Tuesday, April 18, 2006

THE DYLAN DIARY (PART ONE)

Immediately upon arriving at XM in 1998, part of the mission was going into the daydream zone. Incessantly thinking about what this thing what going to SOUND like. The mandate was to bring together something that re-invents radio. Something that people will gladly pay a few bucks for. Something can will be an icon of the emerging new age in technology and sound. Generating FANS and not users. One of the things that we all knew was that the artist community would love and embrace the liberation of the playlist. To play careers…not JUST hits. Who should WE embrace? Who should WE bring to the party? Quincy Jones, Snoop Dogg, Wynton Marsalis and an army of others that reek quality and commitment have come aboard. But there was ONE name that kept me sleepless. Bob Dylan. This guy IS XM. Or at least what we drive to be: Revolutionary. Intelligent. Rebellious. Different. Timeless….and oddly enough he wrote our anthem in The Times They Are a Changin.

Getting through was not easy. The label was pretty useless. Of course the label usually owns the plastic...the managers own the artist...in Bob's case it was appearing that Bob owns Bob, and there lies the challenge. I tried one of his managers. We had a cordial breakfast in LA, he looked a a few proposals, but really couldn't get much traction. At the time I had no clue how complex and un-ordinary the Bob Dylan thing works. Most major artists have a back door. Bob was pretty isolated, but that is why he's Bob Dylan. The mystery. The purity. The intangible magic one should expect from one of the great poets of any generation.

I kept trying. Every angle. Nothing. Then I heard that Bob owned something like 12 XM Radios and he loved it. The more I read and studied Bob--partially out of admiration...partially out of trying to sway him into a relationship. Hell, this is the guy that helped me write the soundtrack to MY life. In 1962 my older brother saw him at the Gate of Horn in Chicago. The legendary Folk Mecca run by Bob's one time manager Albert Grossman. I was into Bobby Vee, who ironically Bob points out as a mentor and fellow North Central US alumni from Fargo. But upon hearing Bob, I was educated. Not unlike hearing the Beatles. A musical version of the monolith in the 2001 series. "Something" that elevates you to a higher musical place. So with that all said---This battle for Bob has just started.

I talked to a lot of artists and high level music types. No one really had much of a feel for this. There were the agents and artists who've worked with him, but there didn't seem to be the one "guy" that could unlock the door. The more I listened to Bob's work, the more emotional I got. There are two sides of me musically--One is the hardened programmer who battles for lsteners, the other is whimpering muso that cries at the raw emotion of anything from a cinematic wide screen pictorial Classical piece to a touchingly well sung Gene Pitney wail to a PInk Floyd or early Yes song that hits a space beyond the threshold of consciousness to a favorite oldie. I was geeting into that "zone" with Bob which is an emotionally dangerous but inspiring place.

A few breaks came along. The first one was that XM's pal Willie Nelson was touring with Bob last year. Hmmmm...Willie is coming in to do an ARTIST CONFIDENTIAL, maybe he can bring Bob too. Willie alone is magic---with Bob, it could be well...historic. When I asked Willie he said "I've been on the road with Bob for a month...haven't seen him yet....have you?". Oh well, Willie along with his band and Son were awesome enough. But the Bob thing lingered.

Miraculously, I am put in contact with his business manager, an incredible guy behind so much of what Bob does. We talk a few times, exchange e-mails, and he comes for a visit to DC. we hit it off immediately! Telling tales of the golden days of music and radio. I give him a few copies of Billboard from the 50's and Melody Maker (The essential UK Rock publication of the 60's & 70's). We share the same passion for Americana, for those 50kw AM's at 3am from 600 miles away in the early 60's. He gets pitched by EVERYONE but I think he has strong passion radar and can see through the typical BS he sees daily. I think I, and more importantly XM passed the test. He’s too smart to not have had his BS detector set to high wjen we met. I couldn't fake it. XM couldn't fake it. He met Hugh Panero our CEO and he said "You know Bob is not a "CEO" kind of guy"---but Hugh delivered the goods as a person who "gets" the idea of Bob and XM...from a musical standpoint. I credit Hugh for this because he could have done a CEO rap and talked about the business impact...but the conversation focused on the musical impact. Sure, there are deal points, but it was more about coming to terms with XM being a logical and comfortable radio home for Bob. Without that, deal points are irrelivent. This is about a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for art and technology to merge. For Bob fucking Dylan to play on a new stage....XM. Everyone can win here because this thing is for the right reasons.

