Bob Dylan Revisited - Bethel NY 9.2.2012

Crzay Day in the Bob Dylan world. Fabulous new record "Tempest" being streamed free on iTunes as I write this. First listen to the 45 verse/no chorus epic song about the sinking of the "Titanic". Tribute song "Roll on John" about John Lennon. It doesn't get much better than this. AND I SAW HIM LIVE Sunday night! Wow!  Here's my review of the show...

I wasn’t even going to bother to contribute a review of this Bethel NY show to the online Bob Dylan community. On this lazy summer night, I was perched  almost too comfortably uphill from the stage in my $30 lawn seat. From that distance I couldn’t really attest to anything specific that was going on onstage - what Bob & the band were wearing or who was playing what instrument type was beyond my point of view. Usually I’m up close & personal, but no notebook in hand tonight, I was ready for just a summer dose of Bob. But jeez, I’ve waited 48 hours now for someone to post a review, and nothing was delivered. So…somebody’s got to reach for the rising star, and I guess it must be Up to Me.

It couldn’t have been a more perfect end of summer September night in Bethel NY. Full moon rising over the hills as Bob Dylan and his band took the stage shortly around 9:15. Talk around the Bethel Woods site had been about what tracks from Tempest anyone had already heard, and whether he was going to open with Leopard Skin or River Flow, which he’d changed up the night before, and whether he was going to play guitar much. But really it was a very, almost too very laid back crowd. Lot of wandering tie-die types. Some were mathematicians and some were carpenters wives to be sure, but there seemed to be no real sense of urgency to this crowd. Well hey I hadn’t seen Dylan since that outdoor Brooklyn show a few years ago. Hadn’t seen the current state of this touring band in a while, so I guess I can offer a fresh perspective.  Bob was about to come onstage and I was ready for a lethal dose.

First things first, the sound at Bethel Woods was impeccable. Ben Harper had gone on for an hour with just an acoustic guitar and you could hear each string perfectly.
These people had their sound system installed like a charm, even from where I was sitting up on the hill. So when Bob came out and began with – River Flow – yes! - I could pick right through any gruffness in his voice and hear every word. The main thing I can say about this performance is that he was “spot on” all the way through the show. No flubs, no slow spots, no lazy verses. He got every word of every song near as I could tell (yes I heard the improvised Tangled verse). And he wasn’t rushing anything (maybe because he had the next night off before Portchester).  It was a great long set with a lot  of my “wish for” songs on the set list.

Right away we got an excellent “Baby Blue” in the # 2 slot. My 19 year old daughter nodded & smiled to me when she recognized it. I’d been following the live set lists and  boblinks, so I knew where the changes would be, and tonight they were almost all pleasant surprises. I hadn’t heard these new versions of “Things Have Changed” or the decidedly non-acoustic “Tangled”, or Dylan’s grand piano style, so it was all fun & new. And then came the #5 slot – “Levee”. My daughter said “from Modern Times” and she & my wife boogied in their seats.

But the real killer moment was upon us – “Blind Willie McTell”. Bob center stage with harmonica doesn’t really describe it, because this was the moment you come to these shows for. Stepped up a notch, singing every verse in the moment, and topping it off with great harmonica. Literally reaching out to the audience. Took my breath away.  Talk about “arrow on the doorpost”.

At this point the train was out of the station. “Tweedle Dee”  was one that I was hoping for, having listened to Love & Theft all summer. Lots of that grand piano with Bob jumping out of his seat as the song ended. “Trying to Get to Heaven” was unexpected and had more harp. I don’t know, but there was a lot of harmonica tonight straight thru and all of it good. As he slipped into “Highwater” my daughter remarked on the “hurricane season” set list, and yes more harmonica. And then as we approached the 10 slot I sat silently hoping for “Visions” to stay in the set list one more night. And yes! He did one of the clearest versions I’ve heard him do live – all the verses except “little boy lost” and all the words of all those verses, as I said earlier “spot on”. Right down to the “fish truck that loads as my conscience explodes”.

Now with “Highway 61” we were in the final stretch. This band tends to be a bit layered and jazzy and I was ready for a bit more rock & roll.  So I was ready for the Highway – Thunder – Rolling Stone - Watchtower part of the set. And here let me just say that my only disappointment with the show was the audience. Did they not get that they were listening to Bob Dylan playing his most amazing songs? The three of us sat there wondering if we were watching the same show as everyone else. People even seemed to have a hard time even putting their hands together to clap. At least the geriatric mosh pit, as my wife called it, was standing. But I gotta say, Dylan was in his own world on that stage and drove the whole enterprise ahead without a care.

