Thursday, September 28, 2006

the year of the Cat take 2

Weird. While I was posting about Yusuf, yesterday night in London the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens was a guest of the Fortune Forum Summit, with celebrities like Bill Clinton.

Yusuf performed as well, but I prefer this photo of him with Michael Douglas

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

the year of the Cat

the cover art is not very promising. weird way to spell, also: is "Another cup", methink.

The ocean inside the cup of tea might be a reference to the ocean in Malibu where he was about to die, back in 1976, when he asked God for help. God helped him, and... you know the rest of the story.

Kinda weird that the artist formerly known as Cat Stevens and renamed Yusuf Islam from about 25 years now decided to not print on the front cover of his new album his last name, "Islam". Maybe a suggestion from the marketing dept. at Universal. These are those days you know...

Two songs were available from the NPR website yesterday to download, but to request from the artist they were removed. Kinda like it happened with Bob Dylan's Modern Times last july. You really wonder who is behind this official Internet websites...

I got the chance to download them, tho: Don't Let me be Misunderstood, the old Animals glory song, is very interesting: only Yusuf voice and a nice orchestra, very slow and very passionate. It seems he choose this song for the lyrics, since he was minsunderstood every time he spoke about his islamic faith (so he says) but also I believe this was a huge hit way back when he started out his career back in mid 60s, so a way to pay tribute to his old days too.

the other is a nice ballad, but I dont like the arrangements: the horns make it sound like a silly carrebbean song or something. The voice is no more the old Cat Stevens voice of course, it lost most of his power but is a nice voice tho.

well, it was 28 years since his last "pop" album. welcome back, Cat,anyway.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

The most interesting (and serious) Modern Times review

from []

Introductory Remarks
Eyolf Østrem

The question is not so much: “Is this a good Dylan album?” – which it is – as “Is this a Dylan album?” – which it isn’t.

First the lyrics: as Scott Warmouth has discovered, through an ingenious google investigation, several lines of lyrics are lifted from the works of the “Poet Laureate of the Confederacy” Henry Timrod in much the same way as Yunichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza unwittingly contributed to “Love and Theft”. This has caused considerable reactions, in far wider circles than usual.

So, is Dylan a thieving scoundrel and a plagiarist, or a genius who transforms what he reads into new gems?

The lyrical side of his creative borrowings don’t bother me a single bit, and I’m surprised that such a fuss has been made over this. If anything, they add to the value of Dylan’s effort, rather than subtract from it. I would never call any of that plagiarism, neither in the case of Modern Times nor of “Love and Theft”. I can’t imagine Dylan sitting there in his divine solitude, struggling with a line, then walking over to the bookshelf and picking out Timrod or Saga in search for a line that would work. Now, that would have come closer to plagiarism: to let someone else do the job. I imagine it’s the other way around: Dylan has read Yakuza and Timrod, certain phrases and figures have stuck in his mind, from where they in due time have popped up again, in a completely new context. This kind of use is not dictated by need but by circumstance, coincidence, “intuition” if you wish. That is what I find fascinating about the use of these sources on these two albums: they highlight just how it is that things “pop up” in one’s mind – how people think.

But my surprise by the overreaction regarding a few creatively transformed word connections is multiplied by the lack of a similar reaction to the musical borrowings. These are both much more substantial and much more difficult to defend.

At the time of writing (Wed 20 Sept, 16:08 CET), the following songs on Modern Times have known models for their music:

* Rollin’ and Tumblin’ • Taken from Muddy Water’s version of Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues” from 1929.
* When the Deal Goes Down • based on Bing Crosby’s trademark song “Where the Blue of the Night (Meets the Gold of the Day)” by Roy Turk and Fred E. Ahlert
* Beyond the Horizon • Taken from Jim Kennedy’s “Red Sails in the Sunset”
* The Levee’s Gonna Break • taken wholesale (apart from a few new lines of lyrics here and there) from Kansas Joe & Memphis Minnie’s “When the Levee Breaks” from 1929.
* Someday Baby • taken from “Worried Life Blues” (aka “Someday Baby” or “Trouble No More”), performed by Sleepy John Estes, Fred McDowell, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, Eric Clapton, the Animals, and Bob Dylan himself (Toad’s Place, 1990), just to mention a few.

