Michael Gray is one of the few people who can be called a “Bob Dylan Expert.” His groundbreaking 1972 book, “Song & Dance Man: The Art of Bob Dylan,” is credited as the first full-length study of the legendary singer-songwriter. It was written at a time when the idea of taking an modern-day artist (who toiled in the world of pop music) seriously, was unusual, to say the least. It was even more remarkable that it was released while Dylan was out of the spotlight, during his post-accident “country” phase, not long after the release of the original “Self Portrait.”
All current Dylanologists owe a debt of gratitude to Gray. When I read the (first) updated version in 1981, it helped me understand where Dylan came from at a level I hadn’t even imagined existed. Gray has also written books on Frank Zappa, Elvis Presley, and Blind Willie McTell, and has his own blog and website. He also contributed the liner notes to the recent achival album, "Bob Dylan In Concert: Brandeis University 1963."
Gray is about to embark on another U.S. college tour this week. He was gracious enough to answer a few questions for the Bob Dylan Examiner before he left his home in the south of France.
Michael, what can fans expect at one of your appearances?
They can expect me to turn up on time, to speak without using notes, to mix spontaneity with the fixed calling-points of selected loud tracks and rare footage (though no footage of McTell, sadly: none exists), and to speak with humor and from the heart.
How do you decide what your subject will be at each particular venue?
I offer American colleges a couple of choices and then it’s up to them. This time around they all chose Bob Dylan & the Poetry of the Blues except for the last two gigs – the college up near Buffalo, N.Y., wanted Searching for Blind Willie McTell and in New Orleans they asked for a special mix of the two, Bob Dylan, McTell & the Blues. Of course I have to say old Willie comes into the Bob event in any case.
How do you like traveling in the U.S.? Do you get to do anything else while here? Research? Sightsee? Visit friends?
I get to read and always carry a notebook. I like it best when I can take a long trip, an overnight trip, on a major Amtrak train route; next best I like driving the back roads of the South in a big car in hot weather. It’s the flights that shrivel the soul. The next worst thing, of course, is the terrible food. The U.S. has the most wealth and the worst food in the western world – not in fine big-city restaurants, but all across the country in general. Motel breakfasts are unspeakable. The cheapest B&B in Turkey or Albania would be ashamed to offer such crap or offer it in such a wretched environment. But yes, when I’m lucky I spend time with friends – my oldest friends live outside Washington, D.C.
If you’re within reach of a gig, come along. And if you see me, say hello.
Every date is free and open to the public.
- Monday, September 23 – Brookdale Community College, Lincroft, N.J.
- Wednesday, September 25 – Thomas More College, Crestview Hills, KY.
- Thursday, September 26 – Hanover College, Hanover, IN.
- Tuesday, October 1 – Arkansas State University, Jonesboro, AR.
- Thursday, October 3 – Harding University, Searcy, AR.
- Monday, October 7 – Tulane University, New Orleans, LA.
- Tuesday, October 8 – Daemen College, Amherst, N.Y.
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