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 Post subject: JOHN WESLEY HARDING
PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 05:32 GMT 

Joined: Wed January 11th, 2006, 05:12 GMT
Posts: 364
Location: Argentina
know this can upset a lot of you guys but I DON´T KNOW WHAT`S SO GOOD ABOUT JWH!
I`ve listened to that record many times and I always think the same thing, it`s like unfinished, like songs demos, i don`t know why but i´ve never catched the vibe of it.
Can someone tell me why it`s so good I mean, it contains some great songs like Watchtower, Baby Tonight...but it always seems to me a little disappointing after Blonde on Blonde.


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PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 07:50 GMT 

Joined: Wed October 5th, 2005, 21:56 GMT
Posts: 244
Location: Bay Area, California
First of all, mcosentino, my own experience with people on this forum is that you'll get a helpful, thought-provoking series of responses when you ask people to explain their love for a major Dylan album you don't get into yourself. I started a similar thread about Highway 61 Revisited, and the responses were great.

As for John Wesley Harding, one of my favorite Dylan records, three things stand out for me:

First, this album is distinguished for me by its smoothly integrated texture and feel that persist from the first note to the last without missing a beat. The mood JWH takes you into is maintained seamlessly, which isn't an easy thing; I'd argue, despite people often lumping these ten songs into one category like, "spare lyrics about furtive, half-drawn characters set to wistful melodies" or some such nonsense, that the songs on JWH are actually rather diverse. I mean, if you just look at three songs like "Watchtower," "Frankie Lee" and "Down Along the Cove" on paper, in terms of the narrative approach of their lyrics, their melodies, their chord progressions, they're as varied as any three songs on any Dylan album. But JWH feels like one journey, start to finish; I've written before that I can't stand being interrupted when I listen to this album, and this is why. A distinctive, record-specific texture is a huge thing for me; it's why I like Slow Train Coming better than anyone except Footprints, I think, and why Miles Davis is the only artist I listen to as much as Dylan these days. Maybe this unique musical texture, very different from anything else in Dylan's canon, is what you're experiencing as a "demo" feel. But this texture is not just a product of the instrumentation; it's also about how the instruments are played (Charlie McCoy's bass is superb, full and rich in tone and mixed high, but never overplayed or dominating) and how the album was recorded. I say, try listening with headphones, start to finish, several times and let the sound just wash over you.

Second, while I don't agree with what I often read about the songs on JWH having a lot in common with one another, I do believe the lyrics of this album have one very interesting, underappreciated quality in common: economy of poetic imagery. One thing Dylan became associated with early in his career was the sort of sloshing-over-the-sides-of-the-stanza, stream-of-semi-consciousness writing that led to (here comes some editorializing on my part) spectacular gems like "Chimes of Freedom," "It's Alright Ma" and "Visions of Johanna" as well as gnarled misses like "My Back Pages" and the Tarantula book. JWH's lyrics, while (I insist) wide-ranging in terms of attitude, narrative mode, Dylan's vocal phrasing, etc., belong on one record because they have an economy of images that was a new experiment for Dylan. In this sense only, the "spare" label fits the record, and fits the musical texture in which the lyrics are set.

Third, part of what makes it great is the utter transformation in style; I'd argue that of all the much-discussed Dylan shapeshifting into various genres, textures, songwriting moods, etc., the jump from Blonde On Blonde to John Wesley Harding is the most extraordinary. I'd say, especially if you've learned to like it a little better sometime in the future, try contrasting JWH with BOB rather than comparing them. When I think about that, I'm just astonished at the breadth of Dylan's musical vision.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 08:36 GMT 

Joined: Mon January 9th, 2006, 09:01 GMT
Posts: 3018
Location: Manchester UK
Hobosailor makes a great point: try contrasting BoB with JWH not comparing. BoB is about the surface, JWH about the depths.
(If you've downloaded Tree with Roots you can hear music that maybe links the two. If you haven't, do it now! The Basement Tapes don't get close.)


To me the greatest aspect of JWH is that it is inexplicable at least on the surface. Released in very late 1967 it refers to nothing going on in the world at that time, instead concentrating on partially told surreal tales that are timeless (and sometimes seemingly pointless).

The music is spare and seemingly unfinished. Read somewhere (probably here) that Dylan had intended Robbie Robertson to add lead guitar but Robertson refused as he thought it would ruin the songs.

So you end up wondering why would you do this? And the point could be Dylan - having hammered away at what is wrong with the world on six albums - is trying to write songs about the stuff that remains when the superficial (i.e. all the stuff he wrote about on BoB) has gone.

JWH is where you end up.

(Incidentally this also points up how superficial all the production gimmicks are on Sergeant Pepper et al; probably not Dylan's intention but an inevitable correlary).

A typical Dylan fan will also inevitably go through JWH trying to identify all the characters and to "understand" the songs. The opening track always strikes me as Dylan writing about the misappropriation of his own identity. Dear Landlord always strikes me as being about God and his relationship with us earth-dwellers.

If you start doing this you are creating your own version of the album, i.e. you are "finishing it". Any attentive listener then ends up with his own individual version of JWH, i.e. the album requires you to think about what remains for you after the superficial has gone. And this fits with much else in Dylan: "I try my best to be just as I am, but everybody wants you to be just like them". The only "meaning" you can find is within you. If you look for it elsewhere (e.g. in the "home across the road") "nothing is revealed". There is therefore no possibility of working out what Dylan intended - unless you are Dylan. An amazing achievement.


