Sunday, November 15, 2009

Layer 220 . . . Intelligence, Intellect, Instinct, Inspiration, Perception, Art and Dylan.


Item on the news – horses are intelligent. Fact.
Ah, says the presenter, but are they able to work things out for themselves?

No, says the expert, but they're very quick to learn.

Confused? Not really. Horses are not so good when it comes to intellectual challenges. They're rubbish at doing simultaneous equations. They're hopeless at chemistry. But intellect isn't the be-all and end-all when it comes to intelligence. Intellect is but one component of a rounded three-dimensional intelligence.

Horses have well tuned instincts, unlike a lot of humans, and they're quick on the uptake. They're easy to train. They can learn to do all sorts of horsey things. Like dressage,  jumping and racing one another. Show them how to do something a few times, and they'll do that thing instinctively, effortlessly, without thinking, without hesitating or deviating, for ever more. This is what  we should call instinctual intelligence, and horses have loads of it.

This isn't the whole story, however. Check out Alpha Horse -

In all my years of working with horses I have been constantly impressed with their overall ability to adapt to human environments and work out solutions to problems or challenges presented to them. Sure, sometimes you'll find a horse that comes up short in the intelligence department, but for the most part horses reflect the same qualities that we as humans do: intelligence, adaptability, mischief, playfulness, loyalty, jealousy, stress and many others.

On the other hand, so-called intellectuals can be unbelievably dim and dull. On Desert Island Discs this week (repeated today) they had a certain lawyer-superstar, Anthony Julius, who, like a lot of people with Ist class degrees from Oxbridge, knows Jack Shit about music.

As soon as you heard him speak you just knew that he'd trot out a miserable and sentimentalist load of Classical bollocks – presumably stuff he'd soaked up by osmosis when his parents played it, and which now represents in his memory and his imagination his wonderful family home where mummy cooked such delicious meals.

Steven Fry has described him as “the cleverest person I've ever met”. Oh yeah – clever.

He's obviously extremely civilised, and very likely a delightful and erudite companion. Princess Di apparently thought the world of him.

He chose a piano sonata to begin with, which he said he used to listen to 30 or 40 times a day on his 'old fashioned record player'. Oh dear.

Second up was a piece of Vaughan Williams. His “first love”. He used to listen to Vaughan from about the age of 13 with his very best friend Jeffrey. Or was it 17? It seems they both sat in Jeffrey's room listening to this stuff, smoking pipes – of tobacco, of course.

Third choice was something completely different! Julius is 'thrilled and excited' by the clunky opening of “25 or 6 to 4” - which is by Chicago, and is probably as bad as rock music ever got back in the '70's – the graveyard of rock.

Waiting for the break of day
Searching for something to say
Flashing lights against the sky
Giving up I close my eyes
Sitting cross-legged on the floor
25 or 6 to 4

Barf. He'd take this crap to a desert island!

Julius called this stuff “jazz-rock”, which it isn't. Having a horn section does not make you a  “jazz-rock” band. He may be confused and ignorant, but of course Julius has to call it JAZZ rock because jazz is somewhat respectable in intellectual circles, whereas rock on its own isn't.

Politically Julius seems to be motivated by his membership of the Establishment, and his fear of whatever might seem to be a threat to it.

Unfortunately Kirsty didn't get into the political areas with him, which was a pity, since he's involved with the “Euston Manifesto” crew, who seem to think they're progressives and egalitarians.

His book on art -

I liked what he said about his children, though – just wanting them to be the best kind of person they can be. Wanting them to be happy and fulfilled.



Brother N turned up yesterday, and brought with him a couple of Dylan CDs - Tell Tale Signs: the Bootleg Series Vol 8 Rare & Unreleased 1989 – 2006.  This is wonderful stuff – His Bobness at his absolute best – the master songwriter, also in great voice. Different tempos, different arrangements, and a very different feel to some beautiful songs like Mississippi, Most of the Time, Dignity, Everything Is Broken, Born In Time, Ain't Talkin' and Ring Them Bells. Also some tracks I've never heard – Red River Shore, Tell Ol' Bill, etc.

Dylan's art is kept constantly in flux, the illumination of which is the greatest virtue of the Bootleg Series. The alterations of lyrics, tempi, arrangements and delivery re-cast these songs as refracting prisms, whose meaning changes according to where the light hits. Take the simple, more urgent solo version of "Most of the Time", which could be from Another Side Of were it not for Dylan's deeper vocal intonation.
Another great Bootleg virtue is its unearthing of classic songs quixotically left off albums or shunted on to soundtracks. They include "Cross the Green Mountain", a Civil War epic of bitter resignation whose melody recalls "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands" but whose fiddle arrangement recalls the Rolling Thunder years, and a couple of outtakes from Time Out of Mind, the love ballad "Red River Shore", and most intriguing, "Dreamin' Of You", where ghostly guitar and organ ride a spry New Orleans drum lick as Dylan offers sardonic commentary on his life: "For years, they had me locked in a cage, then they threw me on to the stage. Some things just last longer than you thought they would."
They sure do.

