esch-sur-Alzette, como ya va siendo tradición arraigada del lugar, el Festival del Flamenco, evento que ha llegado ahora a su 12a edición.

Como en años anteriores, actuaron auténticas personalidades del género, toda una serie de cantaores, bailaores e instrumentalistas de distinción, entre los cuales, este año podemos destacar a:

Miguel Ángel Cortés, guitarrista granadino y vencedor del Premio de Guitarra Paco de Lucía en 1994, que ya ha colaborado con figuras como Enrique y Estrella Morente; Jeromo Segura, consagrado cantaor nacido en Huelva; y, estrenándose en Esch, la también onubense Rocío Márquez, ya reconocida como una de las más prometedoras nuevas voces del género.

Como siempre, son de felicitar las entidades organizadoras, principalment la sala de eventos Kulturfabrik y el Círculo Cultural Español Antonio Machado de Luxemburgo, por hacer posible este gran evento anual que tan exitosamente cristaliza la esencia de las culturas española  y andaluza.

**

From 4 to 20 May 2017 the locality of Esch-sur-Alzette, Luxembourg, once again and in what is now an established local tradition, hosted the Flamenco  Festival, now in its 12th edition.

As in previous years, the event featured true personalities of the genre, a whole series of distinguished cantaores, bailaores and instrumentalists, among whom this year we may draw attention to:

Miguel Ángel Cortés, guitarrist born in Granada and winner of the Paco de Lucía Guitar Prize en 1994, who has worked with the likes of Enrique and Estrella Morente; Jeromo Segura, reputed cantaor from Huelva; and, for the first time in Esch, Rocío Márquez, also from Huelva and recognised as one of the most promisning new voices in the genre.

As always, congratulations go to the organising bodies, especially the Kulturfabrik event venue and the Antonio Machado Spanish Cultural Circle in Luxembourg, for making possible this major yearly event which so successfully crystallises the cultural essence of Spain and Andalusia.

JOURNAL OF THE ODISHA ASSOCIATION FOR ENGLISH STUDIES (INDIA) Vol 7(1), 2017 – ARTICLE ON EDGAR ALLAN POE IN SPANISH TRANSLATION

Now published is Vol. 7(1) (2017) of the excellent Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies, as always ably edited by Santwana Haldar from Baleswar, Odisha/Orissa, India (ISSN 2249-6726).

The issue includes an abundance of varied material (articles, poetry, book reviews), and a wide-ranging state-of-the-literary-world introduction by the editor in which she grapples with matters ranging from the deaths of Edward Albee and Dario Fo to Bob Dylan’s literature Nobel.

The articles include studies on Indian authors such as Dalit writer Manoranjan Byapari (Jaydeep Sarangi), Mulk Raj Anand (Asish Kumar Manna), Arundhati Roy (Rajeshwar Mittapalli), Nissim Ezekiel (Diptendu Bikash Maiti), Vijay Tendulkar (Ujjal Kumar Panda) and Anita Desai (Dayanidhi Pradhan), on a number of authors writing in the Odia/Orissan language, e.g. Manoj Das (Rabi Narayan Dash), on non-Indian authors (Francesco Marroni on James Joyce and Alfred Döblin) and on broad educational issues (Souhila Boukhlifa and Fewzia Bedjaoui on conscious citizenry in the classroom).

The creative writing section includes poems by Shanta Acharya, Jaydeep Sarangi, Mona Dash and Prasanta Kumar Panda. Among the books reviewed are Chitra Bannerjee Divakaruni’s novel ‘Before We Visit the Goddess’ and Paul Beatty’s Booker-winning ‘The Sellout’ (both by Santwana Haldar).

Also included is my own study of Spanish-language translations of Edgar Allan Poe’s poems, given as a paper at Harvard University (American Comparative Literature Association conference) in 2016:

Christopher Rollason, ‘Edgar Allan Poe in Montevideo in 1919: On the volume of translations into Spanish “‘El cuervo’ y otros poemas (The Raven and Other Poems)’, Journal of the Odisha Association for English Studies, Baleswar (India), Vol. 7, Issue I, 2017, pp. 51-62 (also available at: http://yatrarollason.info/files/PoeinMontevideo1919.pdf).

Why Try To Change Him Now? Bob Dylan in Esch-sur-Alzette (Luxembourg), 22 April 2017

The night of Saturday, 22 April 2017 witnessed Bob Dylan’s third appearance at the Rockhal concert venue in Esch-sur-Alzette, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg’s second city after the capital. Dylan had previously illuminated the Rockhal on 21 October 2011 and 16 November 2013, and as a resident of Esch I was present both times. Tonight was therefore, for both Bob Dylan and the author of this review, and appropriately enough in view of the title of his latest album, a … Triplicate occasion!

