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L4LM Exclusive Interview with Bob Dylan Author Andrew Muir

 

ONE MORE NIGHT: BOB DYLAN’S NEVER ENDING TOUR & INTERVIEW with author ANDREW MUIR

by BOB WILSON

Andrew Muir has given us his second installment in covering Bob Dylan‘s Never Ending Tour with his recently published work entitled, ONE MORE NIGHT (2013).  Muir’s first book on the subject is RAZOR’S EDGE, which was published in 2001.  Muir also has served as editor of the Dylan magazines Homer, the slut, and Judas!.  Live For Live Music caught up with Muir, and he was gracious in providing an interview, and insights on Dylan, his loyal followers, and the relationship artist and audience share. That relationship can often make Burton and Taylor seem tame by comparison, and evoke the spectrum of emotions worthy of any torrid love affair.

On June 7th, 1988 Bob Dylan played the first show in what would become known as the Never Ending Tour.  Since that date, Dylan has played about 2,530 shows.  Fans matched in ardor by perhaps only those of the Grateful Dead collect recordings of shows with what Muir describes openly as an addiction.  “Bootlegs” (unofficial recordings of concerts and rarities) of every show circulate online, new additions being posted as soon as the dust settles from Dylan’s tour bus exiting a venue.  Covers of non-Dylan songs, lyric and melody changes to standards, and lost gems spike the interest in a particular show, and start the fans to talkin’.

The longest break that Dylan has taken from touring was from May 3rd to August 3, 1997.  He had suffered a heart related malady called Histoplasmosis, on which he remarked “I really thought I’d be seeing Elvis soon.”  Dylan didn’t leave the building, however, and was not sent to “a pine box for all eternity”.  The musician who gave up touring after his legendary motorcycle accident in 1966 to live in near seclusion in Woodstock, NY (the show was held there to try and lure him out), was transformed 22 years later, adopting a Willie Nelson-like bus to hit the road for most of each year since 1988. After just having concluded a successful tour in the States with Beck, Wilco, and My Morning Jacket, Dylan will next hit the stage in Oslo, Norway on October 10th. Rest assured that the show should be available online by October 11th, replete with reviews on many fan sites.

We asked Muir how Dylan became this road warrior, and he points to Dylan’s “epiphany” at a show on May 25th, 1987 in Locarno, Switzerland.  After a stint of finding no direction home in relation to his muse as a performer, Dylan was imbued with renewed confidence at this show. “That night, it all just came to me,” he recalled in 2002. “All of a sudden, I could sing anything.” Dylan had wavered like a boxer knocked off balance from bad publicity from critically derided work such as 1986′s KNOCKED OUT LOADED, 1988′s DOWN IN THE GROOVE, and the performance with The Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards and Ron Wood aptly described as a debacle at LIVE AID.  After Locarno, though, Dylan would rise again to produce some of the “strongest music of his career”, and begin to tour at a pace that would allow him to warble that he has been all around this old world with the authority of one who has indeed been there.

The term “Never Ending Tour” came from an interview in Q Magazine in 1989, where scribe Adrian Deevoy suggested the term to Dylan, and he agreed with it.  It took on a life of it’s own, and Dylan disavowed it in the liner notes to his album WORLD GONE WRONG in 1993. “There was a ‘Never Ending Tour’, but it ended in 1991 with the departure of G.E. Smith.” The  denial only proved to spur debate as to the veracity of the continuing tour, and it seems to have fueled the myth to legendary heights.

Andrew Muir lent a hand to clear up some issues about the “NET” for us.

L4LM: So many cover songs were a highlight of the NET. What ones stand
out as “gold nuggets” for you?

AM: Oh, Bob, we could be here all night! The traditional covers from
the very beginning of the NET were absolutely outstanding, night after
night for me the highlight of the shows. I think back to things like
BARBARA ALLEN, TRAIL OF THE BUFFALO, LITTLE MOSES, THE GREEN BRIAR
SHORE,…There’s so many.

The religious openers in 2000, the October shows in 2002 saw an
explosion in covers, many of them exquisite.  Warren Zevon’s MUTINEER,
ACCIDENTALLY LIKE A MARTYR stand out with the very best of the
previous ones in my mind.

