In 1975 as Bob Dylan emerged from eight years of seclusion, he dreamed of putting together a traveling music show that would trek across the country like a psychedelic carnival. The dream became reality, and On the Road with Bob Dylan is the ultimate behind-the-scenes look at what happened when Dylan and the Rolling Thunder Revue took to the streets of America.
With the intimate detail of a diary, Larry "Ratso" Sloman’s mesmerizing description of the legendary tour both transports listeners to a celebrated period in rock history and provides them with a vivid snapshot of Dylan during this extraordinary time. This reissue of the 1978 classic resonates more than ever as it chronicles one of the most glittering rock circuses ever assembled, with a cast that includes Joan Baez, Robbie Robertson, Joni Mitchell, Allen Ginsberg, Ramblin’ Jack Elliott, and a wild entourage of groupies, misfits, sinners, and saints who trailed along for the ride. Sloman candidly captures the all-night revelry and musical prowess - from the backstage antics to impromptu jams - that made the tour a nearly mystical experience.
Complete with an introduction by renowned Texas musician, mystery writer, and Revue member Kinky Friedman, this is an unparalleled treat for Dylan fans old and new. Without question, On the Road with Bob Dylan is a remarkable, revealing piece of writing and a rare up-close and personal view of Dylan on tour.
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How to Love this Love-It or Hate-It Book
I would highly recommend this audiobook, with several caveats -- not so much caveats, more like, if you can expect a few of these strange attributes in advance, you stand a better chance of falling on the love-it side of this love-it or hate-it book.
1. First of all, not to excuse Larry for his extremely politically incorrect language, but this book was written before the term "politically correct" was even coined, before that concept entered public discourse. So expect some extreme language, shrug it off as anachronistic, and move on to the good stuff.
2. This book was written during the era of gonzo journalism -- Fear and Loathing, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, and such. A huge portion of it is devoted to Larry's attempts to get the kind of access he needed to write the book -- post-modern before post-modernism was a common term, meta-journalism where the process is part of the story. And Larry takes it to the extreme, to the point where you wonder whether he's actually making it up for comic effect. Especially once he starts to refer to himself exclusively in the third person as Ratso, after Joan Baez christens him with his nickname and Roger McGuiin ensures that it will endure. If you take it seriously, it could be a huge turn-off. If you laugh at and along with Ratso, as he certainly intended, you will enjoy it.
3. You will see some of your musical icons portrayed not as musical icons, but as ordinary humans, warts and all. Whiners, neurotics, insecure paranoiacs, turf warriors, gossipers, backbiters, etc. Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Leonard Cohen, and of course Dylan -- there is the positive side to their characters that shines through, but the negative aspects are the ones that could turn you off if you don't want to hear it. Especially Joni Mitchell, who comes off as so consistently and endearingly nutty that you wonder if this is real or imagined, except that Larry and Kinky both make a point of insisting that it was all taped. Anyway, be warned -- they're only human, warts and all, and you will never get this kind of look at their private side anywhere else.
I know Larry from the Rangers' press room, where we worked together for several years. So far from being turned off by his personal side of the story like some other readers, I actually enjoyed it. But that is clearly a highly subjective experience for me, because I already knew what kind of quirky personality I would encounter. Other readers will probably have to work through that side of the story to get the part that most interests them -- but I enjoyed it.
The interesting part of the story for a general audience is the deeply inside look at these people off the stage, when they're not working, not being creative, not performing. I have read a number of inside baseball books about musicians of the era -- The Wrecking Crew and Fire & Rain most recently, in audio format -- but I have never read anything that shows the true personalities of these artists when they're just hanging out, being ordinary people.
Then there are Larry's set pieces. When he pitches the concept of the book to Dylan a couple of hours in, he outlines his goal of combining a personal diary, man on the street stories and interviews, and sit-down interviews with the artists. These pieces are at times eye-popping -- Joni Mitchell arguing against gender roles in the iconography of pop music, Mike Bloomfield recounting Dylan's first electric concert at Newport, Roger McGuinn lamenting his declining fortunes since the break-up of the Byrds, Robbie Robertson dissecting specific songs and albums and tours, and many others -- Dylan's wife and mother, the filmmakers shooting the movie Renaldo and Clara during the tour, Rubin Carter, etc.
Don't judge a voice by its name. Who would have thought that someone named Ramiz Monsef can sound so much like a native New Yorker? I actually know what Larry sounds like, and I can't tell the difference between the real thing and this performance. And it's not just Larry, although his voice carries the bulk of the narrative -- he also nails Kinky, Joni, Cohen, Rubin Carter, and of course the instantly recognizable voice of Bob Dylan. Standing ovation from me -- you could not have heard these voices in your head if you read the print edition.
I laughed a lot listening to this book. Got a lot of strange looks on the subway and on the streets. Seriously, if you can get past some of the things that have rubbed some readers the wrong way -- as I detailed up top -- and see the incredible humor in this tale, it will crack you up.
I'm not even a big Dylan fan. I'm a medium fan -- I like a lot of his work, especially from the 60s and 70s, but am not a devoted acolyte like Larry, and another friend also named Larry. I actually have more affection for Dylan after listening to this book, since he comes off as so much more human than I've ever seen him anywhere else. Not to beat a dead horse, but if you can get past the potential "hate-it" qualities of this unconventional book, there is much to love, including the off-stage personality of its primary subject, Bob Dylan.
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