From Rolling Stone, a review by Mikal Gilmour:

Tell Tale Signs is less an anthology than an album in its own right. It seems designed to tell a story that sharpens and expands the vista of mortal and cultural disintegration that has been the chief theme of Dylan's 1997's Time Out of Mind, 2001's Love and Theft and 2006's Modern Times — perhaps the most daring music he's ever made. Tell Tale Signs makes plain that Dylan knows the caprices of the world he lives in, now more than ever.

Just as important, this collection bears witness to Dylan's reclamation of voice and perspective. He had been a singular visionary who upended rock & roll by recasting it as a force that could question society's values and politics, but he relinquished that calling as the society grew more dangerous. By the end of the Eighties, he had undergone so many transformations, made so many half-here and half-there albums, that he seemed to be casting about for a purpose. What did he want to say about the times around him? Did he have a vision anymore or just a career? The singer drew a new bead on these concerns with 1989's Oh Mercy, produced by Daniel Lanois. Dylan has said he was never fully satisfied with the album, but given that Tell Tale Signs features 10 tracks from Oh Mercy's sessions, it's clear its tunes mattered to him.

It's also clear that Dylan sometimes had better production instincts than Lanois. The latter's interpretation of "Most of the Time" — the broken meditation of a lovesick man — played like immaculate architecture; everything about it, including vocals and emotions, was put in a measured place, meant to sustain atmosphere more than expression. By contrast, Dylan's acoustic-guitar and harmonica rendering of the song has the drive and dynamics of the heart; it's a living soliloquy that cuts to the quick. Similarly, his reading of "Ring Them Bells" features just his voice and piano, and its longing is palpable. On Oh Mercy, the song felt like a blessing, full of compassion and beauty; here, it works as a tortured prayer, already turning from hope, and it makes one wonder why Dylan ever allowed Lanois' mannered ambience to subsume the song. Yet as promising as Oh Mercy's songs seemed at the time, they were also still trying to reason with the world, to offer the possibility of deliverance. They couldn't begin to hint at the gravity of what was to come.

The real find, though, is "Mississippi," a song so central to Dylan's later work that three takes of it exist here. Though the song would later figure on Love and Theft, Lanois told Dylan that he thought it was too "pedestrian" for Time Out of Mind. It's probably just as well: "Mississippi" is too remarkable for any artful treatment. What seeps through its bones is foreclosed history, both American and personal: "Every step of the way, we walk the line/Your days are numbered, so are mine/Time is pilin' up, we struggle and we scrape/We're all boxed in, nowhere to escape." Moreover, all three takes serve as examples of the matchless singer Dylan remains, using inflection and phrasing to reveal different possibilities each time. He intones one version of "Mississippi" here as a remorseful lament, so soft-spoken that he's leaning into your ear; the second as a late-night conspiracy, bone-tired and raspy; the third as the brave and heart-worn last stand, a witness to the costs and advantages of experience — all three of them encompass American loss.
But then, nearly all of Tell Tale Signs points to that state, and to something darker, deeper and irrefutable: There is no center that can hold in our time anymore, there is no certain shelter from the coming storms.
Love and truth, even vengeance, aren't necessarily salvation — they're simply, as Dylan says in "Huck's Tune," weapons "in this version of death called life."

If Dylan's songs were once protests looking for rectification — if his language was once phantasmagoric and tricky to decipher — well, that was wonderful, but things have changed. Tell Tale Signs sets a new milestone for this American artist. Dylan has always written about morally centerless times, but this collection comes from a different perspective — not something born of the existential moment but of the existential long view and the courage of dread. Jack Fate, Dylan's character in Masked and Anonymous, intones what might work as the précis for this album: "Seen from a fair garden, everything looks cheerful. Climb to a higher plateau, and you'll see plunder and murder. Truth and beauty are in the eye of the beholder. I tried to stop figuring everything out a long time ago." For a long time, we've asked Dylan to deliver us truths. Now that he has, we need to ask ourselves if we can live with them.
So that's my Christmas shopping sorted. And I might just send a copy to Anthony. He can put it in his pipe and smoke it, preferably with his mates.

PS From the Rolling Stone version of CiF:
“Bob Dylan is truly one of the very greatest artists of all time, whether we're comparing him to the likes of Elvis and the Beatles, or Mozart and Beethoven.”

“Dylan is a master. Mr. Gilmore's review is a wonder to read. He is matched only by Greil Marcus in the beauty of his language and his ability to articulate that which is difficult to define.”

“This is a phenomenal record. I bought the 2 disc set earlier this year and at least once a week I play the whole thing. I got into Dylan late, but really dig his 1990's stuff onwards and this, with alternate versions and whatnot, I've been digging more and more. Brilliant stuff.”

“Yes- it's true- as the journalist Al Aronowitz once said, Dylan is the Heavyweight Champion of the World.”

Bob's currently on tour in the States. Recent set lists:

kate farrell's 365 reasons for loving Bob Dylan:

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