'Mystic Nights - The Making of Blonde On Blonde In Nashville' by Sean Wilentz
September 28, 2007 10:15 PM   Subscribe

... After take seventeen, Dylan heeds the producer Johnston’s advice to start with a harmonica swoop. Crescendos off of an extended fifth chord, led by Paul Griffin’s astonishingpiano swells (“half Gershwin, half gospel, all heart” an astute critic later wrote), climax in choruses dominated by piano, organ, and Bobby Gregg’s drum rolls; Robbie Robertson’s guitar hits its full strength at the finale. Intimations of the thin, wild mercury sound underpin rock & roll symphonics. Johnston delivers a pep talk before one last take—“keep that soul feel”—and Gregg snaps a quick click opener, and fewer than five minutes later, the keeper is in the can.
Mystic Nights - The Making of Blonde On Blonde In Nashville
An account of how the many strands of that thin, that wild mercury sound were woven. And the annotation goes on. Via email via St Urbain's Horseman
posted by y2karl (36 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 10:17 PM on September 28, 2007

A choice cut:
...And, of course, dominating everything was Bob Dylan’s voice, figuratively as the author and literally as one of the album’s main musical instruments. Dylan did not completely relinquish his own version of what Jack Kerouac had called 'spontaneous bop prosody,' but crucially, in violation of Kerouac’s alleged miraculous practice, Dylan constantly and carefully revised, as he always had and still does, even to the point of abandoning entire songs. Changing the line 'I gave you those pearls' to 'with her fog, her amphetamine, and her pearls' was one example out of dozens of how Dylan, in the studio and in his Nashville hotel room, improved the timbre of the songs’ lyrics as well as their imagery. And Dylan’s voice, as ever an evolving invention, was one of the album’s touchstones, a smooth, even sweet surprise to listeners who had gotten used to him sounding harsh and raspy. By turns sibilant, sibylline, injured, cocky, sardonic, and wry, Dylan’s voice on Blonde on Blonde more than made up in tone and phrasing what it gave away in range. It was even more challenging to sing out than it was to write out, 'But like Louise always says/‘Ya can’t look at much, can ya, man’/As she, herself, prepares for him,' in 'Visions of Johanna,' but Dylan pulled it off.
posted by y2karl at 10:18 PM on September 28, 2007

Please remove the "via". This is all about Karl.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 10:20 PM on September 28, 2007

God, I hope not. Naw, it's about the article. I was just givin' ya props for turning me on to it.
posted by y2karl at 10:24 PM on September 28, 2007

I suppose I can self link here so long as I self-proclaim:

The archive.

The new season.

Let it go, please, Matt. It is only advocacy on our parts...
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 10:26 PM on September 28, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here is the original.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 10:41 PM on September 28, 2007

Get a room, you two.
posted by Poolio at 10:48 PM on September 28, 2007

Three, actually.
posted by St Urbain's Horseman at 11:02 PM on September 28, 2007

karl, the horse, and the rider?
posted by revfitz at 11:19 PM on September 28, 2007

posted by tellurian at 12:48 AM on September 29, 2007

Wilentz, when he channels Greil Marcus, still gets to me.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:29 AM on September 29, 2007

Johnston, apparently at Dylan’s request, helped bring everybody together by emptying the studio of bafflers—tall dividers that separated the musicians to prevent the sounds from one bleeding into the microphone of another. The producer wanted to create an ambiance fit for an ensemble, and he succeeded—so much so that Kenny Buttrey later credited the album’s distinctive sound to that alteration alone. “It made all the difference in our playing together,” he later told an interviewer, “as if we were on a tight stage, as opposed to playing in a big hall where you’re ninety miles apart. From that night on, our entire outlook was changed. We started having a good time.”

I'll take the bleed, if it fixes the groove, every time. The best sessions I've worked on were done like this, sans headphones.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:09 AM on September 29, 2007

Let it bleed, let it bleed, let it bleed, let it bleed,
Whisper words of wisdom, let it bleed.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:36 AM on September 29, 2007

BTW, the above comment wasn't inspired so much by the Beatles as it was by St Urbain's Horseman's deleted self-link to the blue.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:39 AM on September 29, 2007

Is there some sort of musical cabal happening?
posted by tellurian at 6:27 AM on September 29, 2007

Not to get all banhammer but why did St Urbain's Horseman get a pass?
posted by tellurian at 6:36 AM on September 29, 2007

Another great find—thanks, y2karl! I've loved that album for decades (and "Absolutely Sweet Marie" is one of my all-time favorite songs), and reading about the recording was fascinating. (It lost me a little towards the end—I tend to tune out when people start comparing rock-and-roll to Blake—but that's my problem.)
posted by languagehat at 6:57 AM on September 29, 2007

