Tim Riley, author of Hard Rain, calls Dylan rocks “Zelig”, a reference to the Woody Allen movie in which the main character, Zelig, changes not only his personality but also his physical appearance in a pathetic – but very funny – attempt to please those around him. Dylan is a Zelig, but instead of c
hanging in an attempt to meet other’s expectations, he changes in spite of them.
He did it again with Another Side of Bob Dylan, a recording that presented his fans and rock journalists a major league curveball. Nobody saw it coming. Another Side was as lighthearted and humorous as Times was heavy and somber. Its songs were as personal as those on Times were political.
The personal nature of this recording does not necessarily mean its an inferior recording. Yes, it could be argued that the songs on Another Side are not as important in comparison with his earlier albums. True, but it’s hardly a weak album. It Ain’t Me, Babe is a Dylan classic. My Back Pages is a very witty, surprisingly personal statement. Chimes of Freedom is a bell-weather political anthem. To Ramona and Spanish Harlem Incident are slight by Dylan-standards, but nevertheless very well-crafted love songs.
Another Side was recorded during one long session on June 9, 1964, during which Dylan helped polish off a couple bottles of wine. The wine didn’t seem to detract from the performances, and in fact, may have helped. Another Side contains some of Dylan’s most enjoyable performances ever recorded.
By Another Side Dylan had moved beyond his reliance on traditional folk melodies. He was clearly moving towards a pop/rock sound and more literary-influenced lyrics. Many have speculated that the Beatles were a major influence in this move. Given the colossal impact they were having at the time of this recording, they undoubtedly were. Susie Rotolo, a long-time girlfriend, also contributed by introducing Dylan to new authors, theater and painting. Dave Van Ronk also contributed to his transformation by introducing him to new writers and thinkers (documented in his book The Mayor of McDougal Street).
Dylan ignored intense pressure from his established fan-base who were demandind that he not change from his older Freewheelin’/Times Are A’Changing style. The folk revivalist movement was very influential at the time and demanded strict adherence to traditional musical styles. The revivalists were not enamored with Dylan’s sudden shift to a more popular, less political, and less traditional style. Articles in both The Little Sandy Review and Sing Out lambasted Dylan for “selling out” traditional folk music. Dylan, as would be the pattern throughout his career, paid them little heed. The full text of the letter is available here.
The outtakes from the Another Side sessions include the Denise, Denise, East Laredo Blue, New Orleans Rag, and California. The fabulous piano-based I’ll Keep It with Mine, available on Biograph, was recorded around the same time. Dylan also recorded an early version of Mr. Tambourine Man, as a duet with Rambling Jack Elliot (not worth the time to search out). Many of these recordings can be found on the Emmett Grogan’s Acetates bootleg. (Who was Emmett Grogan?)
Bob Dylan is a notoriously private man leading a very public life. He avoids letting the press or his fans know him on a personal level. In fact, obscuring his personal identity from outsiders has been a hobby of his from the very beginning of his career. At his NYC Town Hall concert in 1964 (which was released as part of the Bootleg Series) he said that he “had his Bob Dylan mask on”, implying that the person we see on stage, the person we listen to on records is not the real Robert Zimmerman. In one of his first recorded interviews he told a whole stream of lies about his personal history, presumably to throw people off his trail. Throughout his career he has often responded with anger or sarcasm if a reporter persists with personal questions. He once actually came to blows with the infamous “garbologist” A.J. Weberman, after he refused to stop pestering him.
I turn around and it’s like—Dylan. I’m thinking, ‘Can you believe this? I’m getting the crap beat out of me by Bob Dylan!’ I said, ‘Hey, man, how you doin’?’ But he keeps knocking my head against the sidewalk. He’s little, but he’s strong. He works out. I wouldn’t fight back, you know, because I knew I was wrong. He gets up, rips off my ‘Free Bob Dylan’ button and walks away. Never says a word.
However, Dylan occasionally lowered his guard in his liner notes of his early albums. In the notes for Times he reminisces at some length about his childhood, his youthful dreams, his ambitions. He is particularly revealing (and thought provoking) in the notes he wrote for Joan Baez’s In Concert Part 2.
In the Another Side notes Dylan reveals quite a lot about his state of mind at the time of the recording and goes a long way toward explaining why he made such an abrupt change in direction. He touches on many of the same themes explored in the album’s songs. Because these notes reveal so much behind the songs on the album, I think it’s worth the effort to explore the notes in some detail.
A lack of moral certitude is a general theme that runs throughout the notes, an idea also at the heart of many of the songs on the recording, especially My Back Pages. From the notes:
“Good and evil are but words”…. “what grounds are grounds for judgment”….. “I will listen t’ no one who tells me morals/ there are no morals”… Dylan tells a short tale in the notes about watching two boys playing cowboys and Indians, taking turns being the “good guy”, whom they both assume is the cowboy. Dylan is obviously not so sure anymore just who the good guy is. Dylan writes “i have t’ go t’ the woods” to think about things, to contemplate this newly complex and uncertain world.