Since Dylan’s last date in Esch-sur-Alzette in 2013, much water has flowed under the bridge, the most notable events being his 2016 Nobel award and his recent recording wave of jazz‑era/Sinatra covers. Meanwhile, the setlist for the current tour, though once again for the most part fixed or all but fixed, is somewhat more representative than has recently been the case. Tonight’s setlist varied from that of the previous night (in Boulogne-Billancourt near Paris) in only one particular, namely that among the Sinatra covers ‘Why Try to Change Me Now?’ replaced ‘I Could Have Told You’. The night’s 21 songs break down as follows: 60s and 70s ‘classic Dylan’ (up to ‘Blood on The Tracks’), 6; ‘later Dylan’ prior to 2012’s album ‘Tempest’, 4; ‘Tempest’, 5; Sinatra covers, 6. It is an open question how many in the audience were actual Dylan followers and aware of the content of his recent albums, and how many came away believing the evening’s Sinatra renditions to be recent Dylan compositions!

**

Dylan opens with a gritty ‘Things Have Changed’, indisputably a suitable title for its author and an up-front warning to those expecting a full serving of 60s anthems. Next up, though, and as if to placate those who might walk out if Dylan performed nothing they knew, is no less an early-Dylan chestnut than ‘Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right’, complete with the evening’s most folk-oriented arrangement. Then the 60s flame is fed anew with a blues-drenched rendition of ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ (Dylan sings all five stanzas), after which we fast-forward to a more recent, 21st-century Dylan with ‘Beyond Here Lies Nothin’’, from ‘Together Through Life’..

Beyond there lies … something: indeed, something that may start surprising the audience, in the form of the night’s first Sinatra rendition and another appropriately titled song, ‘Why Try To Change Me Now?’, with Dylan fully inside a committed vocal and, as he will do with most of tonight’s Sinatra numbers, treating the song as if he had written it. There follows the evening’s first song from ‘Tempest’, ‘Pay in Blood’, which, familiar or not, pleases the crowd, its Rolling Stones pastiche sound no doubt aiding. Dylan then reverts to Sinatra mode with ‘Melancholy Mood’, after which comes an upbeat country-blues version of ‘Duquesne Whistle’, again from ‘Tempest’ (well received, though how many recognised in ‘at my chamber door’ a quotation from Edgar Allan Poe’s celebrated poem ‘The Raven’?). Next, it’s Sinatra time again, with Dylan’s fifth-ever performance (probably the best of the night’s shades-of-Frank numbers) of ‘Stormy Weather’, one of the songs from the new ‘Triplicate’ album and premiered a few nights before, in Amsterdam on 17 April.

There follows ‘Tangled Up in Blue’, in its current truncated four-stanza version (alas – this song is too good to deserve such pruning) but with some interesting alternative lyrics (the couple split up ‘somewhere in the wilderness’; the people they knew have – if I heard correctly – ‘their names aflame’). Dylan then returns to the blues with a vengeance, with the Muddy Waters-inspired ‘Early Roman Kings’ from ‘Tempest’. The next offering, ‘Spirit on the Water’ from ‘Modern Times’, while in this reviewer’s opinion a minor song which could happily be given a rest, in a sense fits with the Sinatra material by reason of its jazz arrangement. It is followed by a melodramatic rendition of the ‘Time Out Of Mind’ song ‘Love Sick’ – insistent, obsessive but in the end impressive – and by another Sinatra cover, ‘All or Nothing At All’.

The next offering is none other than ‘Desolation Row’, a song composed more than half a century ago but arguably still the best lyric Bob Dylan has ever written. For any performance of this song the bar is set high, and this version, while not the best ever, comes over as several notches above merely acceptable. It is rare that Dylan performs all 10 stanzas, and tonight we get 70% of the song in the form of stanzas 1, 2, 3, 6 (leather cup), 7 (Casanova), 8 (superhuman crew) and 10. The performance is almost word perfect, albeit stanza 1’s ‘beauty parlour’ has become a simple ‘parlour’: Dylan sings from inside the song, and the strongest moment comes in the ‘superhuman crew’ stanza, with a memorably sinister rendering of the lines ‘come out and round up everyone / that knows more than they do’.

The unfolding evening now brings us ‘Soon After Midnight’ from ‘Tempest’ (another minor song due for a sabbatical), ‘That Old Black Magic’ (probably the thinnest of the Sinatra covers), and a second ‘Tempest’-Sinatra coupling with an eloquent ‘Long and Wasted Years’ and a poignant ‘Autumn Leaves’.

Finally, the encores offer a pleasant surprise, with arguably the two best performances of the entire evening, and that on two old warhorses – ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’, 54 years on from its release, and ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’ – both performed with riveting arrangements and full vocal commitment (Dylan blasts the hapless Mr Jones with audible relish as he curls his lips around ‘tax-deductible charity organisations’).