The next step now that "contact" has been made was to figure out HOW Bob could be involved. It was verified that Bob loves XM and listens to our Hanks Place and Bluesville channels religiously. Not surprised. Hanks Place is the kind of radio that is, by design, modeled after a Country station in Lubbock circa 1956. Smell the speakers and you smell Stale Lone Star Beer and freshly spat Red Man. Bluesville is as organic as radio can get. Together they represent that gritty, zero BS soulful radio that defines the story of America.

At first there's talk about a Bob Dylan Channel. Well, we COULD do that, and it would make a great press release.
But then what. Bob couldn't possibly oversee that and at the end of the day everyone would be disappointed. The fans....and Bob. Too much to manage. Too complicated. IF Bob would give up his career to run it--OK. But reality set in and we thought about what Bob could actually do that has NO compromises, that he totally controls and that speaks volumes a bout his spirit, intellect and vibe...but isn't some cheesy tell all where he explains Blowin In The Wind. It was decided....A weekly radio show. One where he dreams it up and delivers...on his terms. I am ecstatic. Bob's passion for Americana radio...his people having a grasp of how Bob ticks, at least as anyone other than Bob can...and Bob. I know him. Through his poetry, history and music. I don't REALLY know him, but I have a strong sense of what he can deliver on the radio with all of the stars lining up.

Speaking of Stars lining up, they have. Weather it's by design or pure chance, Bob seems to be opening up....a bit. I sense he'll go to the grave as a mysterious genius and musicologists two centuries from now will be waxing on about his vision. But for now, he did 60 Minutes...the book...the Scorcese documentary. This window may never open again. It is now a personal mission to see that this thing happens. It's not about the deal. It's about the extraordinary opportunity to hear Bob in his own words. To peek inside the soul of a master. To subtly observe the inside his soul without disturbing the mystique. This is not about a quick PR hit. This symbolizes XM's commitment to long term excellence. Baseball ain't going away...it's part of our cultures DNA. So is Bob. Quick hits fade. Quality lasts. Most radio today is so focused on the quick hit...the quick buck that it's creative balls are being cut off and America hears it. Bob is more than a "content deal", it literally symbolizes our musical position. As Bob liberated the word, we hope to liberate the ears. It is a marriage from the Gods.

OK---there is an opportunity--now what??!! We know that Bob Dylan is not an amiable hippy who will mindlessly sign on the line. He and his associates are smart. This has to work for them. There's a balance of art and business at play.


Next: THE DYLAN DIARY (PART 2)---Putting it together

39 Comments:

At 10:27 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just can't get enough of that DYLAN stuff.Been on Mother Earth for 59yrs. and most of those later years have been waiting for something and some one to relate to,that would be my brother in Love,Mister Bob Dylan!!! I hear ya dar'lin!!!

 
At 8:24 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing show, man. Great to read about how you got us there. Music, it's art, it's life.

 
At 8:00 AM, Blogger Lex Zaleta said...

Lee,

Thank you for seeing this through.

If I were allowed to sit quietly in a corner at just one Bob Dylan recording session, I could die a happy man. You've given all of us with this dream the next best thing, Bob talking about one of his true loves.

Grace and peace,

Lex Zaleta

 
At 8:02 AM, Blogger Lex Zaleta said...

Lee,

Thank you for seeing this mission through.

If I were allowed to sit quietly in a corner at just one Bob Dylan recording session, I could die a happy man. You've given all of us with this dream the next best thing, Bob talking about one of his true loves.

Grace and peace,

Lex Zaleta

 
At 12:12 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The best radio show. But what happened to " Motherless Child Blues" by Odetta

 
At 9:03 AM, Blogger Kiki said...

Great read. I cannot wait for the rest. Thank you so much for doing this and, much more importantly, getting the deal done!

 
At 12:57 PM, Anonymous justafan said...

Bob is hysterical. The deadpan delivery. Even just while "speaking" he cannot help but phrase as if he were singing.
The knowledge is a bottomless pit, backing up his self-definitions of "song and dance man" and "music expeditonary." Music expeditionary extraoridinaire, is the way I would put it. Who would think that creating intros/outros (sorry Dick CLark and Casey Kasem) could be delicious entertainment. Bob does it again. Exhibitng a narrative speaking/writing style as unique as it is pure genius. Bravo!

