Me and Bob Dylan at the Fox Oakland

As reported earlier, we went to see Bob Dylan play at the Fox Theatre in Oakland the other night. The No. 1 reason I wanted to go: our son Thom invited us. The theater, a landmark movie palace that has been refurbished after sitting empty for decades, was also a draw. And also: Bob Dylan–why not?

I had seen him just once, back in January 1974 at the start of his tour with The Band. Others with a better grasp of Dylan’s history might correct me, but I think that tour was his first since the late ’60s. Anyway, the big draw to me then was The Band, which I had seen several times and whose music I really loved. And to get to see them play with Bob Dylan, just coming back onto the road and whom they’d performed with when he went electric, seemed historic. What I remember about that show is going with a big group, including my brothers and several friends. I remember people lighting matches during the performance (at the old Chicago Stadium), the first time I saw that at a concert. And among the songs played that stuck in my memory were “Ballad of a Thin Man” and “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding).” How would I have rated that show? Ten out of a possible ten, like every other time I saw The Band.

Before Dylan played the other night–our group consisted of Kate, Thom, Thom’s squeeze Eleanor, her dad, Jef, their family friend Ellen, and me–we talked about some of our favorite songs and speculated whether we’d hear them. I’m not what I’d call a really avid Dylan listener, but my experience is that I tend to forget how much I like most of his music until I hear it again. I was thinking I’d like to hear “Memphis Blues Again” and was wondering whether “Just Like a Woman” was something Dylan still plays in concert. He did both songs, even letting the audience sing the chorus of the latter number (not sing along with, because Dylan remained silent as the audience did its thing). Also: “Visions of Johanna,” “A Simple Twist of Fate,” “Cold Irons Bound” (which Thom remarked sounded very similar to covers of Tom Waits’s “Way Down in the Hole,” and I would easily have mistaken the song for that once he pointed that out).

A friend had warned me that Dylan’s voice wasn’t what it once was. I wasn’t worried about that; for one thing, I’d heard his band was great, and that turned out to be true; and for another, well, we’ve all heard the voice over the years and know how it’s changed. The only song on which I’d say his vocal performance was disappointing was “This Wheel’s on Fire.” Part of that is having Rick Danko’s vocal in mind when I hear the song, but partly is was because of the laughable understatement with which Dylan almost inaudibly intoned the climactic line of the chorus, “This wheel shall explode.” He infused it with all the drama of a Walgreen’s clerk saying, “This shampoo prevents dandruff.” Enough said. Any disappointment was more than outweighed by the fact the song was in the concert, and the band played it well.

Beyond any particular reaction to the songs Dylan chose or how they were sung was the constant strange time-shifting I experienced while listening to music that I first heard more than 40 years ago coming out of the mouth of the guy who performed it back then. Like I said, we’ve all heard that voice and how it has changed. Whenever I hear numbers from “Nashville Skyline,” I still ask myself how the guy you hear on “Lay Lady Lay” can be the same one you hear on “Highway 61 Revisited,” “Like a Rolling Stone,” or “Positively 4th Street.” Before that, a big part of Dylan’s folk audience was wondering how the guy doing those songs could have been the same one they loved as the heir to the Woody Guthrie tradition. So listening the other night, I was constantly going back and hearing a little echo of Dylan’s used-to-be voices as he sang with today’s voice.

Set lists:
January 3, 1974, Dylan/The Band show at the Chicago Stadium
August 24, 2010, Dylan show at the Fox Oakland

Byline Alert

First, let it be noted that Thom Brekke has a couple music reviews in the weekly arts section of the University of Oregon Daily Emerald: “A Warm Slice of Indiepop” and “New Crime Mob disc is nothing revolutionary.” All I can say is, be ready to get crunk.

Second, I finally pulled everything together on my “Dylan Hears a Who” reporting. The story, “Tangled up in Seuss,” is up this evening on

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Oh, the Prickles You’ll Prickle

So this morning, I remained curious as to the odd inaccessibility of the website. It’s not that the site was down when you tried to connect, it was that is was still up, with a message saying it was down. To me, that signaled the creator, reported to be a Kevin Ryan of Houston, had taken the site down, probably under duress. This morning, the site’s message changed. It now says, “At the request of Dr. Seuss Enterprises, L.P., this site has been retired. Thanks for your interest.”

