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