These are not just influences: in all cases, the chord structure is lifted from the models and the melody is clearly recognizable, and in some cases, the whole arrangement is “borrowed”.

That’s five out of ten. Furthermore, I’d be very surprised if the music to Spirit on the Water is Dylan’s own. Thunder on the Mountain could be by anyone, and probably is. That leaves us with three songs where the music is – at least until proven otherwise – truly “by Bob Dylan”.

It so happens that these are the three strongest songs on the album: “Nettie Moore”, “Ain’t Talkin’” and “Workingman’s Blues #2”. I don’t know if this is good news or bad: it is reassuring that his own songs are the best, but why, then, did he have to put in the rest of it – didn’t he have more than three songs in him in five years?

If this is a sign of creative drought, that may be a matter of concern regarding the possibility of more albums in the future, but in this particular context, it’s not my main concern.

If the various textual allusions and citations can be redeemed as a fascinating display of creative intertextual intution, it is quite the opposite with the music. When Dylan w/band play the exact same notes and the exact same solos as Muddy Waters did on “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”, that’s not “intuition” or creative translocation, it’s just “letting Muddy do the job”, plain and simple. That doesn’t add to my appreciation of the work – on the contrary.

Putting the label “All songs by Bob Dylan” on this CD is plain indecency. Again, this applies only to the music; I would not have wished to see anyhing like: “Words by Bob Dylan and Henry Timrod”. But I would have liked to see: “Words: Bob Dylan, Music: Muddy Waters” (disregarding here the fact that Muddy didn’t write the tune either, but that’s moot: he played those solos, he shaped the song into the form which Dylan has taken over, so for all intents and purposes Muddy is the originator). If Dylan has copyrighted the tunes of Rollin’ and Tumblin’ and Beyond the Horizon, he gets money from selling something he didn’t own in the first place. And regardless of the money, by putting “by Bob Dylan” under it he is taking creative credit for something he didn’t create, stating “This is what I have to say” without actually saying anything. That’s my main concern: he isn’t saying anything. And as Tom Lehrer so eloquently put it: “If you don’t have anything to say, the least you can do is shut up!”

Some have defended Dylan with reference to the folk tradition. “This is what one does there: one takes what one hears and builds on that. This is what Dylan has always done.” Etc. Fair enough, but only to a point. Nick Manho said on the dylanpool:

The difference between Bob ripping off the blues guys in the 60s and Bob ripping off the blues guys now is that in the 60s Bob’s rip-offs werer better than the originals

and there’s really something to that. The point of standing on others’ shoulders should be to see farther, not to stand taller. ’Being in the folk tradition’ isn’t a valid excuse for acting more like a thieving bastard than as a creative musician with a rich heritage.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

You think He's just an errand boy to satisfy your wandering desires.

di Davide Rondoni (pubblicato su Avvenire)

Con le polemiche di questi giorni intorno alle parole di Benedetto
XVI si è davvero toccato il vertice di un'epoca. Uno di quei momenti
in cui arrivano a chiarimento, a combustione gli elementi primari di
un tempo. Si può dire che si è concluso davvero il '900. Il secolo
delle ideologie e del fondamentalismo di vario genere.
La Chiesa attaccata dall'esterno e, potremmo dire, dall'«interno».
Ovvero da coloro che hanno sempre combattuto la Chiesa, ma anche da
coloro che alla storia della Chiesa devono il patrimonio di libertà e
di valori di cui godono. Attaccata non per vicende teologiche o
morali. Non per il Dogma dell'Immacolata. O il quinto comandamento.
Ma perché difende la ragione. Attaccata sui giornali americani e su
quelli dei nemici degli americani. Da chi non vedeva l'ora. Da chi
non sopporta la libertà della Chiesa Cattolica. Attaccata dai
sorrisetti compiaciuti dei nostri intellettualini. Che dicono: il
Papa non doveva esagerare. Senza aver letto il discorso. E lo dicono
cercando poi l'appoggio dei preti per le loro opere o carriere. E
attaccata dai mini-Voltaire di casa nostra.

