LTW contributor Andy Johnson today (Sun 16th September) competes in the Great North Run; he has written a couple of pieces for us detailing the soundtrack to his training…here he presents his final thoughts just a few hours before the big race.

Saturday, 15 September 2012

How does it feel?

Distance 1 mile. Time 7 mins 6 secs.

Last run before the race tomorrow (Race? Ha!). Starting to get a bit nervous now. Had a bit of a twinge in my left knee for the past couple of days and it’s still there but not really affecting me when running. Over 13.1 miles though it might be a different story. I’m determined to finish no matter what. Had a great response to the fundraising so far and have already exceeded the official target for Mind of £300. Thanks to all who have given so far.

1 mile today (walked a couple earlier too just to try and ease the knee off a bit). I thought I’d go for a fast-ish pace. Was hoping for about 6 minutes but once I started the reality of maintaining that pace over a mile soon became clear. It’s many years since I’ve been able to do anything close to that but in the end 7 minutes or thereabouts is pretty respectable. Wish I’d chosen some drum ‘n’ bass, as suggested, though as the soundtrack!

Soundtrack – Like a Rolling Stone – Bob Dylan (and a bit of Tombstone Blues)

I’ve been re-reading Greil Marcus’ book about the above song lately. It’s a social history of the early/mid 1960s as much as anything although it really does go into detail and off at tangents about the song, its various interpretations and possible meanings. Whilst there has of course been excellent music made outside of this period it was at this time that pop-music kind of grew up a bit and began to look much more outside of the simple “boy meets girl – music as a soundtrack to dancing and shagging”. Nothing wrong with that simplistic view also (maybe pop music should always be about that really) and most of the stuff I write tends to fall broadly into that category although I’m getting a bit old for dancing…

Bob Dylan came to me late really. I was into my 30s when my wife played me Highway 61 Revisited for the first time. She’s not a massive Dylan fan but had chosen one of his best to add to her collection. Being a bit of an obsessive I started plundering his back catalogue from the early folk albums up to the mid 70s Blood on the Tracks and Desire. I’ve yet to really give his later stuff a chance although I do quite like the way his voice has changed. A lot of people are quite lazy with Dylan and roll out the “He can’t sing” – “I hate his voice” etc but his early records , once you acquire the taste, are so rich and his vocals although understandably not to everyone’s taste are rarely out of tune (if only because he slides the notes so much!) and he has a great toolbag of tricks that he relies on to either deliberately highlight or overcome his shortcomings. Bent notes, accenting, expression and unique phrasing. Oh and he can write songs. You only have to hear what people draw out of his writing, from The Byrds to Ray Charles, Adele to Stevie Wonder to recognise what great source material they have been working with. Adele trotted out the “can’t sing for toffee” line once before admitting “he can’t half write a tune”. We all have our hang-ups Adele. Should we start on yours? How about singing a consonant once in a while?

Like a Rolling Stone saw Dylan stepping into the rock/pop “mainstream” with an electrified sound and a lyric that whilst never clear in its meaning uses imagery from the streets and the “there and then” rather than the more timeless folk songs of just a few years previously. He’d recorded “rock’n’roll” before of course with his breakthrough record Subterranean Homesick Blues which had an equally surrealistic lyric and other songs on the album Bringing it All Back Home but Like a Rolling Stone, perhaps because he’d laid some kind of foundation already or built enough of an audience by the point of release that it brought him success on a global scale, was the song he would consider as the turning point. He dismissed a great deal of his earlier work as immature. Listening to those stripped back acoustic folk albums still gives a punch in the face though and much of the sentiment, like all good folk music, rings true through the years but a great deal of it is highly derivative, filled with platitudes and his Woody Guthrie-esque delivery is hardly original by its very nature.

On Like A Rolling Stone his increasingly idiosyncratic vocal style comes to the fore. Stretched out notes, sneered and scorning whilst also holding great joy and release from the music, ride the groove of the song much like the musicians who floated over the changes with expertise. An interesting sidenote is that the recorded version is the only full take they managed to capture. The earlier ones bare little resemblance to the finished piece as Dylan and the band struggled to get to grips with the song which ran to pages and pages of lyrics originally.

As a piece of semi-sprinting running music it didn’t really work and when Tombstone Blues kicked in straight after I was relieved at the skiffle backbeat and energy. Rolling Stone is a rambling, laid back affair. I’m pretty sure Bob had no intention of it being used for “keep fit” anyway.

If you’re not really a fan of Dylan then I’d recommend Highway 61 Revisited as a starting point. If you want to hear him acquit himself vocally then Desire is up there. For an insight into why the folk world mourned his loss listen to “Masters of War” or pretty much anything from his first three albums.

His new single is pretty darn tootin’ too…

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