Thursday, August 2, 2012 at 10 a.m.
Bob Dylan to receive Presidential Medal of Freedom
Bob Dylan announces release date and tracklisting for Tempest
Speculation about Bob Dylan's 35th studio album has been flying around since early March, when Los Lobos frontman David Hidalgo gave an interview to the Aspen Times
. In the interview
, Hidalgo was quoted as saying that he had been recording with Dylan at Jackson Browne's studio in Los Angeles and had contributed instruments like guitar, accordion, and tres ("a guitar-like instrument whose six strings are separated into three groups of two") to the sessions.
Then, toward the end of May, it was rumored by fan site Isis Magazine that the album would be 10 tracks and 68 minutes in length, with one 14-minute song about the Titanic.
Finally, on July 17, an official statement
was posted on Dylan's website: The album would be titled Tempest
and would be released on September 11.
Only now, though, are we getting the in-depth details about the album. In a rare interview, Dylan talked to Rolling Stone's Mikal Gilmore
about not only the album's recording details and inspiration, but also some of the concepts behind it; Gilmore has also clearly heard Tempest
, so details about the sound of the music itself are in the piece, too.
As Gilmore describes it, Tempest is "full of big stories, big endings and transfixing effect." The piece also confirms that the album was indeed recorded at Browne's studio, with playing from Dylan's current touring band -- bassist Tony Garnier, drummer George G. Receli, steel guitarist Donnie Herron, and guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball -- plus Hidalgo on guitar, violin, and accordion (no tres?).
Two of the words Gilmore uses in describing the album that jump out are "dark" and "apocalyptic," and the songs do sound like they're fixed on the bleak. As Gilmore writes: "'Tin Angel' is a devastating tale of a man in search of his lost love; the doleful 'Soon After Midnight' seems to be about love (but maybe it's revenge); the vengeful 'Pay in Blood' has Dylan darkly repeating, 'I pay in blood, but not my own.'"
But the overall mood of the album is not what's shaping up to be the most interesting about Tempest; it's the subject matter of some of the other songs.
The album's closer, "Roll On, John," is a tribute to John Lennon, and Dylan also told Gilmore that he wanted Tempest to be a religious album (but "I just didn't have enough [religious songs]"). The album's title track is the one about the Titanic.
Dylan has a history of writing about famous figures and profound events -- see "John Brown," "Desolation Row," "I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine," "George Jackson," "Hurricane," "Blind Willie McTell," et al. But there's something about this new album, and the topics found inside, that suggest that Dylan is at a particularly reflective moment in his life.
It begs the question: Could this be his last album?
The answer, of course, is yes, it could. Dylan turned 71 on May 24, and Tempest will be just his fifth album since 1993's World Gone Wrong (not counting 2009's holiday LP Christmas in the Heart); if we're lucky, we'll have one more full-length from Dylan by the time he turns 75. And that's assuming he makes it to such an age. Dylan did fall into purportedly life-threatening health around the release of 1997's Time Out of Mind, so we know he's had serious health issues before.
In fact, after Dylan is quoted as mentioning Shakespeare while talking about "Tempest," Gilmore himself asks Dylan whether the new album might be his swan song:
Dylan's mention of Shakespeare raises a question. The playwright's final work was called The Tempest, and some have already asked: Is Dylan's
Tempest intended as a last work by the now 71-year-old artist? Dylan is dismissive of the suggestion. "Shakespeare's last play was called
The Tempest. It wasn't called just plain
Tempest. The name of my record is just plain
Tempest. It's two different titles."
Given how enigmatic and shrouded Dylan tends to be, there's reason to believe he wouldn't tell us that Tempest would be his last album if even he knew it were. But it's hard to imagine that's he's not at least considering this could be his final outing, and that now may be the time to write about any topics he's been meaning to get to for years, if not decades -- the inclusion of the Lennon tribute, and it being the last song on the album, is particularly striking.
It also seems noteworthy that, after not playing his home state since 2008, Dylan will be making two appearances in Minnesota over the next few months (August 21 at Rochester's Taylor Arena and November 7 at Xcel). Maybe he feels he owes a debt to this state and its Dylan fans and is trying to make up for lost time before it's, well, too late.
Without falling into too much doomsaying, it does seem to be a very real possibility that Dylan is on his last legs as a musician and as a performer. One can only hope that Tempest
will be as affecting a statement as we know the man behind it is capable of making -- especially if he really is not far from throwing in the towel.