Il Papa accusando l'uso della violenza legata alla religione ha reso
il più grande onore a Dio. E alla ragione dell'uomo, alla sua
libertà. Senza di esse nemmeno la sottomissione a Dio ha valore. Dio
infatti non gode per un amore obbligatorio. Sarebbe non un padre ma
tiranno. E sarebbe un Dio scemo. Come nessuno di noi vuole essere
amato dalla propria donna, dagli amici o dai figli, per obbligo. Il
Papa ha ricordato che Dio vuole l'uomo libero e in piena facoltà di
ragione. Libero persino di dire di no a Dio. E impegnato a verificare
razionalmente se Dio c'entra con la vita oppure no.
Ha fatto questo, il Papa. Ha messo se stesso in prima linea nella
difesa di tale dignità della ragione e della libertà. Che i decenni
passati hanno così tante volte offeso. Per mano dei capi delle
nazioni. Per mano dei filosofi. Per mano dei capi religiosi.
Compiendo stragi. Obbligando al silenzio. Rubando la libertà di

Il Papa non voleva offendere nessuno. Non ha usato argomenti
offensivi. Chi si è sentito offeso ha forse qualcosa da temere da
questa difesa della ragione e della libertà? Chi non capisce che si
tratta di un problema laico, non teologico, è forse così ottuso dai
propri interessi e distratto dalla ricerca di onori e potere da non
vederne l'urgenza? Non si tratta di un capo religioso messo in
questione per faccende legate alla fede che professa. Il Papa è stato
attaccato perché ha toccato il nervo scoperto del secolo. Ha difeso
lui, uomo di fede, la ragione e la libertà. Portando a compimento,
realizzando per così dire, un disegno che lungo tutto il Novecento ha
visto proprio nei cattolici i primi difensori della libertà e del

Siamo al culmine di un'epoca costellata dai nomi di pensatori,
scrittori, e martiri cattolici. Newman, Chesterton, Péguy, Lewis,
Padre Kolbe…Uomini che si sono opposti all'imbarbarimento portato da
dittature chiare o striscianti, da perversioni della libertà sterili
e violente. Si sta compiendo quel che una grande scrittrice
americana, Flannery O'Connor, aveva previsto: la Chiesa ha tanti
difetti, ma sarà lei a rendere sopportabile il mondo. Infatti, la
concezione di persona libera che è maturato dal seme cristiano, per
quanto mille volte tradito, è tranne che nella posizione della Chiesa
a rischio. In nome della tecnica. In nome dei soldi. O anche in nome
di un potere violento che usa il nome di Dio. E che troverebbe comodo
scaricare la propria sete di dominio e di potere sulle spalle di Dio.
Per questo il Papa, autorevole uomo di Dio, che difende libertà e
ragione dà molto fastidio. La sua testimonianza è lo zenit del nostro

E, da certi silenzi e da altre meditazioni, dalla cautela di taluni
potenti e dalla risposta di tanta gente comune, si intravvede come la
proposta della sua parola sta penetrando in molti cuori, rompendo
vecchi schemi. E forse riattivando alcuni motivi di speranza , anche
in luoghi impensati. E questo è bene, in un'epoca dura. Bene per

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Why the London tube is so damn hot?

You can hardly breathe. Well, except the Picadilly line, is really a living hell. In a two wonderful sunny breezy days in London, you cant understand why once you are two meters inside the London tube, the temperature is like in a living hell. And not the tube alone. My hotel: same thing, damn hot. This theatre I went to see Shawn Colvin: fucking hot.
Hey London town, is a cool September month, not January yet…

Shawn Colvin is a nice girl; when I met her in her hotel for our interview, she appeared also definitely cool: cigarettes and coffee, a look in her eyes like a sort of female Keith Richards. She went through quite a lot in her life, after all. Cant say the same about her concert: kinda of surviving the 60s folk revival… She was great, tho, when she told about that time she was opening for Sting (while telling this, she was tuning her guitar): “I was opening for him, alone, and this damn guitar was getting out of tune every night… One day Sting told me: why don’t you buy a tuner?. That fancy ass… He told me that not in the dressing room, just me and him alone… No. he told me so in the hotel hall, in front of a dozen of people… So, Sting… do you ever saw Bob Dylan with a guitar tuner, sitting on Washington Square? Or did you ever saw Charlie Parker with a tuner? Keep your tuner for yourself”. Or something.