Bob Dylan wasn't the only genius songwriter in the room for those sessions (also, writer/producer).
posted by Faze at 7:42 AM on September 29, 2007 [1 favorite]

Funny, I'm currently reading the Greil Marcus triptych on Like a Rolling Stone, and couldn't agree more with allen.spaulding. The similarities in style and approach between these two pieces are pretty hard to forgive overlook. I mean, the subject matter is easy to love and well worth the exposition, but this piece seems to echo Marcus' gabby style. Although I'll admit to liking this article more than the Marcus book; given Marcus' penchant for chasing every parenthetical comment down to the roots in his footnotes, Like a Rolling Stone: Bob Dylan at the Crossroads reminds me of a poorly written episode of Family Guy. This piece is better than that.
posted by mosk at 8:18 AM on September 29, 2007

Faze, thanks for the Joe South links: Down In the Boondocks is a song I always loved, even though I didn't care for singer Billy Joe Royal's voice that much, and always thought the arrangement was too fast and peppy. I could imagine a similar rhythmic treatment but at a slower tempo: something that could really ring the emotion out of the subject matter with more authority and, well, more juice. Along similar thematic lines, there's also the excellent Poor Side of Town, a hit in 1966 from Johnny Rivers, which was was another great pop-song exploration of the classic theme of love across class lines, but which also suffered from the wrong kind of production, IMO.

Joe South deserves an FPP of his own.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 8:20 AM on September 29, 2007

languagehat: I tend to tune out when people start comparing rock-and-roll to Blake—but that's my problem

Also my problem. That bit had me shouting.

Good article, otherwise. It's funny, every article I read about the recording of Blonde on Blonde presents it completely differently. Dylan's standoffish vs. Dylan's shooting the shit with the guys. Everybody was drunk for the recording of Rainy Day Women vs. everybody was stone cold sober. New Yorkers got hassled in Nashville vs. New Yorkers loved Nashville and didn't get any hassle. And so one and so forth.

Funny thing, memory.
posted by Kattullus at 8:47 AM on September 29, 2007

Being a DJ and all, I love playing 'Visions of Johanna' while I finish up my dinner behind the DJ booth. I'm a happy hour DJ
who plays everything. Last night, a black guy verbally attacked
me for playing Johnny Cash. You see, I'm black also, and he couldn't fathom a black DJ playing Johnny Cash as well as
Bob Dylan. I've played them for years. I love me some American music.
posted by doctorschlock at 10:01 AM on September 29, 2007

Last night, a black guy verbally attacked
me for playing Johnny Cash.

Well, you never know... he might've been the son of that guy Johnny shot in Reno. You know, just to watch him die?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 10:04 AM on September 29, 2007

Wow, thanks for this great post, y2karl and St. Urbain's Horseman. Good timing - I am going to see Bob Dylan & Elvis Costello this coming week.
posted by madamjujujive at 10:25 AM on September 29, 2007

Good one, Flapjax! I was also doing some Otis Redding
last night with my oldies but goodies mix and another guy walked up to the DJ booth and asked my if I would play some Bon Jovi. Hmmm!I was in the middle of a Otis/Elvis/Cash/Dylan/Taj Majhal/Van Morrison/Chuck Berry mix......yeah....Bon Jovi.........hmmm!
posted by doctorschlock at 10:37 AM on September 29, 2007

Hey Flapjax! Is your name a play on words? Like..my favorite song and personal theme song is 'Soul at Sunrise by Juggy'.
Is that a variation of it?
posted by doctorschlock at 11:16 AM on September 29, 2007

They're selling postcards of the banning
They're painting the background grey
The callout is filled with wailers
Spamming's not okay.
Here comes the fishy self-linker
They've got him in a trance
One hand's cut off just below the wrist
The other's in quonsar's pants
And the image posters they're restless
They need somewhere to go
As pb and Bligh look out tonight
From MetaFilter Row...

Jessamyn, she seems so easy
"It takes one to know one," she smiles
And puts her hands in her back pockets
Cock in Chicken style
And in comes a n00b, he's moaning
"I paid my five bucks, I believe"
And someone says,"This isn't Fark, /., or Digg, my friend
You better leave"
And the only sound that's left
After the whaambulances go
Is Jessamyn sweeping up
On MetaFilter Row...

Now the deleted posts are almost hidden
Stan Chin's star is beginning to hide
I like the fortunetelling lady
But she's no mme. jujujive
All except for TPS and Stinky
And the hunchback of notre Dame
Everybody is piling on
Or else expecting rain
And DaShiv, as seen in the NYT
He's takes lovely pics that glow
He's going to the meet-up tonight
On Metafilter Row...

