ROUGH AND ROWDY WAYS
Bob Dylan’s new album
by Spencer Leigh
My book Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues is published by McNidder and Grace on Thursday
July 9, whatever ‘Publication’ means these days. It will be available on the internet
(Amazon predominantly, the publisher’s website, and mine). You can order it from
Waterstones website but if you go into one of their stores and pick it up but decide not to
buy it, the book has go into quarantine for 72 hours, so for the sake of the poor book at
least, take it to the checkout. I would love to say, “Get it from the library” but the libraries
are still closed. However, Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues is already available as an ebook.
Bob Dylan: Outlaw Blues has 528 pages and although I knew it was going to be long, I
had no idea that it was going to be so long. My book, Simon and Garfunkel: Together
Alone (2016), has 244 pages and the main reason for the difference is that Bob Dylan has
written three times as many songs as Paul Simon and there must be many more that we
haven’t heard. Irving Berlin is said to be the most published songwriter of all-time with
1,250 compositions and I would guess that Woody Guthrie wasn’t far behind as he was
always scribbling away but many of his lyrics didn’t surface until after his death. Dylan is
around the 700 mark and don’t forget that unlike the Brill Building writers, say, he has
had a major career as a touring and recording artist. He has also recorded hundreds of
cover versions and on recent releases, he has been recasting himself, somewhat
improbably, as Frank Sinatra.
When the publication date for my biography was agreed, Bob Dylan hadn’t released an
album of new songs in eight years and Rough and Rowdy Ways hadn’t been announced.
The new album is released today (June 19) and as the book is now being printed, it can’t
contain a full review. However, it does include commentary on the three singles which
were released in advance: ‘Murder Most Foul’, ‘I Contain Multitudes’ and ‘False Prophet’.
Therefore, here on the album’s release date June 19, I thought I would add my own
twopenn’orth about the album. Being in lockdown, I haven’t got the CD so I can’t
comment on the booklet; indeed, I live in Southport and I don’t even think anywhere in
the town sells CDs anymore.
A new Dylan album has taken me by surprise as he had been concentrating on sketching
and painting in recent years and signed prints of his work are being sold through fine art
galleries. I discuss the finances of this in the book and show how lucrative this can be. If
you want Bob’s autograph, then buy a signed print for £1,500!
The title, Rough and Rowdy Ways, is a young man’s s title and certainly an intriguing
one for a man who is approaching 80. It echoes a track by Jimmie Rodgers, ‘My Rough
and Rowdy Ways’, written and released by him in 1929. Bob Dylan was involved in a
tribute album to Jimmie Rodgers in 1996 for which he recorded ‘My Blue Eyed Jane’ and
he wrote in the CD booklet, “Jimmie may well be the man who started it all for we have
no antecedent to compare him.” It’s a pity Dylan hasn’t included ‘My Rough and Rowdy
Ways’ on his new album as it would work as an old man looking back on his life.
What we do have are 10 new Dylan songs spread over 2CDs, although they would fit on a
single disc. However, it is fitting that the extraordinary ‘Murder Most Foul’ should be
given a CD of its own. This was the first single to be released and the 17-minute track
went to No.1 on Billboard’s Rock Digital Song Sales, which presumably means that Bob
Dylan has achieved his first US No.1 single, something that he didn’t manage with ‘Like a
Rolling Stone’ or ‘Rainy Day Women Nos.12 & 35’. It is also the longest single to make