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A degree of symbiosis seems to be happening at present between this blog and John Baldwin’s Desolation Row Information Service newsletter. The latter’s reader Wiebke Ditmer has responded in detail to my earlier blogpost about Dylan’s New Orleans Series of paintings  -  but on the newsletter rather than here. Meanwhile something I saw in a newsletter of a few days earlier prompted me to ask its contributor, John Morrison, if he would like to re-run it as a guest post on this blog. Continue reading

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Since it’s Christmas, here is the small stockingfiller’sworth of my much-delayed Tempest assessment, after which I’m happy to be able to offer the substantial gift of a review by Roy Kelly, one of the very best of writers about Dylan. Roy’s review is just appearing in the new issue of The Bridge, where it sits alongside rather gushier assessments by various others.As my long reluctance has suggested, I’d hate to have to review Tempest at length myself Continue reading

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Since it’s Christmas, here is the small stockingfiller’sworth of my much-delayed Tempest assessment, after which I’m happy to be able to offer the substantial gift of a review by Roy Kelly, one of the very best of writers about Dylan. Roy’s review is just appearing in the new issue of The Bridge, where it sits alongside rather gushier assessments by various others.As my long reluctance has suggested, I’d hate to have to review Tempest at length myself. Continue reading

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By Larry Jaffee Okay, here’s the blasphemy. Despite its nearly universal rave reviews, I must say that Tempest is a very overrated Dylan album, marred by his harsh-sounding voice that just ruins the overall experience for me. I’ve always made … Continue reading

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‘ Monday 18th September marked the 25th anniversary of the release of Michael Jackson’s Bad. You may not have known or noticed, since the music press at large seem to have ignored the song and dance Michael Jackson’s estate are … Continue reading

Live Review: John Kay & Steppenwolf, Theatre at Westbury (NY), Sept. 1, 2012

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  By Larry Jaffee It’s nearly a certainty that globally two Steppenwolf songs will be played every day on terrestrial radio or Internet-based stations or music sharing services. Yes, “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride” are late 1960s … Continue reading

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  Of all the original UK progressive bands, VDGG was perhaps the least pop conscious of the lot. No matter how out-there most prog bands got, they always made at least a symbolic nod to pop in a song or … Continue reading

Karl Larks

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“OK, this is an American number one…” This rash, and, as it turned out, woefully inaccurate prediction comes courtesy of Karl Wallinger. One delivered, with due sceptical optimism, in a voice that sounds as if its owner has just O’Ded … Continue reading

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The man who put the funk in some of the best records ever made is gone. Here’s the notice from The Recording Academy: NEWS RELEASE Recording Academy Statement re: Donald “Duck” Dunn Sunday, May 13, 2012 GRAMMY® winner and Recording … Continue reading

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It would be hard to take much of an interest in the poetry of the 20th Century without taking an interest in Allen Ginsberg – and having devoured his Collected Poems, his terrific exchange of letters with his father, and Barry Miles’ fine biography, I’ve now been able to read Gordon Ball’s book East Hill Farm: Seasons with Allen Ginsberg (published in US hardback by Counterpoint, and in a Kindle edition).

One of the reader reviews said this: A fascinating and disturbing time in U.S. history is echoed in Gordon Ball’s riveting memoir of a period in Allen Ginsberg’s life that was pivotal in Ginsberg’s move to a truly serious Buddhist practice. The Cherry Valley farm commune of upstate New York is breezed over even in Ginsberg’s own poetry. But here, Ball’s training as a filmmaker gives us a slowed down gander at the often hilarious interactions of visitors Gregory Corso, Herbert Huncke, Ray Bremser, Charles Plymell and Andy Clausen with Allen and longtime companion Peter Orlovsky. At the same time, Ginsberg’s voluminous correspondence and exhaustive traveling, as well as Ball’s own adventures with Harry Smith, Bob Dylan and John Giorno in NYC, serve up a truly satisfying feast of well-documented detail. A book I didn’t want to end.”