Long explanation of an inexplicable album. I should get out more.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 09:05 GMT 

Joined: Wed January 11th, 2006, 05:12 GMT
Posts: 364
Location: Argentina
Thank you HoboSailor and RichardW your explanation of JWH is amazing, I mean, you guys really love this record. Well, I think I`ll give it a chance, I like the idea of HoboSailor of listen to it with headphones, and well, try to contraste instead of compare.
What I think of JWH is kind of conceptual album, I don`t know why but it`s like one long song.
Another question the Hybrid version is good? I mean, it`s worthly to buy it?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 15:53 GMT 
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Joined: Thu November 4th, 2004, 18:54 GMT
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John Wesley Harding is probably Dylan's best album of original songs, but it is radically different from most of his other albums and much of pop music of the time and the two decades following, so it's not surprising that it would present difficulties for you. This isn't your "fault" nor is it a shortcoming of the album itself, just one of those juxtapositions we often find ourselves in. Your soul needs some education, and JWH can provide some of that.

Give up the whole idea of electric guitars, for one thing. They aren't needed and few people say anything with them anyway. Pete Drake gives a little steel to the album, and there's a Fender bass, but JWH is about poetic electricity channeled through the simplest available means--voice, folk guitar, harmonica.

Also, apply yourself to the art that helped bring JWH into being--the Carter Family, Hank Williams (acoustic demos foremost, also the Luke the Drifter recordings), Stanley Brothers, Woody Guthrie, John Hurt, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Vernon Dalhart, Cisco Houston.

Dylan was reading William Blake around this time, and Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" are good vehicles for tuning your imagination to the kinds of power in the songs of JWH. "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" would also be helpful, especially the "Proverbs from Hell" section.

Aristotle's "Poetics" can also help, particularly his passages on metaphor and economy of style and directness of presentation.

Most of what enables people to appreciate the genius that inhabits Dylan's work exists outside of his body of work--quite far outside sometimes. This is why many of his younger or less curious devotees misunderstand and misjudge his work--they just don't have the ears and imagination needed to experience the work critically. I think of it as the "Street Legal" syndrome.

I have played my JWH lp since the month it was released. I have not yet exhausted its riches. Give it and yourself time.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed February 15th, 2006, 16:30 GMT 
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Joined: Mon August 29th, 2005, 14:16 GMT
Posts: 354
Location: The borderline that separated you from me
For me, John Wesley Harding has the best harmonica' solos. For the first time, in 1967, Bob has an almost perfect control over the instrument. Pay attention to it and you'll notice.

Well.. this is just a detail.
I agree with everyone who commented on the album here, but I think that in order to "understand" this amazing album you must feel its mystery...and i'm not talking about subliminal s**t. The album is magic in a simple and folky way. This fact cannot be explained, you must get it.

p.s. an amazing cover, guys!


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 Post subject: Re: JOHN WESLEY HARDING
PostPosted: Thu December 27th, 2012, 15:02 GMT 
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Location: you try to get away...they drag you back
for people who need help seeing the light.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri December 28th, 2012, 02:12 GMT 
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harmonica albert wrote:
John Wesley Harding is probably Dylan's best album of original songs, but it is radically different from most of his other albums and much of pop music of the time and the two decades following, so it's not surprising that it would present difficulties for you. This isn't your "fault" nor is it a shortcoming of the album itself, just one of those juxtapositions we often find ourselves in. Your soul needs some education, and JWH can provide some of that.

Give up the whole idea of electric guitars, for one thing. They aren't needed and few people say anything with them anyway. Pete Drake gives a little steel to the album, and there's a Fender bass, but JWH is about poetic electricity channeled through the simplest available means--voice, folk guitar, harmonica.

Also, apply yourself to the art that helped bring JWH into being--the Carter Family, Hank Williams (acoustic demos foremost, also the Luke the Drifter recordings), Stanley Brothers, Woody Guthrie, John Hurt, Skip James, Robert Johnson, Charley Patton, Vernon Dalhart, Cisco Houston.

Dylan was reading William Blake around this time, and Blake's "Songs of Innocence and Experience" are good vehicles for tuning your imagination to the kinds of power in the songs of JWH. "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell" would also be helpful, especially the "Proverbs from Hell" section.

Aristotle's "Poetics" can also help, particularly his passages on metaphor and economy of style and directness of presentation.

Most of what enables people to appreciate the genius that inhabits Dylan's work exists outside of his body of work--quite far outside sometimes. This is why many of his younger or less curious devotees misunderstand and misjudge his work--they just don't have the ears and imagination needed to experience the work critically. I think of it as the "Street Legal" syndrome.

I have played my JWH lp since the month it was released. I have not yet exhausted its riches. Give it and yourself time.


Vernon Dalhart, that's an interesting choice. I guess maybe one could hear a shadow of his singing in Dylan's on JWH, if one stretches for it.


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 Post subject: Re: JOHN WESLEY HARDING
PostPosted: Fri December 28th, 2012, 02:52 GMT 
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Although many of its songs are well known in concert, amidst some rarities, the title track has never seen the stage.
Interesting.


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 Post subject: Re: JOHN WESLEY HARDING
PostPosted: Fri December 28th, 2012, 05:50 GMT 
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Joined: Wed June 27th, 2012, 21:03 GMT
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Location: The winds in Chicago...
Still Go Barefoot wrote:
Although many of its songs are well known in concert, amidst some rarities, the title track has never seen the stage.
Interesting.


Your post made me think that wouldn't it have been interesting if Hendrix had chosen a different song to cover from this album, like the title track, or As I Went Out One Morning? I wonder if we would hear those songs as much as Watchtower these days?


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