Always great to take a walk down through Soho. And Denmark Street, where in the early 60s there was that little studio where the Stones recorded some of their early stuff.. I never saw a drums shop. Yes, a shop devoted in selling drums only, in Denmark Street, between about ten guitars shops. I was tempted to buy that drums set with the The Beatles logo on it. And all the great bookstores around the corner. And cds as well. So I was asking to this guy dressed like he was in a Franz Ferdinand videoclip: “Do you have any Bob Dylan’s super audio cds?”.
“Super audio cd? Is that the title of the Bob Dylan’s cd you are looking for?”. Yes sure.

Nevermind, Virgin megastore, and I got a copy of Desire SACD, right in time before the 30th anniversary of this majestic album will come to an end. It was the only Dylan’s SACD still available. And while I was there in the Dylan section, a 50 years old gentleman took a copy of Dylan’s Modern Times. There was a laugh behind us. A sorta of 17 year old punk with orange hair like a Mohican was laughing: “Dad, a Bob Dylan’s album?”. That’s it. Now you know who buy Bob Dylan’s cds and sacds. .

Thursday, September 14, 2006

He is a lonely visitor

Back in the 70s, he was one of the coolest people in the rock’n’roll scene. Not only musically: his look was the way we were trying to dress ourself.

Two songs among the truckload of great songs he wrote in those days, are still to me some of the best 70s songs, cause they are the perfect description of how an era ended (the 60s with all his dreams) and how it was to survive with no dreams anymore. I’m talking about Ambulance Blues (which, of course, have some of the coolest lyrics ever written in a rock song) and Campaigner.
Neil Young should remember he wrote a song like this.


I am a lonely visitor.
I came to late to cause a stir,
Though I campaigned all my life
towards that goal.
I hardly slept the night you wept
Our secret's safe and still well kept
Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.
Even Richard Nixon has got

Traffic cops are all color blind.
People steal from their own kind.
Evening comes to early for a stroll.
Down neon streets the streaker streaks.
The speaker speaks,
but the truth still leaks,
Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.
Even Richard Nixon has got it,

The podium rocks in the crowded waves.
The speaker talks of the beautiful saves
That went down long before
he played this role
For the hotel queens and the magazines,
Test tube genes and slot machines
Where even Richard Nixon got soul.
Even Richard Nixon has got it,

Hospitals have made him cry,
But there's always a free way in his eye,
Though his beach just got
too crowded for his stroll.
Roads stretch out like healthy veins,
And wild gift horses strain the reins,
Where even Richard Nixon has got soul.
Even Richard Nixon has got

I am a lonely visitor.
I came to late to cause a stir,
Though I campaigned all my life
towards that goal.

Monday, September 11, 2006


Recently, an egyptian professor at the University of El Cairo, was busy translating an italian book. He wasnt able to translate two words that he could not find in the arab language.

The first one was the word: "realism". He said that the roots of the arabian word for "realism" is "falling from the sky". He also said: "Since the events of the daily life are 'falling from the sky', men dont have any alternative if not to accept whatever it comes, good or bad. This way, men are not free in their relationship with the reality".

The other word he could not find any translation was "reason". In the arabian language, the only thing he could find was "to tie, to emprison, to close within".

"Realism, reason" are part of the elementary experience of man. You can't do it without it.

Those are things to think about it, in a day like this - even if my blog, for some obscure and mysterious reasons, is dating my post one day before, on the 10th of September -, five years later.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Come on baby lets go party!