I am particularly fond of his covers of Leonard Cohen‘s HALLELUIAH,
they have never been bettered in my mind, despite all the many covers
of that -ranging from the puerile to the beautiful.

I like others that most people don’t seem to: I love PEACE IN THE
VALLEY from 1989.  I thought Dylan’s MOON RIVER was a wonderful
tribute to the recently deceased Stevie Ray Vaughn but I found that to
be very much of a minority opinion.

L4LM: Why do you feel there is such an obsession with fans collecting
tapes of so many shows?

AM: That’s quite a complicated area really.  It’s probably a mixture
of positive and negative reasons. The positive reasons are to do with
one of the main things behind the book, and that is Dylan’s constant
recreation of his art.  This means that every time he performs, be it
in the studio or live, there is every likelihood that what you will
get will be something new and fresh, albeit the same song even in the
same arrangement with the same backing musicians (far less the many
times these also change).

That brings us to the negative side of “collecting for collecting’s
sake”. It is a personality trait that many people have, be they Dylan
fans or not.  I suffer from it -well, I say suffer but it has its
positive sides as well, such as researching books! -and not just with
Dylan.

L4LM: Why do you think Dylan keeps “banter” with the crowd to such a minimum?

AM: I believe that he really wants to concentrate on the music and
each show as a show.  Most of the time, I think the music does the
talking more than eloquently enough.  It also makes it all the more
dramatic and noteworthy when he does talk to the audience.

L4LM: LIVE AID was a performance Dylan’s career had to “recover” from
in many ways.  It seems like he courts ire from the media on some big
occasions.

Can you extrapolate on that?

AM: Part of it could be “no publicity is bad publicity”, that is –
controversy sells.  The amount of press coverage he got for the
Grammy’s in ’91 was amazing and a lot of it complimentary, which was
unusual back then.  Mainly though, I think, a long time ago, he
decided to do his own thing.

Even as I answer your questions, (the) SELF PORTRAIT era is being
acclaimed –‘everybody comes around to my view eventually’ must be how
he sees it.

LIVE AID I think was a terrible misjudgment, the chats the three
amigos (Dylan, Richards, and Wood) have in the rehearsals explain a
lot of it.

L4LM: What factors keep Dylan’s bands at their tightest and best on the NET.

Tony (Garnier: Dylan’s bass player) does a great deal to help things,
I’m sure. He’s such a survivor -there should be statues erected in
honor of Tony.

Duke Robillard (lead guitarist) departed the NET recently very
quickly. Any thoughts on what may have led to that?

AM: The early signs are that it was quite acrimonious.  I know it was
quickly played down/smoothed over, but I think there was a real rift.

Duke is used to being his own man, running the show -perhaps he was
taken aback how Dylan likes to control everything (that is going) on,
what is after all Dylan’s stage.

L4LM: What were your favorite years in the NET?

1988 and 89 are definitely my favorite years.  I saw my first NET
shows live, so that was new and thrilling for me.  Even in the years
that were among my least favorite I often found the last leg most
rewarding.  On the other hand, years like 1995 and 2000 peaked in the
first half of the year, though.

L4LM: Any thoughts on how TEMPEST could have been a more overtly
religious album, as Dylan said it nearly was?  Did he avoid “ire” by
making it less overt, in a way?

AM: Gregory Peck said that ‘Bob Dylan has never been about to get out
of town before the shooting starts’ so I don’t think he was avoiding
ire. Did he even mean it? I wonder?

He does tend to say a lot of things that are just to wind people up.

To be fair, a lot of them turn out to be true.  He may also have been
alerting people to the many biblical/religious allusions on the album,
hoping these would be highlighted in mainstream reviews.  Though, if
so, it was in vain.

L4LM: Any idea how much longer Dylan can keep up this pace of touring?

AM: As long as he’s healthy, the pace doesn’t seem to be bothering
him. There have been rumors about stopping for so long now that I just
can’t really pay much attention to them.  I think 1990 was the first
time there was a groundswell of opinion that said it was going to end.

Of course, one day it will.  And someone who has just predicted it
will say: “told you so.”

Bob Dylan is about to continue touring in October, and has released BOOTLEG SERIES VOLUME 10: ANOTHER SELF PORTRAIT. Dylan will tour with a new release in stores of “out-takes” from an original album released when Richard Nixon was still Commander in Chief.  It is available at his website: bobdylan.com.