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archive : A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Cover Art Bob Dylan
The Bootleg Series, Vol. 4: Live 1966: The Royal Albert Hall Concert
Rating: 10.0

Mr. Lieberman:

I write to you seeking vindication. During the past six months, echoes from my past have graced your airwaves, rock periodicals and Internet e-zines in an awful and distorted light. I have been slandered! The public has passed judgment on my character without the benefit of my defense. I ask for your help, sir. Tell my story to your Pitchfork readers. Oh, how ironic that I, once possessing such a strong voice, am now voiceless. How terribly sad.

It was May 17, 1966. I remember the day well. My chums and I anxiously awaited the arrival of our hero, Bob Dylan, in our own hometown of Manchester. We passed the afternoon and early evening spinning his first two inspirational record albums, smoking too many cigarettes, and discussing the prospects of a worldwide labor revolution that might have delivered us from our corporate captors. I remember quite well that our nerves had the best of us that day. Sure, we were nervous for our first encounter with Mr. Dylan. He was our greatest aspirations intensified threefold and projected larger than life; a singer in the great folk tradition, a prophet, the voice of those without voices. But our anxiety had been slowly building since the summer before, when he'd released that awful racket "Like a Rolling Stone." Such garbage that song was with its cacophonous guitars and clever, hipster poetry. Rock n' roll was for teenage girls and drunks-- we were going to change the world. We preferred his anthems of action to this self- absorbed drivel and hoped to welcome his return to form at the Free Trade Hall later that evening.

Of course, we read the newspaper reports of his earlier concerts with those horrible bluesmen that went on to become the Band and our tension was only exacerbated by our denial of the obvious. We brought that great tension to the concert hall with us that evening and it hung heavy in the air together with the misgivings of a thousand other fans. Things began swimmingly enough, though. Mr. Dylan took the stage alone to our polite applause. Oh, did he look horrid. Eyes still burning with the great determination of genius, the rest of his face and body were beaten-- worn from the weeks and weeks of being booed off stage. However, he sounded anything but broken. Up there with his guitar and harmonica (as it should be), he played several touching acoustic numbers, almost winning us back. His voice and playing were strong and passionate, but after surviving the icy beat poetry of "Visions of Johanna," we slowly began to realize we were being mocked. Believe me, "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" clearly came across as the kiss- off it was. And when Mr. Dylan spit out the query, "When you asked me how I was doing/ Was that some kind of joke," he did so with a pent- up bile your latter day "punks" could only hope to emit. But we continued to applaud as if attending the British Open, even after he purposely removed his heart from "Mr. Tambourine Man" and teased us with his playful harmonica.

Thankfully, Mr. Dylan left the stage after nearly an hour and I wish to this day that he had never returned, for when he did, Robbie Robertson and his gang of hoodlums accompanied him. The noise they made just tuning those horrific instruments-- it blared out from large speakers, rattling our thoughts and jarring our foundations. We voiced our displeasure, stomping loudly on the floor during their warm- up in hopes of delaying the inevitable. But once again, Dylan and his band of ruffians turned our anger back on us-- amplified. They burned through "Tell Me Momma" and "I Don't Believe You" before salting our wounds with the bastardization of the folk classic, "Baby, Let Me Follow You Down." I've since heard the recordings of Mr. Dylan and the Band playing together on Before The Flood and The Last Waltz, but I don't recall those performances being as inspired as the one that fateful night.

They were cornered up there on stage, battered by our jibes and edgy. They were determined to play their way out, and as our anger grew, so did their determination. My God, it was hot in the hall that night. Stifling, or so it seemed. The powerful electric blues of "Leopard- Skin Pill- Box Hat" was almost overwhelming. And by the time I heard the once beautiful "One Too Many Mornings" defiled by organs and guitars, I was deaf (perhaps from my own rage) to Dylan's plea to us, "You're right from your side. I'm right from mine: We're both just one too many mornings and a thousand miles behind."

Then, it happened. The band had just finished with "Ballad of a Thin Man" and I was livid. My vision went white and a fire brewed in my lungs. I rose and yelled "Judas!" in an almost muscular reaction to the torture. I recall vividly Mr. Dylan's fiery glance catching mine through the spotlights as he rejoined, "I don't believe you. You're a liar!" Until Columbia Records released the long- bootlegged recordings of this concert late last year, I was spared Mr. Dylan's instructions to the Band: "Play fucking loud!" I only knew they did, playing "Like a Rolling Stone" with an earth- shattering ferocity.

As you can see, Mr. Lieberman, I was in the right. Mr. Dylan stole our dreams that night. He took everything valiant, unique and good about folk music-- its integrity, ethic, aspirations, art and poetry-- and handed it to rock n' roll, forever changing both. The vast world of rock today-- that was to be folk's world. It was our birthright and Dylan stole it for his fancy! Please, Mr. Lieberman, tell them.

Billy Bragg

-Neil Lieberman

Note: Naturally, you readers were intellegent enough to figure out that this was, of course, not an actual letter from Billy Bragg, but rather, an upstanding piece of satire written by our great friend and counselor, Mr. Neil Lieberman himself. Sorry, people. In these new times, you gotta cover your ass on legality, lest you find yourself sued for slander and homeless on the streets of Gary, Indiana. You know how it is.

10.0: Essential
9.5-9.9: Spectacular
9.0-9.4: Amazing
8.5-8.9: Exceptional; will likely rank among writer's top ten albums of the year
8.0-8.4: Very good
7.5-7.9: Above average; enjoyable
7.0-7.4: Not brilliant, but nice enough
6.0-6.9: Has its moments, but isn't strong
5.0-5.9: Mediocre; not good, but not awful
4.0-4.9: Just below average; bad outweighs good by just a little bit
3.0-3.9: Definitely below average, but a few redeeming qualities
2.0-2.9: Heard worse, but still pretty bad
1.0-1.9: Awful; not a single pleasant track
0.0-0.9: Breaks new ground for terrible