“Bob Dylan's new album, Modern Times, has debuted at #1 on the Billboard Top 200 Albums chart, making this the artist's first album to hit the top of that chart in 30 years. This 30-year span between #1 albums - Desire hit the top spot in 1976 -- is the longest of any living recording artist. Modern Times has sold more than 192,000 copies in the United States since its release, marking the biggest such sales period for a Bob Dylan album in the 15 year history of SoundScan.
Source: Columbia Records”

According to Columbia Records Chairman Steve Barnett, "Modern Times is an absolutely staggering record, and we couldn't be more thrilled that fans have responded to it so enthusiastically by putting Bob at #1, which is where he belongs. This extraordinary artist has been integral to our company for nearly 45 years, and he remains at the peak of his artistry, vitality and cultural impact. We are incredibly proud of Bob's great achievement."

Yep. Its always great to see Bob Dylan’s name on the top of a list that include the usual Aguileras, Jessica S. and company (apart the fact that to be Number One dont necessarily means you made a good album, of course. That way, Britney Spears should be the new Joni Mitchell).
But more than that, is so sad to see Sony people drinking champaigne when, actually, Bob Dylan is at the top of the chart with 192,000 copies sold.


In the 70s, with that number of copies sold, the record company was giving you a good “Goodbye, so long, its been good to know you, now fuck off”.
They are talking about Desire, last Bob Dylan’s Number One, but they are forgetting that to be Number One in 1976 Bob Dylan sold one million of copies.

Hey Sony: nobody is buying albums anymore, can you get that?
These people are dancin’ on the roof of the Titanic. Somebody please tell them about. The ship is going down down down… and the orchestra is playing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

I live in another world

Durante una puntata del suo radio show (da qualche mese il cantautore americano, noto non solo per la sua musica ma anche per la leggendaria idiosincrasia nel parlare in pubblico, tiene con cadenze settimanali sulle frequenze della radio satellitare XM un programma intitolato “Theme Time Radio Hour”), rispondendo a una mail di un ascoltatore che si lamentava del fatto che il “Bob Dylan dj” passasse quasi esclusivamente canzoni dei primi decenni del Novecento, rispose: “Non ho nulla contro le canzoni nuove. Il fatto è che ci sono così tante canzoni vecchie”.
“Canzoni vecchie”, come quelle che si ascoltano nel nuovo disco, uscito il primo settembre, Modern Times. Che Bob Dylan viva in un “time out of mind” (“un tempo immemorabile”) per citare il titolo di uno dei suoi ultimi album, è un fatto piuttosto noto. Il look, quando sale sul palcoscenico, è ormai da anni quello del “riverboat gambler”, del giocatore d’azzardo professionista del Vecchio West, con tanto di cappellaccio da cowboy. Non lo sentirete mai esprimersi a proposito di fatti cronaca recente, che siano la guerra in Iraq o la presidenza Bush. Al proposito, in una intervista di qualche giorno fa su Usa Today, a proposito del recente disco di Neil Young tutto dedicato ad attaccare la presidenza americana, ha commentato, dimostrando di non sapere probabilmente neanche chi sieda alla Casa Bianca: “Quando ho sentito Let’s Impeach the President di Neil, ho pensato: sta ancora scrivendo canzoni su un fatto così vecchio? Roba da pazzi, ha fatto una canzone su Bill Clinton?”. Aggiungendo: “Le canzoni politiche non mi appartengono. Io scrivo dell’esperienza”.

