Like Dylan himself, Andrew Muir knows how to keep on keepin' on. Muir sets out to chronicle Dylan's Never Ending Tour, which began 25 years ago and shows no sign of ending. There are 17 chapters that offer detailed accounts of Dylan's NET shows on a year by year basis, spanning an insane gamut of concert experiences. There are transcendental moments when Dylan's way with a phrase, or a harmonica riff makes Muir quiver with ecstasy There are abject moments when Dylan seems to lose it completely, barking semi-complete lines into the darkness, and even stumbling off stage in the middle of a song. His band are nothing if not dedicated, maybe deadpan is a better word. The band play on.
There is one chapter covering the years 2005 to 2009, when Muir admits he has lost the plot and is increasingly alienated from the whole NET phenomenon. Some readers will be surprised to learn that Muir is redeemed from his descent into the Slough of Despond (as he calls it) by Dylan's album Christmas In the Heart, which he finds very moving. Muir's book is both a critical narrative of Dylan on stage, and also a self-help manual in which an addict strives to understand the nature of his addiction.
The sheer scale of Dylan's achievements has rendered most critics either speechless or reaching for one of two clichéd responses. Bob is a genius. Or Bob is utterly past it, and should put himself and us out of our misery. There is no mystery why Dylan keeps touring. He has answered this question many times, and one pleasure of Muir's book is that it's a very intelligent filleting of the interviews and press comments that have accompanied Dylan's 25 years on the road. "You hear sometimes about the glamour of the road, but you get over that real fast. There are a lot of times that it's no different from going to work in the morning. Still, you're either a player or you're not a player." (Dylan in The Los Angeles Times, February 1992) You're either a player or you're not a player. Can't get clearer than that.
What Muir brings to Dylan's eternity of touring is a very detailed knowledge of Dylan's work, a generous way of interacting with the people he meets on the road, and a sense of humour. Because Dylan remains enigmatic, a law unto himself, while simultaneously keeping up a relentless tour schedule, Dylan is simultaneously everywhere, and yet also unknowable to his fans. When Muir describes the day he met Dylan in a café in Camden Town, and handed the great man a copy of his fanzine Homer, the slut, it is as if we are there too.
My reservations about this book are the same as my reservations about the NET. It's such a vast undertaking. The road that Dylan set out on in 1988 still stretches ahead. There is a huge amount of material here, and it is not always easy to read. It's a complex narrative with a lot of detail. Sometimes it can be wearying to read why one version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" is even more exquisite and intelligent than the last one. But my verdict is that Andrew Muir has done it. On 1st May 2013, Dylan and his band played NET concert number 2.500 - in the Time Warner Uptown Amphitheatre, Charlotte, North Carolina. At the end of this year he'll return to the Albert Hall, scene of his notorious 1966 concerts when hard-core folkies booed and The Beatles cheered. It's sometimes hard to believe that one artist can do so much in one lifetime. But I think Andrew Muir has climbed Everest, and written a book which captures the scale, the brilliance and the awfulness of Dylan's life on the road. This is "The Agony and The Ecstasy" of our generation
Even if you are not such a fan of Dylan you will love this book. A labour of love from Andrew that makes you want to re visits all those shows you probably never heard of till now. He is the sort of person that you would love to listen to on anything as he kind of notices the things that no one else does.
I really enjoyed reading this book. He seems to get to the heart and point of things really well. So many projects like this turn out to be some loving fan just repeating the same old rubbish and clearly not capable of a subjective judgement. Andrew avoids that, and while admitting he is a committed fan sees Dylan's music as it is, sometimes masterful and touching almost on Shakespear, while at other times freely admits that he can't imagine what Dylan was thinking of.
He meets some weird and wonderful people on the way too, and brings them out well. Never taking the Michael, but does have a little laugh at them sometimes in an affectionate way.
This is a terrific book about obsessions. Bob Dylan is an obssessive performer - roaming the world on his 'Never Ending Tour' and Andrew Muir obsessively follows the progress of the tour, seeing shows, collecting recordings, exchanging news with other Bobcats and now writing a book about it. What is great about the book is that although he obviously loves the man and his music and writes generously, enthusiastically, and convincingly, about what he thinks are the good shows and the best performances, he is not blind to the inevitable poor moments in such a gruelling schedule. He knows that Dylan's voice is shot nowadays and that sometimes he goes through the motions or 'cheats' a performance but in his criticisms of such shows he never forgets that he is writing about a truly great artist who, even now, is capable of delivering sublime moments. I'm not quite sure how Muir does it, but he keeps our interest all the way through even though he is writing about shows and performances that most readers will not have heard. Oh, if only there had been a soundtrack of the songs to listen to while reading the perceptive and loving analyses. At the same time as detailing the shows themselves, Muir often recounts his adventures on the road heading to another concert. Some of the adventures are very funny indeed, not least his account of his meeting with the man himself in Camden.
This is a very good book. It hits exactly the right note in each chapter. The section describing a concert at Barrowlands in Glasgow is compelling-as too, is the "lost years". There is a wise plea from the author for others to add their voice-contemporaneous accounts are so important-yet after reading this book it will be hard for anyone to find anything worthwhile to add, this book is that good.
This subject needed a critical appraisal-by someone who can write-and someone who understands what a balanced argument entails. A challenge was to step back and place it all in context and this book does exactly that.
Quite apart from its many other merits the main attraction of this hugely enjoyable book is that it evokes better than most the inside experience of the hoards of devotees who follow Bob. As a devotee himself the author doesn't patronise but neither is this a hagiography. Witty, warm and often very funny, it brought back some brilliant nights with Bob to me. Recommended.
Better than 'Razor's Edge' by simple virtue of containing that book and adding tons more juicy bits to chew on, this is the perfect antidote to all those millions of overlong stuffy books about Dylan that weigh the universe down.
Love Bob Dylan's music? Buy this and love it more.
The definitive guide to the Never Ending Tour. Like the Paul Williams Performing Artist series, One More Night gets you searching for those old tapes so you can share in the joy (and occasional misery) of Dylan's live performances with the writer. One of those books that you've read before you know it, yet you'll be dipping back into for years to come. Highly recommended.