That’s a pretty fair summary (except that Bob Dylan barely comes into it). I enjoyed it immensely. Gordon Ball is by no means a great writer, and the parts of the book that deal with his own 1960s-70s sex life never quite shake off an uncomfortable retrospective mix of embarrassment and a slight salacious pride, but all the same his book is invaluable. It places Ginsberg’s East Hill Farm commune experiment within both Ginsberg’s own life & career and the ferocious anti-longhairs-anti-war-anti-peaceniks turmoil of the American society of the time.

What makes this so useful is the detail. The account we have here, of police violence and political trials, of Ginsberg’s non-violent campaigning, of the level of readings he was forced to undertake in order to keep on financing the campaigns and the farm . . . all this puts us right back in the dark days of Nixon and the Vietnam War and the fragmenting forms of the underground” opposition. But it also gives a virtually day-by-day account of life on the farm (and it was a farm as much as a commune): of neighbours helping with tractors, the struggles against the cold, the seasonal plantings, the daily chores of feeding animals, milking cows, keeping newborn goats warm, digging long channels for waterpipes… and interwoven with this, the dramas of East Hill Farm’s often demanding communards and their guests (invited and uninvited.

Peter Orlovsky, a manic speed-freak prone to violence, of whom everyone else was at least a little afraid, comes out of this sustained and intimate portrait very badly: as someone so unpleasant and self-centred that it’s hard to comprehend Ginsberg continuing to suffer him. This is not the view Gordon Ball intends to convey: clearly he feels that there is some kind of magnetism about the guy. He never conveys it. But if Orlovsky is at the crazy end of this spartan, hard-working commune’s spectrum, Allen Ginsberg is at the other. Far from fitting the media’s picture of him as a self-indulgent egomaniac, he emerges from this remarkably close, prolonged inspection as immensely patient, unfailingly courteous to others (often in the face of great crassness and oblivious discourtesy), thoughtful, modest, deeply self-disciplined, hard-working, rigorously conscientious and warmly likeable.

East Hill Farm is a fine vindication of the insistent note-taker and diary-writer and let’s-film-everythinger. Such people are often seen as merely writing things down while those around them get on and live - but Gordon Ball worked at least as hard as anyone else on the farm (he was, in effect, its manager but did more than his share of the hoeing planting and weeding and carrying and storing and animal husbandry). And at the same time he was preserving what went down. His book hands it back to us, and without any detectable wish to rewrite history in the telling. It’s richly detailed. It illuminates an era in recent American history few people attend to or know much about today. It’s essential reading.

(Gordon Ball is the man who proposes Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize for Literature every year. There is an entry on him in my Bob Dylan Encyclopedia.)

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Levin Torn White – Tony Levin, David Torn, Alan White CD produced by Scott Schorr and Tony Levin for Lazy Bones Recordings. All songs by Levin, Torn, White, except “Sleeping Horse,” by Levin and Torn. First, the facts: It debuted … Continue reading

memories of the early Manic Street Preachers

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In the early days of the Manic Street Preachers, the band was isolated, not many liked them, they were against the grain, outsiders. For a select few though, they were game changers, for people like me writing about them in the music press invited lots of flak for Joe Rebel in Exeter they nearly saved rock n roll….here’s a collection of his memories of the band and interviews and reviews from his manics fanzine charting the rise of the band… from outsiders to national treasures? Continue reading

Growing up punk- part 2 of a Clash fan’s memoirs

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WE’RE A GARAGE BAND diary of a Clash fan-part 2 of Joe Rebel's punk rock memoirs Part 2 of Joe Rebel’s punk rock memoirs in which he joins a band and then gets to meet and become good friends with the late and great Joe Strummer … (Part 1 is here) In early ‘78, I was on the return train journey home from Minehead, following an Exeter City FA Cup-tie, when I was introduced to a group of drunken Exeter punks, seeking a drummer for a punk band, that went by the dubious name of Spew X. They were enthusiastic – and as I could find my way around a drum kit, I agreed to audition. Spew X’s chief mouthpiece was fast-talking punk, Shaun Pym Continue reading