Un titolo piuttosto ironico, allora: Modern Times (tempi moderni, come il film di Charlie Chaplin). Di moderno però non ci troverete nulla. Come il precedente Love And Theft le musiche attingono abbondantemente a “vecchie canzoni” della tradizione blues o folk anglo-americana, come nel caso di Rollin’ And Tumblin’ che non riprende solo il titolo di un vecchio brano di Muddy Waters ma anche lo stesso riff e l’impostazione melodica. Altrove - in When The Deal Goes Down - si rifà addirittura a Bing Crosby, il cantante “pop” per eccellenza degli anni Trenta, mentre liricamente riprende una poesia di Henry Timrod, Charleston, soprannominato “il poeta laureato della Confederazione”. Un paio di anni fa, quando compose per il film Gods And Generals, ambientato ai tempi della Guerra Civile, il brano Cross The Green Mountain, per l’apposito videoclip Dylan si fece filmare con barba e capelli lunghi - finti - a cavallo di un destriero mentre vagava tra i soldati morti e feriti di una battaglia della guerra in questione.
Il Bob Dylan del terzo Millennio canta di un’America perduta, quella che stava costruendo i suoi ideali su una promessa ritenuta plausibile, quella dei Padri Pellegrini con il loro sogno della Città sulla collina, la Città di Dio sulla terra. L’America che si è spezzata in due irrimediabilmente con la Guerra di secessione. Qualche anno fa Gregory Peck disse di Bob Dylan: “In lui è possibile udire l’eco delle antiche voci d’America: Whitman e Mark Twain, i cantanti blues, i suonatori di violino e gli autori di ballate. Lui è una specie di troubador dell’Ottocento, uno spirito americano originale”.
Non canta del mondo moderno, eppure le sue canzoni sono lo stesso misteriosamente piene di profezie su quanto accade. Come nella delicata poesia della bellissima Workingman’s Blues # 2 (“il blues del lavoratore”), un’ode color seppia a tutti quegli uomini che lavorano sodo e tirano avanti, con il caustico commento: “Certa gente non ha mai lavorato un solo girono nella loro vita, non sanno neanche cosa voglia dire lavorare”.

Modern Timesè allora un disco di “canzoni popolari” – alla maniera di Dylan naturalmente –, un disco che potrebbe essere stato inciso nell’era pre-rock’n’roll: “Se non hai questo tipo di fondamenta, se non sei storicamente legato alla tradizione, allora ciò che fai non sarà forte come dovrà essere”.
Un suono a cui Dylan, in fondo, ha sempre lavorato sin dal suo primissimo disco di 44 anni fa, quando, appena ventenne, cercava di imitare la voce dei vecchi bluesmen che avevano percorso le strade d’America e quella Highway 61 che Dylan, nel ’65, cantò nell’omonimo, rivoluzionario disco che aprì le porte al nuovo rock. Oggi Dylan ha fatto sua quella voce, e ancor più di quando cantava brani come Blowin’ In The Wind o Mr. Tambourine Man, lui è la “voce dell’America”.
"In tutte le mie canzoni", ha detto recentemente, "non ho fatto altro che navigare in quel grande mare che è l'America".

“Dio è parte del linguaggio dell’America”, ha detto il professore universitario Sean Wilentz. “Dal primo europeo che si stabilì qui, Dio era qui. Allora siamo onesti: che motivo c’è di scappare via da questo? È lì. Ciò che vuole la ballata popolare americana, almeno in parte, è Dio, una vita spirituale. Ancora: non è solo a proposito di un Dio generico, è a proposito di un Dio cristiano, e devi avere a che fare con questo come parte del linguaggio popolare americano. Non è sempre presente, Dio, nella canzone popolare americana, ma c’è, è impossibile negarlo. È per questo che i democratici hanno perso le elezioni. Perché hanno eliminato Dio dalla tradizione. I repubblicani infatti sanno cantare meglio dei democratici le canzoni popolari”.
E infatti c’è Dio, nelle canzoni di Modern Times, una presenza incombente: il primo brano del disco (Thunder On The Mountain) si apre con la voce di Dio sulle montagne e il suono di pistole per le strade, e lo si ritrova nell’accenno al monaco che fondò la comunità di St. Herman, ai primi dell’Ottocento, nelle campane di St. Mary che echeggiano in distanza, nell’amara tentazione della desolata Ain’t Talkin’, brano conclusivo del disco in cui il cantante vaga per il Giardino Mistico per scoprire che è stato abbandonato dal suo Giardiniere ritrovandosi in un mondo “riempito di speculazioni”, in cui “strapperanno via la tua mente dalla contemplazione”.
Non resta che una cosa da fare allora: “Io non parlo, cammino soltanto. Dicono che la preghiera ha la forza di guarire, allora prega per me, madre”.

E, come ha detto Patti Smith con la sagacia che solo certi musicisti sanno avere, ascoltare Modern Times è come entrare nella testa di Bob Dylan e ascoltare i suoi pensieri. Un privilegio non da poco...

Monday, September 04, 2006

Too soon gone

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