Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Ether

Forever Young: Photographs of Bob DylanWhen a public personality who doesn’t have some physical impairment yet otherwise can’t get much of a job in the public eye finds him- or herself in this sitatuion and thinks that eating and paying the rent are good thing, that person tends to go to something like “Dancing With the Stars” or one of those lemming-like shows on VH1. It may be pathetic. But it pays the bills.

A newer venue for those whose star is fading is satellite radio. Seemingly, those Space Cadet Companies have an endless source of money to match their bandwidth. They’ve discovered that it is necessary to find any and all means to fill in the time that people are paying for who otherwise might just say “screw it” and turn on a terrestrial system, especially those who have discovered that they are sick and tired of hearing commercials for going to their PC and the like, commercials that have all of the intrinsic interest and quality of those shown on cable TV stations that few ever venture to.

Which brings me to Bob Dylan and the “Theme Time Radio Hour.” Yes, I know that his Modern Times disc is doing remarkably well sales-wise. Good for Bob. But his radio program is pathetic, as he rolls out patter that sounds like it was scripted by a writer of ’50s pulp detective fiction—regardless of the “theme.” Sure, Bob can pull out some rather arcane tunes. So can Dr. Demento. This is what the voice of several generations has come to?

All of which is to make Forever Young: Photographs of Bob Dylan with 75 shots by Douglas R. Gilbert and text by Dave Marsh (Da Capo Press; $18.95) all the more poignant. Here are pictures of Dylan from 1964, when he was bumping around in Woodstock and New York appearing at Newport, hanging with Ramblin’ Jack Elliot and John Sebastian and Joan Baez, when he had the cheap wine/cigarette/black-on-black ethos that took him from being a folk musician to something that is sui generis. As he himself wrote:

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.

Apparently those winds have blown him somewhere else. Here’s hoping he doesn’t start thinking about dancing.

To get a bit of a feel for the type of music Bob’s playing on his radio show (without the corny patter), one fan created the Un-themed Time Radio Hour on Pandora by entering the artists and songs on Bob’s playlists. Listen.

41 thoughts on “Bob Dylan: Blowin’ in the Ether”

  1. Think you’ve entirely missed something there matey….nothing pathetic about this wonderful show! Even my non-dylan fans adore it…its fresh, funny and fabulous! Open up that narrow mind!!

  2. i’m not sure where your argument is. you call the show “pathetic” yet you show no evidence for it. the music is bad? (it sure isn’t) the patter is bad? (it is wry, interesting and by sounding like 50s pulp detective fiction, doesn’t take itself too seriously, which is th point)

    Yes, it is scripted – ouch! that hurts!

    you’ve shown how wonderfully contrarian you are.

  3. Let me just jump on the bandwagon of all those who feel as I do, that it is not the “Theme Time Radio” Program that is pathetic but rather it is your complete failure to appreciate the creativity and just plain fun that goes into [and comes out of]this wonderful addition to the radio waves coming out of the ether these days. The choice of music is wonderfully eclectic and the narration is terrifically clever, informative and, best of all, full of humor that is so hard to find these days. So, maybe its time to stop trying to seem so ‘too cool for school’, sit back, turn on the TTR Hour, and be open to the pleasures of this sweet hour of weekly pleasure.

  4. I really can’t say much more than what has already been said, but the radio show is one of the more interesting aspects of Dylan’s career. I could argue that through it he has opened himself up to the public more than ever in the past. Sure it might be through “scripted” text, but I’m sure Bob doesn’t read anything he doesn’t approve of, and thus we are given an audio snapshot of his personality. Plus there are a few genuine unscripted moments that are priceless for the fan. On top of that, the opportunity to hear a bunch of great songs, many of which I never knew existed, make the show a treat.

  5. If Theme Time Radio Hour is “pathetic,” I’d like to hear what you think is good radio? You probably prefer the corporate programming that chokes the free airwaves these days. Or maybe you’re a talk radio buff. You probably think Rush Limbaugh’s inane banter is intelligent. Maybe you should put down the bottle and find another job. Bob Dylan’s encyclopedic knowledge of music has reminded us that history has an important place in music, as well as in the socio-political field. As Dylan himself has said, by hearing the older songs, we know how people laughed and felt, how they fought and how they kissed. We can’t get that from a history book. Besides that, he’s funny and REAL.

  6. I’m not going to criticize your “criticism”, but I will point out that you’re standing on a lonely island. The overwhelming response to Bob’s Radio Hour has been not just positive, but absolutely ecstatic. In fact, the Baseball show went immediately into the Baseball Hall of Fame.

  7. ok..I don’t agree. Not at all. It just doesn’t seem you know much about Bob Dylan, the real Bob Dylan, and what he’s all about. A waste of my time,reading this.

  8. Yea! 4 real. like, isn’t he suppozed to B dead or sumfin? Hes like 4 milion yrs old! LOL! Britney and Jessica are tha spokswomen 4 tha new ginerashun!

    You Don’t Know Shit.

    But, this is America and you can be an idiot in public if you wish. Have fun.

  9. Gee, if any of you had read the last paragraph, I think that you’d find that my appreciation of Dylan is something that rivals of yours. All hung up on “pathetic.” How’s about the fulsome praise of “sui generis”?

  10. Wow

    aren’t you so hip and cool…

    You can spot em pal.

    yeah, you can boil down 45 years of pure gift to a few caustic remarks.

    WOW, you must be super cool if you can put down His Bobness.

    Why, you must even be better than Bob… because if you can spot his obvious lack of talent and fading coolness, then you are obviously cooler, right?

    Thanks for your enlightening us about Mr. Dylan. I feel so much clearer now, in fact I’m going to cancel my subscription to XM thanks to your astute commentary on Bobby D.

