Bob Dylan – Time Out of Mind – 1997 – Columbia

Bob Dylan - Time Out of Mind - 1997 - Columbia

This was the last Dylan album I bought on vinyl. I remember at the time there was a buzz around it before it was released. Odd rumours about how Dylan had almost died of a heart condition and that the record was his response to his growing sense of mortality. Greil Marcus wrote a glowing piece of criticism before it was released. I was sitting at a computer terminal in the Chifley Library at the Australian National University when I read this article. My jaw sort of dropped. I thought gee, this is great news. I actually think that part of the marketing success of Time Out of Mind was that people were just getting to grips with the internet. Stories and information were easier to spread, the grapevine had just become digital and had spread its tendrils everywhere. Everyone who was into Bob wanted to hear this record. I printed out the Griel Marcus piece and mailed it through the regular post to a friend of mine in Sydney (as I said, people were just starting to get to grips with digital communication).

When it came out I bought a copy from Impact Records. For years Impact Records was the best record shop in Canberra. They were a little pricey, especially if you were buying imports, but they had a lot of stuff and they were the only store in Canberra with LPs. Everywhere else only had CDs by that time. My copy was reduced in price as the cover had been slightly damaged during transport. There were a few thin, deep scratches on the front. It was a double album. On one of the inner sleeves there’s a great black and white photo of Dylan in a bar. This photo isn’t in the CD copies.

Side One opens with Love Sick, a minor key blues that is Leonard Cohenesque though the production (by Daniel Lanois) is much better than on any Leonard Cohen album. It’s got a dark, brooding loneliness to it that is compelling. As soon as I heard that first song with Dylan’s flanged, echoed vocals and Jim Dickinson’s stately paced and spooky organ I knew the rest of the album would be great. I wasn’t dissappointed. In many ways Time Out of Mind is like a 1990s continuation of Blonde on Blonde. It’s a work that feels like echoes and images richocheting around the inside of a perpetually insomniac skull. “My feet are so tired, my brain is so wired and the clouds are weeping.” This is a record steeped in the blues but it also anticipates 21st century sensibilities. I like that there’s the sound of the room that the musicians played in, there’s space in the playing and there’s good use of microphone spill. There’s life in these recordings. It’s like the music and recording techniques from the 1950s just kept developing without being totally derailed by the sensibilities of 1970s and 80s. Time Out of Mind really helped propel that old/new sound that a lot of bands are into these days, that sonic warmth that comes from working with old equipment and utilizing old techniques (most importantly actually playing live in the studio, or doing most of the instruments live). It’s a good thing that it’s helped influence this trend.

This double album was on high rotation in my house for the first couple of weeks that I had it. I’ve listened to this a lot over the years. I never tire of it and every listen feels like I’m digging deeper and deeper into that sound. Time out of Mind doesn’t age. It almost sits outside of time.

In 1998 I got to see Dylan live with his band. Me and my girlfriend bought tickets to a show at the newly opened Wollongong Entertainment Centre because I figured that it would be easier to get better seats there than Sydney (all the seats in all the venues were the same price so it was first in first served and I didn’t think many people would travel to Wollongong to see the show but a lot would travel to Sydney.) My hunch worked, we got third row seats. Patti Smith was the opening act. She only played a short 45 minute set but she was incredible. Dylan played for ages, encore after encore. His grey Beatles style jacket was soaked in sweat. He was in fine form and so was the band. I loved that they did so many songs from this record and I loved that they did so many of his older songs differently to what they were like on the records. I heard a couple in front of me complaining that he wasn’t playing his hits. He was, every second song at least. They just weren’t recognizing them which was amusing. Dylan only spoke to the audience once. “This is my first show in years, I’ve just gotten out of rehab.” A joke. The same couple in front of me thought he was serious “Did you just hear that? This is his first show in years.” They hadn’t heard of the Never Ending Tour he was on I guess. Actor Jack Thompson was in the audience, he was standing right at the edge of the stage watching and singing along. He knew all the words including the words for folk songs that Dylan hadn’t recorded like Roving Gambler. I loved hearing Hattie Carroll live. It was good seeing Jack singing along. I walked up to Jack and said hello and I said that I loved his work or something stupid like that. I do love his work but why walk up to him during a show and tell him that? I went back to my seat. I’d smuggled a camera into the venue (this was back in the days when no one had mobile phones and those that did didn’t have cameras on them so it was still possible for security to control camera use). The camera I brought was a small, el cheapo instamatic, I didn’t want to take chances with a bigger, more obvious SLR. I’d covered any shiny bits with black tape so that it wouldn’t be easy to spot by security. The guy sitting next to me had his camera confiscated during the show. I was lucky I guess. I got several good shots. (Later on when I developed the negaties in the darkroom I push processed them since I guessed that they would probably be underexposed as the instamatic only took photos at a 125th of a second. The photos were as grainy as hell.)