**

There is no doubt that the vast majority of the audience have enjoyed the show, be they hardcore Dylan followers or not: applause greeted both famous and lesser-known songs. Dylan’s vocals have been for the most part audible, and lyrics slips have been few, and at all moments the professionalism and versatility of his musicians has delighted and astounded, as they effortlessly mutate between genres, from folk to blues to country to jazz. The Sinatra covers might seem numerically disproportionate at 6 songs out of 21, but the sense of incongruity is reduced by the multigeneric nature of the night’s music – in the end, these songs are as much part of Bob Dylan’s musical heritage as those that have influenced him in other and multiple genres. Tonight he threw out the challenge ‘Why Try To Change Me Now?’: the musical phenomenon called Bob Dylan is the product of a complex nexus of influences, and some will come up stronger than others at a given time. Dylan has written no new songs since his Nobel consecration, but this concert should have offered the doubters more than enough evidence, in the songs of his own authorship, that songwriting can be poetry and, yes, Bob Dylan is indeed a meritorious Nobel laureate.

Setlist:

Things Have Changed; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; Highway 61 Revisited; Beyond Here Lies Nothin’’; Why Try to Change Me Now?; Pay in Blood; Melancholy Mood; Duquesne Whistle; Stormy Weather; Tangled Up In Blue; Early Roman Kings; Spirit on the Water; Love Sick; All or Nothing At All; Desolation Row; Soon After Midnight; That Old Black Magic; Long and Wasted Years; Autumn Leaves; Blowin’ in the Wind; Ballad of a Thin Man

 

TRIPLE ALBUM AND TRIPTYCH – BOB DYLAN, POST-NOBEL COVER ARTIST

On 31 March 2017, Bob Dylan, recent (and controversial) Nobel literature laureate, released – on the eve of the next leg of the 75-year-old’s ‘Never Ending Tour’ – his 38th studio album, a 3-CD offering entitled ‘Triplicate’ and containing 30 songs. He had won the Nobel for 2016 for what the Swedish academy called his ‘new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’. However, while the content of the album might pass as being part of that ‘great American song tradition’ – material from the 1930s and 40s like ‘Imagination’ as sung by Ella Fitzgerald, or Frank Sinatra’s ‘The Best is Yet to Come’, or the Hoagy Carmichael composition ‘Stardust’ – not a single one of those 30 songs was written by the now-officially-a-poet Bob Dylan. Three of the songs – ‘I Could Have Told You’, ‘That Old Feeling’ and ‘How Deep is the Ocean?’- are not completely new to Dylan fans, having featured earlier in his stage set.

‘Triplicate’ is Dylan’s 7th studio album to consist entirely of cover versions (there are another three with a majority of covers), and is the third in a triptych of recordings of numbers from the Great American Songbook, the previous two being the Sinatra tribute ‘Shadows in the Night’ (2015) and its follow-up ‘Fallen Angels’ (2016). On ‘Triplicate’ – as on ‘Fallen Angels’ – all of the songs but one were recorded at some point by Sinatra (on ‘Shadows in the Night’ they all were).

Dylan has produced diptychs or triptychs of generically similar material before – the three religious albums from the late 70s and early 80s, ‘Slow Train Coming’, ‘Saved’ and ‘Shot of Love’, and the early-90s acoustic folk/blues pair ‘Good As I Been To You’ and ‘World Gone Wrong’. Now we have a ‘Triplicate’ of 30 songs, within a triad amounting to 50 – and all 50 are cover versions.

The CD box has no author credits for the songs. It is true that full credits can be found on the brand-new Wikipedia entry for the album, but this remains a curious omission for an album claimed to arise from Dylan’s admiration for his songwriting precursors (‘Shadows in the Night’ did include credits, ‘Fallen Angels’ did not). It does have a rather fulsome set of sleevenotes, penned by New Orleans-based novelist Tom Piazza and claiming the album as a piece of ‘extraordinary vocal musicianship’, ‘a recording for the ages, timeless and profound’. While sleevenotes have proliferated on Dylan’s Bootleg Series recordings, this is the first Dylan studio album to include such notes since the self-penned ones to ‘World Gone Wrong’ in 1993.

Bob Dylan has on his recent tours (the upcoming tour is unlikely to be different) placed this vintage cover material at the heart of his stage act. What started off with novelty value now risks becoming the norm: the future will decide whether this album and its two predecessors are or are not a significant addition to Bob Dylan’s career achievement. It is strange – though strangeness has long accompanied the twists and turns of Dylan’s career – that the artist’s Nobel consecration has not impelled him to compose new originals that might vie with the songs that won him the prize. Still, as Dylan wrote in 1968 of his outlaw character John Wesley Harding, ‘there was no man around who could track or chain him down’ …