Wednesday, 27 May 2009


The Sunday Times Magazine ran a big Bob Dylan cover story interview last week. It was actually a Rolling Stone interview, as you'd discover if you read the small print, and although RS is sold in the UK, I doubt it reaches many people here (given its extremely odd mix of US mainstream commercial pop and TV with rather good US political coverage that's not surprising). The interview was conducted by the historian David Brinkley--something of an odd choice, but one that indicates in its own way just how mainstream Dylan himself has become.

Yet even as he conducts his 'perpetual tour', Dylan's music works against his mainstream status. It's as if after hearing Ricky Nelson accuse him of being 'Mr Hughes wearing Dylan's shoes' he took the moral of Ricky's song to heart and figured you could please everyone by simply pleasing yourself. It seems as if there is no attitude he can strike, no experiment in music so outre, that he could alienate his core audience. This challenging nature is the mark of an artist who remains active, growing: a serious artist indeed.

Anyone who's read Chronicles would be acutely conscious of just how self-aware an artist Dylan is--and even in that book he's not giving the fact away. His RS interview is the same: Brinkley's questions are academically sound, and Dylan runs circles round the answers, as he's been doing ever since those interviews we can see in the documentary Don't Look Back.

But one thing bothered me. Dylan is talking about his band, how they play differently from anyone else, and then he's quoted as follows: 'The guy I always miss, and I think he'd still be around if he'd stayed with me, actually, was Mike Broomfield,' Dylan says of his collaborator on Highway 61 Revisited.

BROOMfield? OK, Douglas Brinkley could easily mis-transcribe the interview, but if he knows Mike Bloomfield well enough to know he played on Highway 61, then he would have to know his real name. I couldn't check the original RS article, as the issue's off the stands and the interview's not online, but it's possible an eager Sunday Times sub figured Mike was Nick Broomfield's older brother or something, a few years ahead of him at Oxford, before he went on tour with Dylan. (postscript: RS did have Bloomfield's name correct, see the comment below by Peg, so it does appear to be a sub at the Sunday Times correcting Bloomfield's American misspelling of his own name!).

Mike Bloomfield was my favourite guitarist when I was growing up in the 60s: not Hendrix, not Clapton, not BB King, not anyone else. He came up with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, played with Dylan at Newport and on record, and then, not staying with Bob, moved on to found The Electric Flag, whose first album holds up remarkably well today, and then play half of Super Session with Al Kooper, which also holds up well. He had all sorts of problems, which basically coalesced into drugs, and that's what killed him at a cruelly young age.

I'm not sure why I was so bothered. The error may have been just a simple literal. I think it was the idea that Bloomfield is already half-forgotten, and while Dylan's music will live on, at least as long as any pop music we've seen live on already, his contribution will be noted only on the tiny cover notes of CDs that aren't downloaded, and on the bootleg versions of Dylan songs. I was thinking about it, so I went back and put the Flag on, then Super Session (that's Al and Mike pictured right with Norman Rockwell, who painted their portraits for the cover of their live double album, and called them 'nice boys'), then I opened the door to the garden, and sat in the sunshine willing myself back to 1968 and the crazy non-Norman Rockwell world that beckoned ahead. The music didn't quite manage to remove me in time and space, but it sure sounded good.


Peg said...

Nice blog! I would join you in your infuriation (is that a word?), however I have the Rolling Stone isse and they DID get Michael's name right.

Long live the spirit of Michael Bloomfield!!!


Michael Carlson said...

Thanks for that confirmation: it means someone at the Sunday Times couldnt bear to get it right--or maybe they assumed Americans couldnt
spell it correctly!