Ampersand, he's using Windows
For him I feel so cold
By the end of the second verse
This joke was already old

To Matt the web is quite semantic
He wears an cycling vest
His profession's his religion
His sin is borked CSS
And though some eyes are fixed upon
Their favorites counts so low
They still waste their time refreshing
On Metafilter Row...

jonmc, disguised as Handsome Dick
With his contacts in a list
Passed this way an hour ago
With mr_crash, both somewhat pissed
He looked so immaculately frightful
As he bummed a cigarette
Then he went off about rock music
And reciting the the bridge to Beth
Now you would not think to look at him
But he joined up long ago
His jersey's number fifty-eight
On Metafilter Row...

languagehat, he keeps his words
Inside of a leather-bound
But prescriptivists impatient
Argue lingo ain't made, no, it is found
Now cortex, some local luter
He's in charge of the memory hole
And he also keeps the cards that read
"This post was deleted for..."
They all play on penny whistles
You can hear them blow
If you click over to a subsite
On Metafilter Row...

Across the street a jerk linked to HOFB
They're getting ready to give 'em hell
Someone makes a dumb headline
And says "This won't wendell"
They're circumcising Anonymous
Saying "Dump her" and "Change your bank"
Then they'll kill him with declawing
And name his daughter Frank
And the 14kers shout to hinny churls
Read the FAQ if you don't know
Anonymous is just being punished for going
To Metafilter Row...

Now at midnight all the flapjax
And the East Hemispheric crew
Come out and round up comment counts
'Cause they don't sleep when we do
Then they post links to the front page
And their questions to The Green
Are snarked at by those bolder
And then the plate of beans
Is brought down from the castles
By the self-police who go
Check to see that nobody is escaping
To MetaFilter Row...

Praise be to PoliFilter
The ship of state it sails at dawn
And everybody's shouting
"Which side are you on?"
And ParisP and y2karl
Fighting in My Comments pages
While MeMu singers LOL at them
And five fresh fish he rages
Between the iPhone and News FPPs
Where one-link YouTubes go
And everybody thinks too much
About Metafilter Row...

Yes, I got your PM yesterday
About the time the html broke
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?
All these sockpuppets that you mention
Yes, I know them, they're quite lame
They had to reregister their accounts
And get themselves new usernames
Right now I can't read too good
Don't send me no more e-mails no
Not unless you pronounce MeFi right
On Metafilter Row...
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:45 AM on September 29, 2007 [10 favorites]

Cool post, btw!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 11:47 AM on September 29, 2007

Not a bad effort Alvy. Highway 61 Revisited was a good album too. Some of us think it far surpasses Blonde on Blonde but of course, it's all subjective.
posted by peacay at 4:48 PM on September 29, 2007

I'd actually agree with that sentiment peacay, if for no other reason than my hate for Leopard-Skin Pillbox Hat burns like a thousand suns.

And yeah, I know that Desolation Row isn't a BoB tune. I wrote my silly parody for the last Dylan FPP, which was unfortunately closed as a double before I had a chance to comment. The surly Dylan fan in me bristles, yes, bristles, at your implication that I don't know which songs are on which albums!
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:53 PM on September 29, 2007

Oh I was more implying that you lost a couple of points for running it out in the Blonde on Blonde thread; I was sure you knew it was a different album. But anyway, the reduction was only slight, about the same as for a slightly munged dismount following an otherwise competent gymnastics routine; with the added curved assumptions that the very ugly gymnast was from Burma and looked after their blind father but had been convicted of sexual assault in their past. It's a sympathy-vengeance points reduction conundrum.
posted by peacay at 8:55 PM on September 29, 2007

If only that was the worst thing I've been compared to today.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:34 PM on September 29, 2007

The first time I met one of my long-time friends, he had a guitar and confidently predicted that he could play any Dylan tune I was able to name.

Smartass that I was, I said "Lepoard Skin Pillbox Hat" from Blonde on Blonde. My buddy paused two seconds and launched right into it without a second thought.

too cool.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:42 AM on September 30, 2007

Hey, hang on, is this the guy from the lingerie advert? Yes, yes it is. ... After take seventeen, Dylan heeds the producer advice to start with a pantie closeup.
posted by tellurian at 4:33 AM on September 30, 2007

Hey y2karl, I think my version of "Visions of Johanna" compares quite favorably to the original.

But then, I am a retard. Caveat emptor.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:15 AM on September 30, 2007

Yeah, well, Hi, Mom! and all that.
posted by y2karl at 12:19 PM on September 30, 2007

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