Now I haven’t seen him do “Thin Man” in a while and I don’t know how long he’s been doing that with echo, but boy was that a fantastic version. Bob singing with his own echo was an astounding live performance trick and he was surely enjoying it.  “Something happening…something happening…something happening.”  He was Howling at the Moon.! And more harmonica there too as he headed from “center stage” to the piano. He was moving around the stage all night like that. Restless hungry feeling.

And then came “Rolling Stone” – all four verses. Has he been doing that too lately? Last few times I saw him he was leaving oui the “jugglers & the clowns” verse and only doing “miss lonely”. But all four were there tonight. And let me just say this about the chorus – my kid looked at me after the first chorus and said asked if he just said  “How Does it Feel to be Without a Phone?”  I can’t attest to anything there, but it sure sounded funny and not out of the realm of possibility at the moment. Ha!

Oh I left out my one disappointment – “Spirit on the Water’ is not my favorite track and I was hoping for “Simple Twist of Fate”.  But I gotta say this was a credible, not lazy,  version and we got more harmonica. So I’ll let that slip. This is why we keep coming back, because you can’t always get what you want. It’s Bobs show and he’s  the phantom engineer on this train.  

Well if you watch these set lists you know how it all ends. “Watchtower” and “Blowin in the Wind”. And again, I’ll say this was not a rushed show. I imagine Dylan coulda been heading for the tour bus while the band played the song off. I’ve seen that before. But nope. There he was again,  jumping up from the piano and heading upstage to play us some more splendid harmonica right up to the bitter end, taking in the applause.. And then, just like that, it was time to get outa this all night cafĂ©. We found our car, and I played the original “Willie Mc Tell” for my daughter – “wow that sounds so different” – and we bugged outa there.  


A few words about Wes Anderson's Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson, NY Film Fest 2007

Spent a rainy evening in New York City out at the movies last night. Itching to check out the new Wes Anderson film , Moonrise Kingdom, but not wanting to travel too far, I headed to the nearest multiplex up in Union Square. But having to sit through a half hour of commercials and bad movie previews nearly wore me out by showtime. What a scam - squeezing every commercial buck out of you while you foot the bill. This is why I spend all my time at actual art cinemas - Film Forum, Walter Reade, BAM Cinematek. This was all new to me. In fact, if the 4 train was running normally, I would have been out at BAM to see this film and saved myself the torturous run up of advertising. At least the final preview before the film started was for my favorite film of the year - Beasts of the Southern Wild - a stunner that won Sundance and which opens next week locally.

Jason Schwartzman with Wes Anderson & Roman Coppola, Moonrise screenwriters

But back to Wes Anderson and Moonrise Kingdom, which despite multiplex rules, finally started up and swung itself into action. The first half hour was very much in the style of The Royal Tennenbaums, which to me was a little too stylized, and so I spent some time thinking that Moonrise Kingdom might not live up to the hype at all, making me want to kill myself for sitting through all those commercials. But around the point that the two young teenage lovers, Sam & Suzy, begin dancing by the shore to a Francoise Hardy yeh-yeh girl disc they brought along on their runaway adventure, like a preteen homage to a Godard film, I was hooked.

Wes Anderson, Anjelica Houston, Bill Murray -2011

From that point, the rest of the Moonrise moves elegantly along like my favorite Wes Anderson film, The Darjeeling Limited. Actually it felt more like a Coen Brothers - Tarrantino - Anderson hybrid, with all the character actors playing similarly quirky parts - Bruce Willis, Bill Murray, Frances McDormand, Tilda Swinton, Bill Murray, Harvey Keitel - all showing up just at the "oh I forgot they were in this movie" moment. I'm still partial to Darjeeling's long slow motion takes choreographed to Kinks songs - especially that grand opening train sequence with "This Time Tomorrow" (I know someone who was phoned by a nervous Wes Anderson, to be sure that no other director had already thought to use this great Kinks song. That's a man concerned with the smallest details.)

Peter Bogdanovich (another Hank Williams fan) and Wes Anderson

And the details are indeed packed into Moonrise Kingdom. Sure the Kinks are replaced here by Hank Williams (no complaints there), minus the sweeping slow-mo camera tricks. Still there are plenty of exquisite horizontal / 360 camera pans. The detailed references throughout Moonrise are little treasures for movie buffs.  Let me just say that Bob Balliban's goofy narrator reminds me of Fellini's Amarcord narrator.  You can sense Francois Truffaut behind the scenes. But Wes Anderson's attention to detail really helps Moonrise Kingdom stand on its own here. I sensed a bit of Hardy Boys /Nancy Drew mystery zeitgeist thrown in as a dose of 60's childhood nostaligia for the twenty somethings in the theater to re-digest from their parents/grandparents childhoods.