 
At 5:16 AM, Blogger Jimmy Gilpin said...

Just heard this today...........It brings Duluth and Hibbing,Crystal Radio and dreams of the future right into my front room here in Dumfries,Scotland.
Once again Bob Dylan proves his worth and uniqueness............this guy lives and breathes it, still gets excited by it, still enthuses and wants to share......yet another wonder to thank this creative genius for: Thank You Mr Dylan.......may your God bless and keep you always.
Jimmy Gilpin.

 
At 3:25 AM, Anonymous Kerry McIlvenna-Davis said...

This show is my one and only reason for getting satellite radio, and it has exceeded my every expectation....I LOVE this man and every word he utters is a gem, his choice in songs is amazing and his background knowledge of the music is inspiring, I am learning so much more than I could ever have guessed I would about all of these diferent music genres, and I enjoy every single second. Thank you for bringing this masterpiece to life!!!

 
At 12:27 PM, Anonymous Toni Alazraki said...

I debated about five minutes whether to buy the equipment and subscribe. During my inner diaglogue I said: "You're not really going to miss this are you?" "Nope!" I am so glad I subscribed. This show straightens out the spine, opens the heart and nourishes the soul.

 
At 12:33 PM, Blogger 60 said...

Lee,

You are a great American for facilitating this.

Bob iced several 'jobs': singer, songwriter, bandleader, author. Now, thanks to you, DJ as well.

PS: We all know Bob likes to sell schwag. How 'bout theme time radio hour posters, tshirts, hats, and thong underwear?

 
At 6:24 PM, Anonymous djkiblr@msn.com said...

Finally - Bobcasting ! Americana at its best - in this age of super tech - we are back to the basics - the magical world of Radio with Bob drivin' us on the airwaves - After the ambulences go the sound you hear is Dylan spinning records on Desolation Row
Thank you Mr Dylan , once again you hit one out of the park!

 
At 11:31 AM, Blogger here in my heart said...

Thanks so much for getting Bob to do this. He is amazing, a natural.

How about doing CD collections of his shows? I know I would buy them. I don't know how many shows you could get on a disc but it would really be worth it to get all that music that is difficult to find at best... PLUS the added bonus (the real reason in my case i suspect) to be able to hear dylan speaking and his mischief... and his utter selfness. HA! the guy is still amazing, authentic, and fascinating to me after over 40 years.

not to mention a strangely sexy little bastard. LOL

The only reason I got sattelite was because of this show, but now I am so glad I did, not only get to hear bob, but I get to explore and appreciate lots more. Right now I'm listening to the 50's, yesterday was the 40's, (wish thee was 30's too... great old torch songs from then.)I get to listen to blues, country from way back before the slickness... gospel.
fantastic. really is broadening my rather limited music listening, which is almost always dylan.


i do have one "complaint" in that I can't find a way to email in requests or suggestions.

so, once again, thank you, thank you, thank you...

 
At 6:15 PM, Blogger Linda said...

thank you lee for bringing bob to his fans right on the knob of the modern radio with a show that's on ya know without great music life's a bore a steppin beat we just want more this tune's an old one that I've known all my life since I have grown it used to say sweet liza jane but with my name I blast away and picture any joiner in laughing with me such fun to grin and to the greatest man on earth I lift my glass and praise his worth for I have kept him in my prayers and in my soul I know he cares.. Oh, Little L

 
At 6:22 PM, Blogger Linda said...

Dear Lee, You sound like a great guy and I just want to be straight with you. I'm having a hard time figuring out how to get hooked up to Satelitte radio. I'm here near you renting a room and using someone else's internet server..I teach in PG County..sorta in the hood I think I need more attitude as in Yes I can I wrote the silly rhyme cause I think it's fun and I hope you like it Thank for your time Linda

 
At 11:13 AM, Blogger Steve Lawton said...

Wow - this show is amazing! Especially the "drinking" and "weather" shows. I've seen Bob about 40 times in concert, and always wished he would talk a little between songs. I guess it's best to let the music do the talking in concert, but this show gives me the oppty to listen in to how Bob thinks. You can always read a lot into people by what they "think" about music, which is usually more insight than they're willing to offer up about themselves. Plus, it's opened up tons of new music for me like Hank Williams, the Clovers and Lonnie the Cat - GREAT STUFF!!! Thanks again!