    Really, thanks so much.

    did you ever hear the saying “those who can do, those who can’t critique?”

    yes, i took liberties i know the correct quote.

    In other words Mr. McCauley… SHUT THE FUCK UP.

    I agree… you should be made to wear earphones.

  11. This is what happens when you criticize somebody that people are fanatical about. I even wondered when I first read it whether you were trolling for it.

    Anyway, in response to this:

    This is what the voice of several generations has come to?

    I think it’s unwise to take at face value or as fact anything that comes out of Dylan’s mouth or his typewriter, but one thing I do believe is his continued insistance that he’s never wanted to be anybody else’s voice.

    For the record, I think the show’s a scream, almost as as funny as his book, but, of course, it doesn’t touch the pot-addled hilarity of Blonde on Blonde.

  12. Personally, I think it would be fucking hilarious to see Dylan cutting a rug on “Dancing with the Stars.” I can totally picture it. He’d be all dashing and smooth with his little mustache and cowboy gear. Can’t you see it?

    I can also imagine a reality show where Dylan, Flavor Flav, Real World Trishelle, and Mr T all live together on an island where they have to build their own huts and find their own food and everything. Dylan would be a total badass!

    Who said anything about the Spice Girls?

  13. I think it would be fucking hilarious to see Dylan cutting a rug on “Dancing with the Stars.”

    If they cut him a big enough check, I bet he’d be on it. You wanna take up a collection?

  14. Hey there

    I guess this is a good way to

    get a load of comments on your site… write something controversial that loads of people are bound to disagreee with… must remember this trick…


    am writing Modern Times Track By Track Reviews

    Maybe if I just write ‘This song is crap’ or something (without backing it up by evidence)then my comments box will be full!

    By the way, Theme Time Radio Hour is awesome. Get your brain replaced



  15. Maybe you write things you don’t mean for a reaction? There are a lot of pathetic things in this world but Dylan’s radio show is NOT one of them.

  16. Not a single specific example of why the songs don’t work, nothing specific about any of the themes or his commentary. Well Stevie, thank you for a good laugh. It is quite ironic that in the way you go about accusing Dylan of making a “pathetic” program (a program which is quite good, truth-be-told), you simply reveal your own pathetic incompetence as a reviewer.

  17. Actually, Emmitt Smith won Dancing With The Stars this year, just the other night. He didn’t do it to “pay the bills” as you foolishly write. His buddy Jerry Rice, the great San Francisco wide receiver, did Dancing With The Stars last year and came in second. He knew Emmitt loved to dance and suggested it would be fun to do. Emmitt agreed. You really do not know what you are writing about here!

    And the Dylan radio show is great, too. Bob plays wonderful stuff, and it is so far removed from what Dr. Demento does that it isn’t even comparable. Obviously, radio isn’t your beat, either!

    Let’s see what creative outlet you have available when you are 65.

  18. god help us from critics … dude , by the way’s OK if you don’t like the show … but look in the mirror at your ignorance ,, the only thing PATHETIC in radio is 99% of whatever else is on it ….I could go on about that but we all know ….right .. thanks for yer time …

  19. LOL i’m so obsessed with bob dylan, i WISH a critic could say something that makes sense. the best i’ve heard is that rock rhythms are boring. yeah man listen to Jay-Z ROFL.

  20. These comments sound so much like my seventh graders that it’s depressing. “You don’t like ‘x’, so you suck!” I’m a huge Dylan fan, and I enjoy the radio show from time to time. Yes, the jokes are cheesy, but it sounds like he’s having fun. I really want to believe he doesn’t need the money so bad that when it’s not fun for him, he’ll quit. I would have thought Dylan fans would be a little cooler than a typical adolescent. Lighten up people, it is an opinion. Bob isn’t going to lose his gig because Stephen Macauley doesn’t like the show.

  21. Poor Mr Macaulay … I wish I could come to you defense. But I guess I would have to be out of my mind.

    Besides, you make absolutely no sense at all. Can you explain why on earth (or in the ether) would “those Space Cadet Companies” if they indeed “have an endless source of money” bother to hire fading talent ???

    It would make sense they spend some of their vast resources to hire the most talented radio hosts they can find.

    Well, of course it makes sense! That IS what they do. And Bob is at the top of THAT list.

    I guess they have NOT offered you a spot on their ether.

  22. There’s nothing I love more than sitting back and listening to Theme Time Radio with my host, Bob Dylan. It’s radio like it never was, but should have been.

  23. Jesus, this is good stuff! Putting the fanatic back in Fan.


    I wish I could come to you [sic] defense. But I guess I would have to be out of my mind.

    That sounds like a Dylan lyric, or at least a good lyric. I think I’ll steal it.

  24. you remind of all the “dudes” at the dylan concerts, who talk thru most of the songs and go, every 5 minutes, for beer and nachos, just a’waitin’ to sing along with “Like A Rolling Stone”. How’s that for a sentence? you douchebag!!

  25. Would write something derisive but all has already been posted. You are a untalented nobody who doesn’t know shit about anything. maybe you should go back to writing obituaries. Yah, and I second that comment about “shutting the fuck up”.

  26. “Can you explain why on earth (or in the ether) would “those Space Cadet Companies” if they indeed “have an endless source of money” bother to hire fading talent ???”

    Because some lunatics will buy anything their favorite artist puts out.

  27. Just saw this thread. I imagine that Bob negotiated hard for there to be a well-qualified scriptwriter and person to choose the songs, and also for Bob to have the right to have input into the script and song-selection if he wants. I’ve listened to the show, and it sounds like they’ve got some great writer and a well-qualified person to select songs. Probably XM (and listeners like me) would prefer Bob to write his own scripts (or talk extemporaneously) and choose the songs, but I imagine Bob would require a lot more money for that. Or he might not do it at any price.

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