Pass it Around
"If I made records for my own pleasure, I would only record Charley Patton songs." - Bob Dylan
To live outside the law you must be honest…or not. Dylan's Basement Tapes through the years
To live outside the law you must be honest…or not. Dylan's Basement Tapes through the years. In which A Tree with Roots goes from priceless to useless overnight and Tiny Tim jams with the Band.
Like many (exactly how many is unknown) my primary source for Dylan's Basement Tapes over recent years was the Tree with Roots CD set from Scorpion. Illustrated here, in part, with the discography. A lavish 4CD fold out bootleg with stolen photographs from Elliot Landy, inserts, extensive notes and the music. It certainly was not the first time I heard the music. I found it in a record store in Manhattan and paid maybe 100 bucks. It was worth every single penny, and I took a cab home, not the train.
In 1969, I bought my first version of the Basement Tapes on a white label vinyl LP from a record store in Grand Rapids Michigan. Which gives you some indication of how widely those early bootlegs traveled. Grand Rapids did have an active hippie, anti-war, pot-smoking scene, but it certainly was not New York or Chicago. It was easy enough to find bits and pieces of the basement tapes.. but it took decades to hear them all. As they trickled out, I was first to find them, be they offered through tape-trading ads in record collector magazines or record racks in my local head shop. Everyone needs a hobby.
It is almost 45 years ago now since I heard them first, and I have listened to them regularly since. Anyone of any age can tell you their musical taste changes over the years. In the case of most kids today, I hope it changes quickly… I saw Aretha Franklin at age 72 hit a home run on the Letterman show last night, but I can't see too many of the top acts kids like today garnering much attention 50 years from now. Hopefully my younger peers will start to go backwards and learn all music comes from somewhere, and it is often better a little closer to the source. Dylan has always known that, and he taught the lesson to the Band in the basement of Big Pink.
The Basement Tapes are by FAR the most interesting and challenging of Dylan's recordings. They come closest of all his songs to a spontaneous flow. They are wacky and ribald. They are comfortable and warm, yet perplexing. The key is the camaraderie with the members of the Hawks, and what a summer it was for them all.
No "product" called the New Basement Tapes will approach that time. It is an insult for them to even try, and I certainly do not look forward to T-Bone's first major, offensive gaffe that I know of. I heard one track, and believe me the horrible drone was not recorded in a basement. It sounds like it was recorded on a computer, and it was.
When the 1975 official double LP came out on Columbia, it was nice enough, but a bigger rip-off than the bootlegs I had purchased. They tinkered with the sound and tossed in some demos the Band had done. There's Levon, rocking out on it, but he wasn't even in the basement at the time. He was down licking wounds on an oil rig. Even though Rolling Stone said "the best album of the year is ten years old" or something like that, by that time I had easily bought ten illegal LP recordings of the sessions. Each found a few more, took some out, and the notion of first generation, second generation and source came to matter. Eventually, some would even be released with names like "The Safety Tape" and such. As if the sound in that basement could get much better. I shelved the Columbia discs and listened to Rubber Dubber and Swinging Pig and Trademark of Quality.
One set I purchased, a two disc, two package set even included songs the Band had done backing Tiny Tim! Guess what? I don't think they will be on the official release, though they could be.
The Scorpion was at the time and I believe even now the complete takes. I recall Garth Hudson (who did the recording of the originals with a microphone borrowed from fellow Albert Grossman slaves Peter, Paul and Mary) saying "they got it all" when the set was released.
While I could go on and on about the material about to be made available to the general public, others will do it for me. I can point out one little thing. Richard Manuel plays the drums on cuts with a drum. I love how Richard Manuel played drums, and so did Levon, though he wasn't there.
Needless to say, I anxiously await the official release. I never gave up and knew the day would come, but I am a little perturbed it took Dylan's label this long.
Over the years there have certainly been enough fans asking for it. Already some of those fans are complaining about the price. I have spent many times that for various bootlegs of the recordings over the years, and many times I dropped a twenty for one new cut. They've done that work for you. Shut up and enjoy it. Be good to them and these tracks will sustain you fifty years.
Jim Linderman is a Grammy nominated collector and popular culture historian. His next book will be available soon. Until then, follow Dull Tool Dim Bulb the Blog