-Steve Lawton

 
At 7:16 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks XM Radio for pulling off this caper. Thank you Bob for giving us an opportunity to listen to you and your music.

I noticed that the first letters of the first three shows (Weather, Mother, Drink) spell WMD! My question to Bob:
Was it coincidence, accident or intelligent design?

Thank you all again.

victorz@earthlink.net

 
At 11:12 AM, Anonymous ann omeara said...

God bless you for getting this up and running.

To get into the mind of Dylan is simply magical. I've been waiting years to hear Mr. Dylans influences in this format. This is just what I've been waiting for.

Thank you Lee and Mr. Dylan.

 
At 11:01 PM, Blogger Katyloo2 said...

XM radio was given to me as a gift & I was skeptical. thought it just another fucking corporate takeover of my air space. So at first I only listened to Bluesville & comedy. Bluesville is great for the most part with a little pop/soul sneaking in there from time to time. I was afraid of too much song repetition. I was afraid of mediocre blah blah. In short, I was afraid. Then I started branching out and I accidentally stumbled onto the Folk Village show Dylan's Drinking theme show. What a gas! Great songs! Excellent. Oh yes! It almost makes me want to buy another for my home. Hope it continues. My faith in radio is renewed.
Thank you.

 
At 11:43 PM, Blogger Katyloo2 said...

Comment #2:
Just figured out this blog thing. I wanted to post a comment about the Dylan drinking program, a subject close to my heart.
I Drink - Charles Aznavour
fucking great.
the whole thing.
so I innocently wrote my comment and 45 minutes later... I have my own blog! Jaysus H.
Just trying to chime in.
I only have XM car radio, given as a gift so couldn't and can't hear the entire shows. i work. i'm a worker. shit balls! do i have to buy another to hear more & more & more of XM? guess so.
thank you DYLAN.
thank the rest of you for your ability to do the selling/marketing bullshit
so necessary.
katyloo2
shut-in
in California
watching the rabbits, hens AND
hawks.

 
At 1:33 PM, Anonymous Lida said...

Thanks for the 12 hours of Mr Dylan's Theme time radio hour today. Thanks to the magic of the internetwork I'm bopping away here in Edinburgh, Scotland. What a Happy Day.

 
At 7:18 PM, Blogger Marcia said...

Oh! Happy Day! My one and only reason for succumbing to the this new technowave---thinking I was a little too old to be excited by another late night, rebel DJ---but then, there has never been anyone or any magic like Bob Dylan. This is the music we grew up with, but something about the 60's made it seem un-cool. Each week, Bob takes us off to school, gives the heads up and his very 'cool' direction--permission to recall, enjoy and rediscover the magic behind the Beat--and permission to love him again, finally.

 
At 8:35 AM, Blogger sunsetshades said...

I hate to be a wet blanket, but am I the only one here who troubled by the use of profanity lacing these otherwise enjoyable essays? To refer to this accomplished artist as "Bob fucking Dylan" is simply disrespectful. Though not incorporated until his legal name-change in 1962, "Fucking" is an old family name and, as such,
must always be capitalized.

 
At 4:52 PM, Anonymous sandy said...

The shows are GREAT. Dylan was my reason for joining XM. Please keep them coming. An artists artist...a poets poet. Congratulations Bob. Congratulations XM.

 
At 8:05 PM, Anonymous iwannahula@yahoo.com said...

Thank you for having the insight to approach the Dylan folks and get Mr. Dylan to share his vast knowledge of music, poetry, history, and just living life, in general. Bob is the one artist who can take a subject and make you laugh, cry, pout, sing-along, he is the master philosopher poet. Every show so far has been a gem!! Thanks again Mr. Abrams

 
At 5:53 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Lee, Thanks so much for your efforts in making "Theme Time" happen. I subscribed online specifically to hear Bob Dylan's show. I knew in my heart that it was going to be a good thing. But...WOW! What a simply delightful , refreshing & informative show it is! I even catch encores when I can. Bob delivers music that I would never normally be exposed to. I feel like I"m getting an education in American Music History. I keep spreading the word...telling family & friends..."You just gotta hear this...it's so cool". Bob, of course, is a natural DJ. There is no one that could do it better. It's so nice to hear his insights & information & jokes. What a gem!
Thanks, Suzy

 
At 6:59 PM, Blogger john romano said...