Cast of the Royal Tennenbaums, 10th Anniversary screening, fall 2011

And so, as the film swept towards it's well wrapped end, I found myself sitting through the final credits (oh so alone), and knew that within minutes I'd be doing what my 19 year old daughter told me all teens do at the multiplex in this economy - head into another screening. For me it was a couple of doors down for the subsequent screening of Moonrise Kingdom, already in progress, to watch the spectacular final hour of this film one more time. 



Rendez-Deja-Vous / A Tale of 2 Photographs

French Director Benoit Jacquot (center) with his two producers

Last weekend I found myself back at Rendezvous with French Cinema, the annual festival of new French films at Lincoln Center, where I saw the delightfully historical Farewell, My Queen directed by Benoit Jacquot. I'll spare you a review, in exchange for a recommendation. Suffice to say it is about the last days of Marie Antoinette. But I must say I had a surprisingly fun time taking this picture of the director with his two producers. Unusually light hearted - both onstage after his Q&A, and in his direction of the film itself - Benoit Jacquot set up this decidedly fashionable photographic composition for me. Merci!

Benoit Jacquot

Mathieu Demy and Chiara Mastroianni

I get dizzy just thinking about all the levels of cinema legacy involved in this photograph I took on Saturday. Let me try to explain. Chiara Mastroianni is the daughter of legendary actors Catherine Deneuve and Marcello Mastroianni. She stars in Mathieu Demy's new film AmericanoMathieu Demy is the actor/director son of French New Wave directors Jacques Demy (Umbrellas of Cherbourg) and Agnes Varda (Cleo From 5 to 7). He stars in and directed the film Americano. The film also stars Geraldine Chaplin, daughter of Charlie Chaplin - got it all straight? 

Ameriano, basically a film about a mother-son relationship, includes footage shot of Mathieu Demy as a kid in the 1970's, by his real mother Agnes Varda. And the girl he pursues throughout the film, played by Salma Hayek, is named Lola, (coincidentally?) the name of the 1961 film directed by his father Jacques Demy,  which starred Anouk Aimee, who co-starred with Chiara's father Marcello Mastroianni in La Dolce Vita.  And of course, Chiara Mastroianni's mother Catherine Deneuve starred in Jacques Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg.  

Is this getting you dizzy, too? Well that's the whole point of today's blog entry.


Rendezvous with Werner Herzog

The French have arrived - the annual Rendezvous with French Cinema opened at Lincoln Center this week. And on the very same night over at BAM Cinematek in Brooklyn, Werner Herzog was "in flight" expounding on the eclectic choices of music in his films. I managed to see and shoot both, thanks to the efficient NYC subway system.

Chiara Mastroianni

First it was the Opening night arrivals at Lincoln Center, which most notably - well, for me at least - included two actresses - Chiara Mastroianni  (daughter of Catherine Deneuve & Marcello Mastroianni), and Carole Bouquet (longtime face of Chanel No.5, whose career stretches from acting as a James Bond girl (For Your Eyes Only)  to working with Luis Bunuel (That Obscure Object of Desire).  

Carole Bouquet

Then it was out to BAM in Brooklyn to see Werner Herzog. Well that in itself would be a pretty legendary night. To hear Herzog talking with Paul Holdengraber (director of Live from NYPL) for over an hour about music, while showing clips from his films, pretty much made my subway ride well worth it. You could see the glint in Herzog's eyes, when asked which clip he wanted to end the night on - he chose the blues harmonica "Dancing Chicken" scene from his 1978 film  Stroszek. 

You MUST watch it HERE now!

A fitting ending to a fantastic evening.

Paul Holdengraber with Werner Herzog

Werner Herzog at BAM Cinematek



Who Shot Rock / Who Shot Walker Evans

Walker Evans - Cemetery, Bethlehem PA, 1935

On my way to give a talk about my punk photography yesterday at the Allentown Art Museum's Who Shot Rock exhibition in Pennsylvania, I unexpectedly found myself in the shadow of one of my photographic idols Walker Evans.  In my haste to prepare for my talk,  I had not foreseen that Allentown was only miles away from Bethlehem and Easton PA, locations of some of Walker Evans greatest photographs included in his classic 1938 book American Photographs.  In fact, before I had even arrived at the Allentown Art Museum, I had Eileen stop the car in a town square blocks away, so I could take this photograph.

Which upon my return to the city, I realized was similar via memory to this Walker Evans shot.