Disillusionment, particularly with politics, is a theme repeated several times. Dylan writes that there are “no politics”, seemingly disavowing the entire sixties political scene. He also makes two other references that clearly tell the reader that he personally is removed from the battle politic. First, he says he’s far from “erhard meeting johnson”.
A little explanation is need for that reference. Ludwig Erhard was the Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany from 1963-65. Erhard met with Lyndon Johnson at the LBJ ranch in December 1963, just a month or so after the assassination of John Kennedy.
Second, Dylan mentions being too far to hear “Nixon’s dawg barking”, presumably a reference to Nixon’s famous “Checkers” speech, made when Nixon was Eisenhower’s vice-presidential nominee and trying to defend himself against allegations that he improperly used political funds for his own gain. In this speech, Nixon said that he would never do anything like that, the only gift he ever accepted was a cute dog named Checkers that his family loved and – doggone it – he wasn’t giving it up. (The bit about Checkers starts around 17:45.)
Later in the notes Dylan again signals his change in course, using the biblical battle of Jericho as a reference point:
run go get out of here
go fit your battle
do your thing
i lost my glasses
can’t see jericho
the wind is tyin’ knots
in my hair
t’ be straight
no i shan’t go with you
i can’t go with you
Joshua was the leader of an Israelite army that emerged from the desert and destroyed the heavily fortified city of Jericho, using only trumpets as weapons. (The folksinger Odetta, one of Dylan’s earliest influences, did a cover of the traditional Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, which might explain the use of the word “fit” instead of “fought”.)
Other interesting tidbits.
Dylan includes a number of lines in the notes that are used verbatim or are echoed closely in songs on Another Side and later on Bringing It All Back Home.
The phrase “uselessly alone” is used in Tombstone Blues: “Causes Galileo’s math book to get thrown / At Delilah who sits worthlessly alone.” The lines “good an’ evil are but words / invented by those / that are trapped in scenes” is a similar thought to the sentiments expressed in My Back Pages: “Good and bad / I define these terms/ Quite clear, no doubt, somehow.” The phrase “left me here t’ stand” is used directly in Mr. Tambourine Man. The lines “an’ who knows someday /someone might even / write a song about you” is similar to these lines in To Ramona: “And someday maybe / Who knows, baby / I’ll come and be cryin’ to you”.
Dylan mentions Françoise Hardy right at the beginning, dedicating part of the notes to her. Hardy was a popular French singer/songwriter who enjoyed a great deal of success in the mid-sixties. She was very beautiful and appeared on many magazine covers. Dylan apparently developed quite a thing for her. Says Hardy in a recent interview about the day she met Bob Dylan:
It was in 1966, at his first-ever Paris concert. I remember this because I was shooting a movie called Grand Prix in Monaco, and I had to get permission from the director, John Frankenheimer, in order to go. Dylan wasn’t well at this time and it wasn’t a good show. The audience were very cold and unreceptive in the first half. I remember, I was sitting in the front row and during the intermission someone came up and told me that Dylan wasn’t going to go back on stage unless I went to see him. He was my hero, and there he was asking to see me!” Fearing a riot might break out if he didn’t finish the show, Hardy duly went to Dylan’s dressing-room. “I had no idea what we talked about, as my English wasn’t too good and I couldn’t understand a word he said. I only remember that he looked very ill and I had a very bad and strong feeling that he would die very soon. It was very frightening. In fact he almost did die soon
after, in a motorcycle accident.”
Dylan mentions playing ping pong with Henry Miller, the author of the classic novel Tropic of Cancer. In the notes Dylan complains about Miller’s attempts to “put him down”. In an interview with journalist Jonathan Cott, Miller talks of his contrasting interpretation of what is likely the same event:
You know, Bob Dylan came to my house ten years ago. Joan Baez and her sister [singer Mimi Farina] brought him and some friends to see me. But Dylan was snooty and arrogant. He was a kid then, of course. And he didn’t like me. He thought I was talking down to him, which I wasn’t. I was trying to be sociable. But we just couldn’t get together. But I know that he is a character, probably a genius, and I really should listen to his work. I’m full of prejudices like everybody else. My kids love him and the Beatles and all the rest.
Dylan mentions that the “living theatre” has been busted. The Living Theatre was a relatively well-known theater group that toured European in the sixties which the goal of furthering social change. Dylan had seen some of their plays. From an article in the San Francisco Gate on 7/26/04:
The Living Theatre spent most of the rest of the ’60s in Europe, participating in the student rebellions that culminated in the government-shaking general strike in France in ’68 — and generating a name for itself as a radical theater collective. Its signature piece was “Paradise Now,” a confrontational work in which “we broke every rule,” Malina [the co-founder] recalls. “We burned money. We tore out the seats and carried them up on the stage. We got busted in city after city because we ended the piece with, ‘The theater is in the streets!’ and led the audience into the streets and half the people were naked.”
Another Side is the most personal recording Dylan would make until Planet Waves was released in 1974. It is a remarkable recording and deserves more attention than it receives.