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I'm walking
Through streets that are dead
I'm walking
With you in my head ...

- Bob Dylan, "Love Sick"

After six more episodes of Twin Peaks today, I felt like it was time for a walk. I reached the point in the show that feels like the end of the first arc; the episode where we find out who, physically, killed Laura Palmer. (I cried. Just a little. Laura...) It was definitely time for some fresh air.

Nowadays I usually go for a run with a friend, but when I'm alone I favor podcasts. I don't listen to just any of my regular subscriptions, though. For a while I listened to Elis James and John Robins' Radio X show, but after I found out that Theme Time Radio Hour is available as a podcast, I switched to it.

I listened to all the 101 episodes (counting the lost episode, "Kiss"), back in 2013 when I first discovered Your Host, Bob Dylan. Now I will pick an episode every now and then, depending on what theme strikes a chord with my emotional state -- a little too much on the nose, I picked "Walking" today.

TTRH is, of course, a radio show aired on satellite radio station Sirius, from 2006 to 2009. It was hosted by none other than recent Nobel laureate Bobby D., and it was, basically, my introduction to him. Like a lot of things in my life, I discovered him all backwards and upside down.

There's a specific person I should thank for being led to him: author Jonathan Lethem. I could write a more detailed account of my history with Lethem himself, but it basically boils down to the fact that I was reading his collection of (mostly) nonfiction writings called The Ecstasy of Influence (highly recommended, of course). The book includes a couple of the interviews he wrote for Rolling Stone, one of them being with Mr Dylan. It's a great piece, found online -- do google it, it's the one from 2006; RS used to interview him every couple years.

So, my first real contact with Bob Dylan's voice was actually a written representation. I had of course heard some of his stuff before but none of it ever stuck. I was given Bringing It All Back Home by someone who told me it was great, but I didn't even remember what it sounded like. The Lethem piece was charming and funny, though, and piqued my interest. It mentioned Theme Time Radio Hour, which at the time of publication had just begun. The thought of a musical giant hosting a show like that tickled me, and I decided to find out if it was available online. Of course it was (and more -- let's get into all that later, maybe). I downloaded a random episode, "Dogs", and put it on as I went to bed.

Right away, that warm, raspy voice charmed me. The musical selection was somewhat expected -- blues, country, old rock'n'roll -- but also idiosyncratic and largely new to me. And this guy was funny, telling terrible Dad Jokes, which I can't help but love. I was into it. I needed more. Quickly, I learned that BD had a new album out, Tempest... and the rest is history. (Yeah, let's definitely get into it later.)

TTRH is a thing of wonders. It's modeled after radio shows of old, and there's a sense of fictionality to it; it's supposedly recorded live in "The Abernathy Building" (not a real place), and features fake callers asking Bob for advice on this and that. Some of the regularly featured listeners' emails were real, internet detectives have deduced, but some, from the likes of George Clooney and Johnny Depp, clearly not.

Produced and dreamed up largely by Eddie Gorodetsky, a music obsessive and mostly a TV producer -- the brains behind Dharma & Greg, for instance -- it's understood that much of the playlists were programmed by him. Assistants and researchers, duly credited each episode, probably wrote most of the intros and the informative tidbits spoken by Dylan. Still, his voice is truly what makes it. The first few episodes were a little awkward, but you can clearly hear he relaxed as the show went on. By season 2, he really got the smooth-talking disc jockey persona down. There are a few moments when he cracks up, or makes a classic Bob Dylan Joke (it was a thing); scripted or not, there's dedication, personality, and humor to his performance -- it's just a pleasure to listen to.

Plus, obviously, the music is great, and I found the show really informative the first time 'round. It introduced me to artists I'd never even heard of before, as well as gave me an understanding of the complex, meandering history of American popular music. And producers' choices or not, the show opens up ways of looking at Dylan's own music, too -- he's a mixer, a remixer, a collage artist after all.

It's not officially available anymore, but the show can be found online in various incarnations. Some kind soul has indeed put it up as a podcast; I really appreciate it, because while I've got the mp3s somewhere, it's much easier to stream it. I had a nice walk today, the setting sun coloring the low-hanging clouds dark pink and blue, Fats Domino and Lou Reed in my ears. Thanks, Bob.


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April 2017


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