Walker Evans - Main Street Pennsylvania Town, 1936

And so began an adventurous journey into the many layers of my photographic past. The talk went well indeed. From Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Diane Arbus, Weegee & Brassai, to the Bowery in 1976, I speckled the presentation of my CBGB photography - titled Once Upon a Time on the Bowery - with clips from one of my favorite photography films - Blow-Up.  Directed in 1966 by Michelangelo Antonioni, with David Hemmings cast as the "swinging sixties" photographer David Bailey, it was the first film that actually took me into a real darkroom, a real studio, and in fact a real nightclub.  With an early intense performance by Vanessa Redgrave,  and the classic Yardbirds nightclub scene - this was the film that no doubt eventually drew me to purchase my first Pentax Spotmatic and eerily predicted my "brilliant career" in rock photography. 

"I'm only doing my job. Some people are bullfighters. Some people are politicians. I'm a photographer."

But back to the Allentown Art Museum,  where the current layout of the Who Shot Rock exhibition,  thoughtfully laid out & more intimate with it's small walls than even the Brooklyn show - lives on. As I said the talk went well. The audience hung in there with my eclectic references that strayed between the history of photography, the history of punk, and the history of me. Thank you. 

From there it was back on the road, a few photographs of Allentown, and a stop at the - how could I not? - Bethlehem Diner.


Once Upon a Time on the Bowery - Hank Williams version

OK - a little promotion here for my Photography Slide Lecture (er, amusing talk)  this weekend - Sunday Feb.26th - at the Allentown Art Museum in Allentown PA, which is now hosting the fabulous Who Shot Rock exhibition. I'll be showing a everything but the kitchen sink from CBGB's, to clips from the movie Blow-Up.  Think of it as my "stand-up photography" act.

info at : alllentownartmuseum.org


First Avenue looked so Medieval

I was calmly drinking down my morning coffee last week, when my friend Tim Broun, whose Stupefaction blog is burning up the internet, alerted me to a blogpost on Flaming Pablum about this photograph I took of the band Television in the East Village in the fall of1977. It seems that there was a photo quiz posted last spring to search out the location of several cool photographs, of which mine was not only one - but one of the only ones that remained unidentified until last week - imagine that!

Well this was all news to me when Tim's alert arrived. And it just gets better. It turns out the photo detective who finally figured out my shoot location was none other than Bob Egan of PopSpotsNYC, whose indefatigable archeological investigations into the shot locations of several key Bob Dylan LP cover photos I've been in awe of since I stumbled upon them last year. In fact I've been telling everyone who can bear to listen to my Bob Dylan fanaticism that they have to check these out - Daniel Kramer's shot for Highway 61 Revisited, Sandy Speiser's shot for Another Side AND Jerry Schatzberg's shot for Blonde on Blonde.These are so unbelievably detailed, carefully laid out, and delightful to read, that it shudders me to think that the same Bob Egan went out and conducted an investigation for Flaming Pablum to deconstruct the location of my 1977 Television photograph.

Yes he's right it was First Avenue at 9th Street - we had just walked down St.Marks Place (past the recently extinct Holiday Cocktail Lounge and the ever present Stromboli Pizza) proceeding up First Avenue to 9th street when

we encountered this puddle overtaking the whole corner. It wasn't raining that fall day in 1977, so I suspect there was a drainage problem on that still somewhat crooked corner. In any case, it looked perfect for a photo, so I asked everyone to wait while I crossed over to the other side to get this view from across the pond (hoping no cars would turn up 9th and knock me over).

People have asked me quite often over the years about the location of this photo - even people who live in that neighborhood. And I am sometimes stumped myself, because there was still an outdoor fruit and vegetable stand on that corner for many years. And all those quirky little stores - Curtain shops, button shops - are now restaurants.

But what really strikes me about Bob Egan's investigations of Bob Dylan cover shots - and it's true of my Television photo as well - is how close to home all those photographs were taken (well not exactly the Blonde on Blonde - though that might be the most fascinating one).  Freewheelin'  was shot on Jones Street , literally around the corner from Dylan's West 4th St. apartment. Another Side just a block away from his record company's offices on 52nd Street, and Bringing it all Back Home on the front steps of his manager's Gramercy Park Townhouse. And indeed, my photograph of Television follows the same pattern. I was living  on St.Marks Place between Second & Third Ave. while Fred Smith - Television's lovable bass player - lived on St.Marks between First and Second Ave. - which is where we all gathered before the shoot. So the distance between meeting point and this shot was two whole blocks. Were we just lazy or was there just a plethora of great locations in that short radius? A little bit of both (we actually continued our walk up to 18th street to finish the session). But indeed, First Avenue looked so medieval in those days.


I am pleased to have stumped Flaming Pablum's readers with my shot location, and honored to have Bob Egan's thorough investigation (referencing a microfiche of the 1977 phone book - brilliant), but I'm most amused with Tim Broun's post in the comment section - "Nice post, but you could have just asked Godlis - he took the photo". Yeah but this is so much more fun!