Friday, November 13, 2009

Bob Dylan, the Creative Process and the Media

I borrowed a stack of CDs from the library this week. A mixture of old and new stuff: a Hollies anthology, the Franz Ferdinand disc (which I'd never heard and I like a lot), and a very good, live, Faces set.

One of them was Bob Dylan: No Direction Home: The Soundtrack. The liner notes are fantastic, and I had to share the following piece, written by musician Al Kooper, which I found to be particularly enlightening, especially this passage:

"With the success of the Highway 61 Revisited album, the pressure was on. New producer Bob Johnston suggested that Bob record the follow-up in Nashville with players that Johnston would handpick.

Dylan agreed to this gamble but insisted on bringing Robbie Robertson and myself along so that he would feel "comfortable" recording away from New York City.

Bob was still completing many of the songs when we arrived in Tennessee. A piano was installed in his hotel room. During the days, I was summoned to Bob's room. Bob would teach me the song he was trying to complete, and like a not-yet-invented cassette machine, I would sit at the piano and play the song over and over again, while he finished the lyrics. After a day of this, I made a suggestion to him:

'Bob, why don't you come to the session an hour late tonight? I will get there and teach the band this song and any others we worked on today. That way, you can just walk in, and we will know at least one or two songs that you won't have to sit through while we learn them.'

He assented; it worked out great that first night, and became the modus operandi of the rest of the sessions.

However the reverse could and would happen from time to time. Bob would arrive, go to the piano in the studio and start changing a lyric.

Sometimes he would be in there for four or five hour stretches. The band took it in good humor and played pool and ping pong, watched TV and catnapped.

One night a journalist somehow slipped in with a friend and was asked to come back later as Bob was writing. He returned four hours later and Bob appeared to be in the exact same position at the piano as when the journalist was originally expelled.

'Man...what is he ON?' the reporter asked no one in particular in a loud voice.

'Columbia Records.' Albert Grossman, Bob's manager replied as he showed the gentleman to the door."

The point is, at least for me, that the creative process is something that takes it's own time, and that the media (myself included) is always looking for the sensational story.

Now obviously one cannot compare the creative output of a writer as prolific as Bob Dylan (34 studio albums) with someone like Axl Rose who took 14 years to put out one record - but the point still stands, and it's food for thought.

No comments: