Archive for the ‘dylan’ Tag

4 highlights from Duluth

adam gee speaker catalyst content festival deluth 2019

Not The Usual Suspects

I gave a talk this week as part of the Catalyst Content Festival (formerly the ITVFest) in Duluth, Minnesota. All I knew about the town (which is actually a city) before I heard about the festival moving here from Vermont is that Bob Dylan was born here (and at six moved just north of the town to Hibbing). That’s why on the plane over I was listening to Blood on the Tracks, getting in the groove for a semi-mythical place. At sunset yesterday a train whistle worthy of Slow Train Coming cut through the freezing air and a four-coach train appeared on the lakeside tracks just below me as I returned from a long walk around the edge of Lake Superior. The lake, the best part of 400 miles lengthwise and 200 widthwise, contains 10% of the world’s accessible/surface fresh water. The coaches included a silver 50s-vintage one with bubble windows along the roof of AirStream-style silver panelling, matching the sides; two classic red carriages, and at the back a black Victorian-type one with one of those doors and platforms with railings from every Western ever.

1. Bob Dylan’s childhood home

On my first day I walked up the hill behind the hotel for a few blocks to an innocuous suburban duplex house – 519 North Third Avenue E – where Bob, who was born in 1941, lived on the 1st floor (UK; 2nd US) as an infant. The pilgrimage was done. There’s little to mark Duluth’s most famous son – a highway named Bob Dylan Way which I walked by chance the first evening at sundown and the air where a statue doesn’t stand, as the recent crowdfunding attempt failed. I understand there’s a small music festival annually. The city can certainly make more of their legend.

bob dylans childhood home duluth

You can see Highway 61 from the porch

2. The journey over

My talk was entitled: Not The Usual Suspects and looked at getting competitive edge in TV and film through diversity of all kinds. It seems to have gone down well as people have been stopping me in the street and giving me lovely feedback. They say stuff like “your talk made me cry” and I have to check “For the right reasons I hope!” – I showed a couple of moving documentary clips including Mushi’s King’s Speech triumph in Educating Yorkshire, made at Channel 4 (UK) during my time there.

bob dylan duluth

Bob’s next-door neighbor

“The Usual Suspects” phrase comes from Casablanca (made the year after Dylan’s birth). In the talk I showed the diversity of the people who made this ‘American classic’, from the Swede Ingrid Bergman to the Jewish scriptwriters, the Epstein brothers. By chance the movie was available on the plane over so I watched it for the first time in about five years. It brought me back of course to Robert McKee’s long-running Story course which includes a day dissecting the film from a story structure perspective. I remember that being riveting at the time, this was in the late 80s near the start of my career. John Cleese, sci-fi writer Brian Aldiss and nascent director Joanna Hogg were among my cohort of fellow students.

4 things I noticed this time out:

(i) the symbol of drinking/wine glasses knocked over and righted again
(ii) the ironic reference to how fast Nazis can kill

Victor Laszlo:

And what if you track down these men and kill them, what if you killed all of us? From every corner of Europe, hundreds, thousands would rise up to take our places. Even Nazis can’t kill that fast.

That was 1941-42 (when the Epstein brothers wrote the script) – little did they know of what would come to pass in the wake of the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, seven months after the birth of little Jewish Robert Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota (aka Bob Dylan). The Final Solution set in motion there could manage hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, millions.

(iii) the images of stripes in the film – on Bogart’s tie, on Bergman’s dress, the blinds in Rick’s office, all seem to suggest that life requires a choice between the black and white options before us. It’s resonant watching the film in a week where Trump’s isolationist withdrawal from Northern Syria has precipitated the attack of the Kurds by the Turks, sowing more chaos in the Middle East.

(iv) the theme of race and interracial relationships – the friendship and partnership between Rick and Sam must have been unusual and progressive in 1942. Sam gets 25% of the profits of Rick’s American Bar. There is a real, tangible mutual affection between the two which flies in the face of the Charlottesville era.

As I was watching the film, ironically I was filling in a form to get a German passport (my father and grandfather were born in Leipzig, German like Conrad Veidt (Major Strasser) and Ingrid Bergman’s mother). The movie is full of people seeking paperwork to escape oppressive regimes, nationalism, divisive ideas and narrow minds. There was a real resonance in the coincidence of art and life in this aeroplane seat.

casablanca-plane movie 1942

Planes are central to ‘Casablanca’

3. Sight restored

One of my fellow speakers on the Storyworld part of the conference had a small eye treatment just under two weeks ago. It involved flashing lights, no surgery, took around 15 minutes. As a result the sight was restored to one of his eyes that had not seen in the half-century of his life – he had been living with monocular vision which was blurry and 2D. His bad eye it turned out was physically OK but not wired in right to the brain. This quick intervention, a doctor’s hunch,  jump-started the connection. The real highlight of this trip was to see this New Yorker revel in his new-found vision like a child. After the morning of our talks, we went out back of the old brewery which was the venue and he was struggling with the richness and dynamism of the scene – the expanse of Lake Superior, the biggest of the five Great Lakes, was too much to take in: the bright colours under the sun, the ever-moving waves, were making the ground beneath his feet move and blowing his mind. His brain is clearly still making adjustments to having two working eyes. Since the change, his lifelong OCD tendencies have disappeared overnight. The joy of his rediscovery of how the world looks, experiencing life anew in this way was an absolute privilege to witness. Like the innocent joy of infancy.

lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

a superior lake for sure

4. Lake walks

I went for a long walk on Friday afternoon along the shore. Lake Superior appears more like a sea than a lake, it is so huge. First along the red stone beach, to the 1909 iron lighthouse on a long concrete jetty by the port entrance, over the massive metal lifting-bridge which is the emblem of the city, to the narrow white beaches beyond, which a fellow conference participant told me are the longest in the world for an inland body of water. It takes a freighter seven days to get from this most westerly port city to the Atlantic via the St Lawrence Seaway. I sat on a beach dune reading a Lew Archer and listening to the rhythm of the small lapping shoreline waves, grateful for such opportunities to travel and see the world afresh.

lifting bridge lake superior duluth minnesota by adam gee

bridges not walls

Something Is Happening

highway 61 revisited photo session bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

Highway 61 Revisited photo session (New York 1965)

Just listened to a music podcast called ‘Is It Rolling, Bob? (talking Dylan)’ in which two actor blokes (Kerry Shale and Lucas Hare) talk to a journo bloke (David Hepworth) about a song & dance man, Bob Dylan.

It is a lot better than ‘Stalking Time for the Moon Boys’ in which two TV blokes (David Baddiel and Tim Hincks) talk to various other blokes and each other about a song & dance man, David Bowie. But it’s still not great. Entertaining enough if you’re keen on your Dylan.

One interesting fact I picked up was that Dylan named himself not after Welsh poet D. Thomas (which I’d believed) but after Marshall Dillon in some TV cowboy show (‘Gunsmoke’). Dylan as lifelong cowboy makes a lot of sense.

A question they asked David was how did you first come across Dylan. Got me thinking.

As a six year-old, just allowed to go by myself across one road to the newsagent (Eric & Mavis’s or perhaps it was the previous incarnation), I bought myself a fold-out poster magazine. I got it home expecting it to fold out to reveal a hippy rabbit (Dylan of ‘Magic Roundabout’ fame). Instead it was an unprepossessing bearded bloke with a guitar. A disappointing first encounter.

When I first fell under Dylan’s spell was having one of those Moments listening to ‘Ballad of a Thin Man’. I’d heard bits & pieces of Dylan during my childhood, listened to him a bit at uni through friends who were advocates (but I still had my Punk head on). But it was listening to this track on ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ when the light went on. It was the Surrealism of the lyrics that really grabbed me – I’m not really a lyrics man but the words made their impact, above all the non-rational, dream-like nature of them. I was in.

This moment lead directly to my ending up with a son called Dylan (who looks at times a little like the Big Man of this vintage).

IMG_2051

highway 61 revisited bob dylan bobby neuwirth LP cover

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Sometimes it’s really good not to know what it is – just let it sink in and brew up.

Long Players

whats going on - marvin gaye After playing the 100 Greatest Songs of all time parlour game with my friend Doug Miller over Christmas (me in the North of London, him in the South of France) he came back with the 50 Greatest LPs of all time challenge (no compilations, only one record per artist/band). I failed miserably – couldn’t boil it down to less than 75. So here they are – the 75 best LPs ever (of course, I’ll be popping back from time to time to make the odd sneaky change):

Beauty Stab – ABC
The Stars We Are – Marc Almond
The Last Waltz – The Band
The White Album – The Beatles
Post – Bjork
Go Tell It on the Mountain – Blind Boys of Alabama
Plastic Letters – Blondie
Space Oddity – David Bowie
Love Bites – Buzzcocks
The Clash – The Clash
A Rush of Blood to the Head – Coldplay
* A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me – The Cure
* Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
Don’t Stand Me Down – Dexy’s Midnight Runners
Hot August Night – Neil Diamond
The Doors – The Doors
Pink Moon – Nick Drake
Blood on the Tracks – Bob Dylan
Bill Evans – Conversations with Myself
Tiger in the Rain – Michael Franks
* Stay Human – Michael Franti & Spearhead
The Score – The Fugees
* What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
Flesh – David Gray
Guys & Dolls movie ST
Are you experienced? – Jimi Hendrix
The Miseducation of – Lauryn Hill
Yarona – Abdullah Ibrahim trio
All Mod Cons – The Jam
Jesus Christ Superstar
Unknown Pleasures – Joy Division
On Song – Brian Kennedy
Led Zeppelin IV – Led Zeppelin
Imagine – John Lennon
Cinquieme As – MC Solaar
The Snake – Shane MacGowan & the Popes
Madness – Madness
Correct Use of Soap – Magazine
Exodus – Bob Marley & the Wailers
* Solid Air – John Martyn
New World Order – Curtis Mayfield
Monk’s Dream – Thelonius Monk quartet
A Night in San Francisco – Van Morrison
Blues and the Abstract Truth – Oliver Nelson
Throw Down Yours Arms – Sinead O’Connor
Meddle – Pink Floyd
Dummy – Portishead
Metal Box – Public Image Ltd (in the metal box)
O – Damien Rice
Some Girls – The Rolling Stones
Stranded – Roxy Music
Rumblefish OST (Stewart Copeland)
The Crack – The Ruts
Abraxas – Sanata
Gymnopedies – Eric Satie
Never Mind the Bollocks – The Sex Pistols
* Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra
The Scream – Siouxsie and the Banshees
Six Days in June
Easter – Patti Smith
The Specials – The Specials
The Rising – Bruce Springsteen
We’ll Never Turn Back – Mavis Staples
Tea for the Tillerman – Cat Stevens
Brilliant Trees – David Sylvian
Remain in the Light – Talking Heads
Sweet Baby James – James Taylor
Stan Tracey – Under Milk Wood
Joshua Tree – U2
Signing Off – UB40
Live in Leeds – The Who
Talking Book – Stevie Wonder
Harvest – Neil Young
*Road to Freedom – The Young Disciples

And in case you’ve ever lain awake at night wondering what the top 7 LPs of all time are in order, here you are:

1 Kind of Blue – Miles Davis
2 What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
3 A Love Supreme – John Coltrane
4 Songs for Swinging Lovers – Frank Sinatra
5 Solid Air – John Martyn
6 Road to Freedom – The Young Disciples
7 Stay Human – Michael Franti & Spearhead

Doug’s top 50 is somewhat more sophisticated as befits an international man of mystery:
1. Mariano/Vant’hof/Catherine – Sleep My Love
2. Garbarek/Gismonti/Haden – Folk Songs
3. What’s Going On – Marvin Gaye
4. Songs in the Key of Life – Stevie Wonder
5. Beyond Skin – Nitin Sawhney
6. Soro – Salif Keita
7. Leftfield – Leftism
8. John Coltrane – A Love Supreme
9. Airto Moreira – Seeds on the Ground
10. Khomsa – Anouar Brahem
11. Santana – Caravanserai
12. Edu Lobo – Cantiga De Longe
13. Remain in Light – Talking Heads
14. Eastern Sounds – Yusef Lateeef
15. Devotional Songs – Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan
16. The Velvet Underground and Nico
17. Gabor Szabo & Bobby Womack – High Contrast
18. The Isley Brothers – 3+3
19. This Is My Country – The Impressions
20. Pharaoh Sanders – Journey To the One
21. Miles Davis – In a Silent Way
22. DJ Shadow Entroducing
23. Keith Jarrett – The Koln Concert
24. Sigur Ros – Takk
25. Let it Bleed – The Rolling Stones
26. Brian Eno/Harold Budd – The Plateau of Mirror
27. Dark Side of the Moon – Pink Floyd
28. Tabula Rasa – Arvo Part
29. Mothership Connection – Parliament
30. Lou Reed – Transformer
31. Led Zeppelin – 2
32. David Sylvian – Secrets of the Beehive
33. Free Will – Gil Scot Heron
34. David Crosby – If I Could Only Remember My Name
35. Spirit – 12 Dreams of Dr Sardonicus
36. Jdilla – Donuts
37. Five Leaves Left – Nick Drake
38. Clube De Esquina – Milton Nascimento
39. Sonny Rollins – Saxophone Colossus
40. Lonnie Liston Smith – Expansions
41. Anthony and the Johnsons – I am a Bird Now
42. TheInflated Tear – Rahsan Roland Kirk
43. Blue Camel – Rabih Abou-Khalil
44. What Colour is Love – Terry Callier
45. Fat Albert Rotunda – Herbie Hancock
46. Diamond Dogs – David Bowie
47. Assagai – Afrorock
48. Biosphere – Sub-Strata
49. Ein Deutche Requiem – Brahms (Simon Rattle)
50. The Nordic Quartet – Rypdal/Surman/Storaas.Krog

Feel free to join in…

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