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 Bob Dylan never say never by Ian Bell.

 

Bob Dylan refuses to accept that his so called Never Ending Tour even exists, but for some the myth of his 1987 epiphany is too hard to resist. When Bob Dylan materialises in the darkness on the stage the Clyde Auditorium on 18th November 2013 some people will be keeping count. I can save them the bother. The first night in Glasgow will be show 2557 in the ritual they call the Never Ending Tour. For his part, the exasperated artist refuses to accept that such a thing even exists.      His struggle against what fans know as NET has bee unavailing for the best part of a quarter of a century. The legend arose from from a casual answer Dylan gave to a journalist from Q magazine in October 1989. One tour had all but run straight into the next , it was observed. "Oh, it's all the same tour" the artist replied. "The Never Ending Tour" declared the ingenious interviewer before proceeding to put the words into his subjects mouth. So it began.     Dylan has tried to kill the notion time and again. In 1993, his sleeve notes to the World Gone Wrong album warned fans to avoid becoming "Bewildered by the Never Ending Tour chatter". Over the years, journalists have been told repeatedly that performing is just what Dylan does; "a job, my trade". Some have been subjected to that familiar, inimitable sarcasm. "Does anyone call Henry a Never Ending Car Builder?" Dylan demanded of Rolling Stone reporter in 2009. "Is Rupert Trump a Never Ending Media Tycoon? What about Donald Trump? Does anybody say he has a Never ending Quest to Build Buildings?"   Less facetiously, Dylan observed in the same interview that Picasso was still painting in his nineties. Elsewhere he has talked of Count Basie, Duke Ellington and all the generations of musicians, in every style, for whom the endless highway has been intrinsic to art, craft and business.  His own schedule, 100 concerts a year at a rough average, is nothing special, he says. By some yardsticks, that's the simple truth. Well into his seventies BB King was still giving between 250and 300 shows a year.     You could also note that for Dylan, as for most performers, a collapsing CD market has made touring rather more attractive than once it was. Since his recordings have only rarely been been mistaken for hits -- perhaps 100 million "units" sold, but spread over half a century -- he rediscovered the joys of the concert stage sooner than most.  The days when he could disappear from public view for eight long years, as he did after a motor cycle accident in the summer of 1966, are long gone.   None of that begins to explain the myth of NET. Unofficially, the records say it began in Concord, California, in June 7, 1988 when Dylan and a stripped-to-simplicity three-piece band appeared in a half empty arena called the Pavillian. The absence of fans was easy to explain. Dylan, like his reputation was at a very low ebb. The 1980's had been unkind. His latest album, the just released Down in the Groove, would be the second in two years to fail to penetrate the US top 50.   It was not just a matter of changing times. A few perverse fans will tell you that Down in the Groove is underrated. Factually it amounts to barely 32 minutes of music and contains only three songs in Dylan's name, each of which you would struggle to recognise as the work of the greatest songwriter of his century. Later, the artist would admit to interviewers that he almost "packed it in" as the 1980's drew to a close, that he had reached the end of the line.   After witnessing a show at the Wembly Arena late in 1987, John Peel had been scathing about Dylan's contempt for his art and his audience. "Being an enigma at 20 is fun, " the disc jockey had written, Being an enigma at 30 shows a lack of imagination, and being an enigma at Dylan's age is just plain daft.... From the moment the living legend took to the stage, it was evident here was business he wanted  accomplished with the minimum of effort." When Dylan appeared in Concord the following summer, it seemed he was making his last stand.  The Interstate 88 Tour would begin a hard slog by an artist in the face of critical derision, and end, after 71 shows, with a triumphant four night residency at at Radio City Music Hall in New York during which every reviewer in town turned on a dime. "Extraordinary no frills rock and roll," said one, The fact was that Dylan was rediscovering an interest in his own songs and in music tradition. Somehow, as though from the depths, he was drawing energy from art.      That tale would do nicely for most musicians, In a proper Dylan legend, however, it is barely even a start. If you believe half the fabulous nonsense -- and he was complicit in some of it -- the singer didn't simply pull himself together before commencing Interstate 88. Instead, he experienced what some of the fans call, with little irony, an epiphany. Specifically, on a foggy, windy night in Locarno in Switzerland, peering out at at his audience on the Piazza Grande while hiding behind his backing singers, Dylan experienced a moment of reaffirmation. He later told the story to various journalists. To one he said "It's almost I hear it like a voice. I wasn't like it was me thinking it. @I'm determined to stand, whether God will deliver me or not' And all of a sudden everything just exploded. It exploded every which way."   Afterwards, Dylan said he "sort of knew: I've got to go out and play these songs. That's just what I must do. "The creative drought of the 1980s began to come to an end. His next album would be the thrilling Oh Mercy. At Concord, the net would be inaugurated and would come to be treated, by some, as a continuing art project in it's own right. In some corners of "Dylan studies", in fact, live performances are these days regarded as the keys to the songwriter's art.    But hold on. Bootlegs say that nothing "exploded" in Locarno or during the following concert in Paris. Peel's condemnation of a lazy, empty caricature of a living legend saw print after that "epiphany" in Switzerland not before. Oh mercy, fine as it remains, turned out to be another of many false dawns in Dylan's career between Infidels in 1983 and Time Out Of Mind in 1997. The unending tours varied markedly in quality.   Meanwhile, one fact glares at anyone who writes about this artist. Irrespective of any voice Dylan thought he heard in Locarno, seven years would elapse between the 1990 album Under the Red Sky and Time Out of Mind. In that period the reborn artist released not one new song. The touring continued relentlessly, a pattern of travel woven over and over on the face of the globe. But the NET, this art event, this disputed legend, did nothing for Dylan as a songwriter.   The fact that with Time Out of Mind he commenced of of those second acts supposedly forbidden in American lives involves another fascinating story. Last years Tempest album demonstrated that Dylan remains a potent writer and a formidable recording artist. But as a concert artist? Year after year people walk out of his shows. The complaint is not that he has rearranged favourite songs. The gripe is that the songs are unrecognisable in any form.    A Dylan show these days is pot luck. Two and a half thousand concerts, an untrained voice given insufficient rest, the ravages of recreation, age itself: even some dedicated fans have stopped asking why he does it, year upon year, and begun to question whether he should be singing live at all. Undaunted, NET veterans hold out the promise of the magical nights when everything comes together. The teenager hoping to hear the legend might end up with a different view.  But he's Bob Dylan. Advice has always been wasted on this artist. Hindsight has tended to show that he knows better than his critics and fans. Some of them need the myth of the Never Ending Tour more than they or he care to admit.  Even if the voice has all but gone and the songs been mangled to suit that lingering growl, such people cannot imagine the world without him. Now that's art. Like him, it endures.                                                            

