We spoke to author Chris Morris and asked him "Five Questions" about his new book Together Through Life: A Personal Journey with the Music of Bob Dylan. Morris is a veteran rock scribe and the author of Los Lobos: Dream In Blue, which he spoke to us previously about. Here's what Chris has to say about this latest project.
I put my original Dylan posts up on Tumblr as 'A Dylan a Day,' since I posted one entry daily Monday through Friday from November 2013 to January 2014. I re-posted them on my Facebook page, where they seemed to attain a life of their own — a lot of people not only read them, but also added their own comments, pro and con. One of my faithful readers was my friend Tosh Berman, a book publisher himself. He moved along the notion of turning them into a book, and contributed the foreword to the volume. In late 2015, after a first publishing venture went awry, ROTHCO Press agreed to publish the posts with an introduction by me and new chapters on Shadows in the Night and Fallen Angels, both of which were longer but still written in ‘real time.’ The introduction puts the whole enterprise into perspective, hopefully.
Your passion for Dylan's music seems boundless, yet there are albums that you particularly dislike. Going back through these album as you did, are there any that sound better to you now than they did upon your initial listening?
I have to admit that most of the albums played the same when I listened to them again as they did when I first heard them, in all but one case when they came out originally. The exception and real revelation was Tempest, which I had more or less dismissed when it was released; I now think it’s one of Dylan’s best records. I’d say John Wesley Harding was one I got into more deeply of late, though I always thought it was splendid; this time around I started listening to it over and over. Some albums, like Modern Times, actually waned a little in my estimation. Certain amazing songs on lousy albums, like "Dark Eyes" and "Brownsville Girl," leaped out at me anew, but my overall impressions of the albums didn’t improve much.
It is interesting how your personal highs and lows seem to echo Dylan's artistic highs and lows. Can you comment on that?
I don’t know if that’s exactly true. Certain records just arrived at the right time, when I was experiencing intense events in my personal life – most notably Blood on the Tracks, Oh Mercy, Love and Theft and Shadows in the Night. In some cases, a Dylan album came out while I was going through hell and I couldn’t relate to it — see the chapter on New Morning. The last decade has been rugged at times, but none of the records Dylan released resonated in the same way or appeared with such synchronicity as the earlier ones.
Have you ever met Dylan and, if not, would you want to? What would you like to ask him?
As I note in the book, I’ve never met or interviewed Dylan, and I’m not sure I’d want to. I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t tell me the truth if I did. The best close-up Dylan encounter I had happened back in the ‘80s. My friend Phast Phreddie Patterson’s band was playing at an L.A. club called the Music Machine. During his set, Dylan, clad in a hooded parka, of course, walked in with a fairly large posse in tow. He leaned against a wall a good distance from the stage. From Phreddie’s vantage point, he couldn’t see who was in the room. And he launched into a Dylan tune! Dylan left before the set was over, and after the band was finished Phred’s friends ran up to him and told him Dylan had been in the house. He said, and I quote, ‘Get the fuck outta here.’”
You've been writing about music for decades, but never books (that I'm aware of) but you've recently published two books (an excellent biography on Los Lobos being the other) back to back. What's next for you?
Actually, I did a quickie fan book about the band X in 1983 for Last Gasp Press; I suppose you could say that my chapter in John Doe and Tom DeSavia’s all-first-person book about L.A. punk, Under the Big Black Sun, is an amends of sorts. I’ve also got a chapter in Hat and Beard Press’ big coffee table book devoted to Slash magazine, which is due out in late July. I have an idea for another personal, memoir-styled book of my own, not involving music, but I’m not sure I’m prepared to do the emotional lifting on it yet.
What do you make of the notion some reviewers have floated that these last two Dylan albums is a “personal journey” (like your book was) but for Dylan through the “Great American Songbook”, and perhaps the songs of his youth?
Exactly the point I make in Together Through Life. I suppose Bob and I could talk about that!