Lee,
Great show from Bob on doin' time theme. Listening to a song-not sure of the name-maybe Prison Wall Blues-I noted that the song progression/chords, phrasing sounded just like John Sebastian's "Younger Girl." Of course, the words are different, but it sounds like he lifted the melody, etc. Give them a listen...

john romano

 
At 11:51 AM, Anonymous mike fright said...

this is a fun show - feels so good goin in you don't realize it's also good for you :o)

 
At 4:48 PM, Anonymous imahog said...

Subscribed as soon as I heard about this show. I love it and am very grateful to be able to hear it. It reminds me of listening at night to the first radio I had - a gift from my dad - and the only rock music I could get. The station was in Oklahoma City. It played stuff I couldnt hear in a small Texas town. Nothing like
parking under the stars listening to
Louie Louie or the original Hound Dog.
Thanks so much.

 
At 8:36 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Lee, The Cohens and the Lowes of Amherst, NH have a Theme Time Radio Hour party every Friday night. We eat, drink, some smoke cigars, dance, analyze and laugh alot. At the end of each show we say, "What is th job of CONTINUITY all about, and how does one get it? (Actually only Mr.Lowe wants the job) So email me back, if you'd be so kind to explain what this person does for the program. Also, as summer turns to winter we are hoping that "winter" will be be a theme because we have that meal all picked out...Homemade cheese fondue, a specialty of Mr. Cohen's. Hey, bring the wife and join us. We hope lots of people are doing what we do, namely, getting together to hear BD and some great music. Hope you'll answer my question so I can impress the Lowe's when we get together for "Flowers" Thanks, Saundy Cohen

 
At 1:48 PM, Blogger koen fillet said...

Well, mr. Abrams, getting in touch with the XM-radio staff is almost as hard getting in touch with Bob Dylan. I'm working for Belgian Radio 1 in Brussels and we would like to broadcast Bob's show in Belgium. I've send e-mails and real letters, but never got an answer. Can you help?

koen.fillet@vrt.be

 
At 12:11 AM, Blogger rick said...

Been married 4 times, never to a Dylan fan, BIG mistake. Dreams, Schemes & Themes is yet another example that Dylan is the "Keeper of Walt Whitman's America".

 
At 3:29 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr Dylan has indeed become the "carrier of walt Whitman's Torch."

 
At 1:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

FM's technology put AM out of business. Did FM ever have the same level of talent or programmers? Nope. Except for the great (all former) Top 40 jocks who migrated to FM Rock like Donahue, Jimmy Rabbitt, BMR, Fm was filled with slack jawed lisping, breathy, poorly trained jocks from college radio. The laid back lenny era sucked!. Jim Ladd somehow made a career out of that one note act. It's not relevant anymore. In fact Rick Carroll was more responsible for kicking AOR in the teeth, and taking the microphone from these phony laid back AOR jocks, and giving it to zany and creative talent. Alternative Rock isn't filled with great jocks, but in comparison to that load of sad sack laid back , group of old AOR guys, these cats are like Alan Freed and The Real Don Steele.

 
At 12:24 PM, Blogger El Archivista said...

Mr.Abrams:

I'm a radio DJ downsouth Montevideo,Uruguay and I listen Bob's shows through Internet.
Hope someone can translate you this:

GRACIAS POR TAN FENOMENAL LOGRO, POR LA IDEA Y EL RESULTADO.
GRACIAS POR DYLAN HACIENDO RADIO Y POR CONTARNOS SU HISTORIA
CON RAZÓN TIENE TAN FENOMENAL CARRERA EN EL NEGOCIO.
NUEVAMENTE...¡GRACIAS!

 
At 2:27 PM, Blogger banjoman1 said...

Here's my question -- I enjoy the show very much but the more I listen, the more it seems like Bob's "knowledge" is assembled by a team of researchers. Sometimes it just seems like he is reading the copy that is written for him to record. Am I wrong? I hope so. Plays some great music, though...

 
At 8:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have a question. I just got XM, and it turns out that Bob Dylan's show isn't on when I'm by the radio, and also I would like to listen to the shows I've missed. Is there any way to get podcasts or some other version of a recording of the show?

 
At 2:21 AM, Anonymous jiveswallow said...

i hope the world turns a little easier knowing that someone is shining a light on all the gifts in its musical backyard. whoa,did i just say that.?!!

 
At 6:45 PM, Blogger Bruce S said...

Lee - has the schedule been set for Season Two of the Theme Time Radio Hour?

 

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