After the show was over and people were leaving I walked up to Jack Thompson again and I apologized for interupting him during the show. “It’s alright mate” he said. He was a little drunk. I spoke to his brother a bit and then me and my girlfriend said our goodbyes and went back to her sister’s house where we were staying for the night.

Great record, great gig, great memories.

Peter La Farge – On the Warpath – 1965 – Folkways

Peter La Farge - On  the Warpath - 1965 - Folkways

I was initially aware of Peter La Farge from listening to Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan cover his songs and from reading about him in biographies on those two artists. The first recordings I heard of his were this album and As Long As the Grass Shall Grow which I bought when I was about 19 years old from Yesterday and Today Records, a shop that was in Parramatta which specialized in country records but also had some folk, blues and 60s psycedelia. They were both on one CD released by Bear Family Records.

There was a precision to Peter’s writing that I liked immediately, the songs were so well crafted. There was also something in his voice I could immediately relate to and that I have never heard before or since. Listening to Peter taught me a lot as a singer. I liked his rough hewn playing style too.

It took me about 18 years to get a copy of this on vinyl. Peter La Farge records aren’t exactly easy to find in Australia. In all my years of trawling through second hand record shops, op shops and specialty record stores I only ever found one album on of his on vinyl (a reissue of ‘Sings Women Blues’ on Verve) at Yesterday and Today Records back in the 90s and one album that had a track of his (As Long as the Grass Shall Grow on An Anthology of North American Indian and Eskimo Music, Folkways) at Discovery Records in Hornsby, again back in the 90s. In both of those instances I didn’t have the money to buy them at the time so I just looked at the covers and had a read of the song titles and wished I could afford them and in both instances I went back a couple of days later to buy them when I had the money but they were sold already. It’s funny when I can remember exactly where I saw records that I didn’t even get to buy.

Ebay has altered my record buying habits lately and I now mainly shop online. I found this album there. It took about three weeks to ship to me and I was so happy to see that the cover was in mint condition and that the record had hardly been played. This is probably my favourite album cover. The photograph by David Gahr and the design by Ronald Clyne is striking. It hits the right balance of anger, defiance and pride. Like all Folkways LPs it is cheaply manufactured but it is designed really well and it comes with a nice booklet packed with notes, lyrics and musical notation of the songs.

This was the final album from Peter La Farge. He made five albums in five years. His first was on CBS and the rest were on Folkways. They are all good. He was an actor, a playwright, a rodeo rider, artist and a Korean war veteran. He committed suicide in October 1965. He was 34 years old. He packed a lot into a short life.

If you want to hear his recordings, four of his albums are available from Smithsonian Folkways and if you want to find out more about Peter, film maker Sandra Hale Schulman has made a documentary about him, The Ballad of Peter La Farge and she’s written a biography Don’t Tell Me How I Looked Falling: The Ballad of Peter La Farge.

Johnny Cash – American Recordings – 1994 – American Recordings


For me this album, along with Dylan’s World Gone Wrong, signalled that something different was happening in the 90s. Things were going back to basics. This record, like World Gone Wrong, is totally solo and raw, stripped down to the bone. Cash was a basic guitarist and he proved that technique isn’t everything. In fact his lack of technique as a player worked for the songs, kept them stark and unadorned. Back when I saw him perform in Sydney he played 3 songs from this, it hadn’t been released yet. The show was mostly lacklustre actually, kind of awkward and tired (though June Carter’s set was pretty good and Kris Kristofferson would have been great if he’d killed the drum machine). But when Johnny played three songs solo, Let the Train Blow the Whistle, Bird on the Wire and, if memory serves me correctly, Down there by the Train, it was spellbinding. The show was worth it just for those three songs. He told the audience that he’d recorded this new album, that it was just him and his guitar and that he was very happy with it. From what I heard that night I knew it was going to be good. Once those three songs were over it went back to being an awkward show. The album cover to this record was photographed in Australia by Andy Earl in the same week as I saw Johnny perform. The evocative image fits perfectly with the music. After this record came out Cash was considered cool again. Funny, a lot of those people who derided me for liking Johnny Cash because he was “country crap” or whatever started to like him later in the 90s and conveniently forgot that they ever hated him. What is that about? A couple of years later I got to meet Johnny Cash’s drummer W.S. Holland in Circular Quay when he was touring with Cash and Willie Nelson. My friend Ruben was busking, playing African rhythms hitting the snare and the ground with a couple of sticks. I stopped to talk to Ruben for a bit. W.S. Holland came and put $5 in Ruben’s hat and introduced himself. He told Ruben that he liked what he was doing. He got into technical drum talk. We chatted for a bit. He boasted a lot about his career and achievements but yeah, if you played on the original Blue Suede Shoes with Carl Perkins you’d have a right to boast. It was nice to meet him.