More to follow

By Ray Connolly 

    Bob Dylan was named the shock winner of the Nobel Prize for literature yesterday, the first musician to be given the honour since it began in 901. The Swedish Academy  which awards the prize said the star, best known for 1960's songs Blowin' in the wind and 'The times they are a changing', won it for creating 'new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition, Dylan's win divided opinion' --Scottish Novelist Irvine Welsh called it 'an ill-conceived nostalgic award' but Salman Rushdie said it was a 'great choice'

You've got to give it to him. Even at the age of 75, Bob Dylan can still really get up peoples noses. Back in the 60's it was the Establishment of politicians and big business he irritated when his first hits were anti-war and anti-prejudice songs of youthful protest. Today it's the pomp and pretension of some members of the literary establishment who will be indignant. And why? Because, in their eyes, Dylan is a writer of songs -- and not, therefore, a 'real writer'

 

Nobel Award to Poet Dylan      by Ruth McKee

Music legend Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The singer-songwriter, 75, was described as a great poet by judges who lavished praise on his staggering body of work. Honouring the musician, they said the lyrics in many of his songs addressed social issues such a s civil rights movement and 'the social conditions of man, religion, politics and love. Permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Sara Danius said: 'He's a great poet in the English speaking tradition.' 'And he is a wonderful sampler. He embodies the tradition and for 54 years now he has been at it, reinventing himself constantly, creating a new identity. Dylan has the status of an icon. His influence on contemporary music is profound.

Bob Dylan 'Too busy to pick up his Nobel Prize'

Bob Dylan will not attend the ceremony to accept his literature prize next month because he has other commitments. The Nobel Academy confirmed last night. It said it respected the 75 year old singer's decision but it was unusual for a poet laureate not to go to Stockholm, Sweden, to accept the award in person. Nobel laureates are honoured every year on December 10 -- the death anniversary of the prize's founder Alfred Nobel, a Swedish Industrialist, Inventor and philanthropist. a spokesman said: "The Swedish Academy received a letter from Bob Dylan yesterday where he explained he could not make himself available in December... He wishes that he could accept the award personally, but other commitments make it unfortunately impossible. He underlined that he feels incredibly honoured by the Nobel Prize, the spokesman added.    Several other literature prize winners have skipped the Nobel award ceremony in the past for various reasons. -- Doris Lessing on grounds of ill health. Harold Pinter because he was in hospital and Elfried Jelinek due to social phobia.  'We look forward to Bob Dylan's Nobel Lecture, which he must - it is the only requirement he must carry out-- within six months starting. But Sara Danius, it's permanent secretary, told a Swedish news agency that she did not know how or when Dylan would be able to deliver the lecture. The value of the prestigious award -- which depends on donations - is £7000,000 this year.