At the roundabout, turn left and revisit Highway 61
Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour, which broadcasts on New York’s Sirius XM satellite radio and the BBC, produces some of the best broadcasting around. The maestro’s remarks about Australian singer and artist Rolf Harris included, after he played Tie Me Kangaroo Down, Sport, a detailed reference to the cultural insensitivity attached to calling indigenous people “Abos” and a surprise performance on “my didgeridoo”.
As Dylan’s producer dissolved in laughter, the Theme Time host finished his playing and suggested “that’s something you can tell your grandkids”. It sure was. It’s a genius moment showing just how good Dylan’s production and research team is and illustrating what a compelling radio talent he is.
The show produced some news in the last few weeks – first, his musing about being the voice of a satellite navigation system and later talking about this 34th studio album (47th overall), being issued in time for Christmas.
Unfortunately, the sat-nav yarn looks to be little more than Dylan’s wicked sense of humour having a gallop around the paddock.
Here’s what he said: “I am talking to a couple of car companies about being the voice of their GPS system. I think it would be good if you are looking for directions and hear my voice saying something like: left at the next street, no a right - you know what? Just go straight…
“I probably shouldn’t do it because which ever way I go I always end up at one place: Lonely Avenue.”
This sounds like one great songwriter tipping his hat to another, in this case Doc Pomus who had a Top 10 hit with Lonely Avenue in the mid-1950s (it was an even bigger hit for Ray Charles a little later). The fairly obvious frivolous flavour of Dylan’s comments didn’t stop thousands of bloggers, Twitter users and YouTube creators having their own short fantasies from one liners like “there must be some kind of way out of here” to video clips imagining the Bobster on GPS.
The thought of Dylan giving directions on your sat nav is too delicious, tempting a wrong turn so you can here the one-time saviour of a generation announce that he was “recalculating”.
The other Dylan news has been the Christmas album, Christmas In The Heart, due for release on October 13. It’s the real McCoy Christmas disc, from its traditional cover art – looking slightly White Russian – to the track selection which apparently includes standards like Here Comes Santa Claus, Little Drummer Boy and Winter Wonderland.
The record attracts interest because, although Dylan famously converted to Christianity in the late 1970s, the singer switched back to his childhood Jewish faith more recently, adopting Orthodox Judaism and appearing on religious telethons and performing at Yom Kippur services.
On one level it appears out of character for Dylan although he’s made a specialty of being out of character in his 50 years in public life. And, as with much of what Dylan does, there’s a twist.
All of the royalties from the sale of this record – and all income earned in perpetuity – will be donated to homelessness causes in the US and elsewhere. In the US the initial earnings will go to the national homeless charity Feeding America which calculates four million meals will go to about 1.4 million people during the coming Christmas-New Year period. Longer term an agreement between the charity and Columbia Records will ensure that all future income will benefit the homeless.
Dylan’s management has organised similar deals to help charities in other countries. You can only wish this CD sells heaps.
The 68-year-old is showing no signs of slowing down. He just finished a stadium tour with Willie Nelson and John Mellencamp – during which he was questioned by New Jersey police for suspicious activity while he was out walking late in the afternoon, looking at houses – and goes on the road again on October 5 with a show in Seattle.
The most interesting news out of BobWorld is that Dylan picked up the rights to a collection of unpublished Hank Williams lyrics – none with music – last year and is working with a group of musicians to set them to music and record them.
A recent session at the Blackbird Studio in Nashville, Tennessee featured the White Stripes’ Jack White (who’d been contacted by Dylan just before last Christmas to add some swinging notes to Williams’s words) while other participating artists include Willie Nelson, Lucinda Williams, Norah Jones, Sheryl Crow, Vince Gill with Rodney Crowell and Alan Jackson. It’s expected to come out before Christmas but there’s no word from BobWorld just some nice leaks from the artists. The lyrics, written between 1947 and 1953 (when Hank died), were found in the singer’s suitcase in his car.
If all goes well, we’ll start 2010 driving around with a Bobster sat nav, listening to his Christmas album and sitting up late drinking in a collection of never heard Hank Williams tunes. That tour kicking off in Washington – which only has western US states listed so far – might even end up in these parts.
Praise Bob and pass the Maker’s Mark.
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