It’s easy to guess why: If you look at the record, the company bearing the late Dr. Seuss’s name is jealous of its intellectual property, and this is far from the first time it has pursued publishers large or small over parody and copyright. In 1997, Seuss went after Penguin Books U.S.A. and Dove audio to stop the release of “The Cat NOT in the Hat! A Parody by Dr. Juice,” a work comprised of “a rhyming summary of highlights from the O.J. Simpson double murder trial.” As a federal appeals court noted in upholding an injunction against Penguin and Dove, under the Copyright Act of 1976, “Seuss, as the owner of the Dr. Seuss copyrights, owns the exclusive rights (1) to reproduce the copyrighted work; (2) to prepare derivative works based on the copyrighted work; (3) to distribute copies or phonorecords of the copyrighted work to the public; (4) to perform the work publicly; and (5) to display the copyrighted work publicly.”

Given all that, some little guy in Texas inspired to bring Dylan and Dr. Seuss together never stood a chance. One is tempted to say, “So much for the sense of fun in Seussville” and leave it at that, but I decided to try to find out what was going on. Maybe there’s a story in it.

So I called Dr. Seuss Enterprises in La Jolla, California. A woman answered the phone, and I stated my name and business; she told me that the company was “very aware” of the site and that its legal team–which I had determined is the San Diego office of DLA Piper–was “working on it.” When I asked whether she could direct me to one of the attorneys involved, she said no and that I should talk to someone at Seuss’s publisher, Random House, which handles media relations. When I asked to whom I should speak at Random House, she put me on hold.

In a minute, Susan Brandt, Seuss’s executive vice president for licensing and marketing, got on the phone. I went through my spiel again, saying that I had heard about the site through friends, looked at it, then noticed last night that it was inaccessible. I wanted to know whether the company or perhaps the Dylan people had demanded it be taken down.

“We’re not making any comment about this,” Brandt said. But, I told her, the unidentified person I had already spoken to had said the company’s lawyers were aware of the site. “We’re aware of everything that has to do with Dr. Seuss,” she said. Then she asked why I was asking questions about this and why I wanted to write a story about it. I told her that I simply thought it was an interesting, if minor, story on a site that had been instantly popular and might have been shut down under pressure from copyright owners. Brandt told me she had nothing more to say about the matter. When I asked her to spell her name and repeat her title, she refused, saying, “I’m not going to be quoted about any of this.” I told her she would in fact be quoted if I wrote about it, as I had identified myself, told her what I wanted and that her comments were on the record. Our conversation closed with:

“OK, Mr. … Brek …”

“It’s Brekke.”

“Good luck with your story, Mr. Brekke.” And then she hung up.

So much for the sense of fun in Seussville. And so much for the smooth handling of media relations (I wonder if I would have gotten the same welcome if I’d been calling from People Magazine, say, or the Wall Street Journal?).

[I’ve got calls and messages out to attorneys for Dylan and Seuss Enterprises, but so far they haven’t responded.]

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Today We Dribble …

… For tomorrow–who knows? Without further ado:

Dylan Hears a Who: This must have been blogged everywhere–BoingBoing had an item on March 8–and last night, in my semi-comatose post-ride condition, Kate pointed it out to me: A very good Bob Dylan soundalike with a “Bringing It All Back Home”-era backup band singing Dr. Seuss books. The one we listened to all the way through was “Green Eggs and Ham,” done with a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” feel. Inspired parody, right down to the artwork of Dylan, cigarette dangling from lip and wearing a “Cat in the Hat” chapeau. Right out of “Don’t Look Back.”

Looking for related stuff today, I see a blurb from Entertainment Weekly that says the person behind the Dylan/Seuss songs is Kevin Ryan, a music producer in Houston who is known for “Recording the Beatles,” an authoritative and exhaustive take on how the group created and recorded its sound. I note that Ryan’s “Dylan Hears a Who” site is down, as is a site that was reported to be mirroring MP3s of the Dylan/Seuss tracks. I wonder if the intellectual property cops–either Dylan’s or the Seuss estate’s–have gone after Ryan to shut him down.

In the meantime, here’s another Ryan parody, for Rad Monkey Cowbells–featuring the VLC800 digital cowbell. It could be the last cowbell you’ll ever buy.