One More Night: Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour
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