In 1988 Bob Dylan embarked on a tour he still hasn't finished, writes Andrew Buncombe.
It has been named the Never Ending Tour and has seen Dylan, apparently unconcerned about musical consistency or his reputation, dragging himself, his nasal whine and his greatest hits, around the world's venues. Dublin last night, Cardiff tonight, San Francisco next week.
Some nights, against the odds, he finds inspiration and fires new life into the old standards. Sometimes he rips them apart, rewriting the structure - even entire sections -- of songs that were the soundtrack for a generation. Sometimes he just sounds tired.
"Everything was flabby - the music, the singing, even the people in the audience," recalled Greil Marcus, author of last year's book on Dylan, Invisible Republic, after witnessing one performance.
"Nobody brought any energy with them and they didn't leave with any either."
How his legions of fans will react to yesterday's revelations that Dylan may secretly have had two more wives and a number of children by them, is unclear.
The claims are to be made in a forthcoming biography of Dylan written by Susan Ross, who says she has dated Dylan on and off for the past decade. If the claims are true they will certainly force many of his fans to rethink their interpretations of some of Dylan's most famous songs.
"She makes love just like a woman," he sang in `Just Like a Woman' from 1966's Blonde on Blonde. Yes, Bob, but which woman?
Miss Ross, is said to have supported Dylan when he was rushed to hospital with heart trouble less than a year ago.
Dylan, who recently won three Grammy Awards for his 1997 album Time Out of Mind (his son Jakob won two for his work with the band The Wallflowers), is alleged to have fathered at least nine children, four more than he has officially recognised. The book also claims that Dylan, 59, has been married three times.
The singer himself claims his only wife was former Playboy bunnygirl Sara Lowndes, who he married in 1965 and divorced in the 70s.
Miss Lowndes had custody of their five children and during their marriage break-up Dylan wrote one of his most famous and acclaimed albums, Blood on the Tracks.
In the forthcoming biography, which Dylan himself is said to be currently reading a draft, it will be said that in the mid-80s he secretly married one of his backing singers, by whom he has had another child.
When this relationship came to an end he is said to have married again during the 80s and had one or two more children. Cynics may say he started touring again simply for a break.
Dylan has a reputation for being as enigmatic and hard to track down as some of his more obscure lyrics. "There is a power in darkness and in keeping things hidden," he has said.
With this in mind most fans will perhaps not be that staggered to learn that he might have been keeping a few things secret.
Through rough and smooth, most fans have remained loyal to Dylan ever since they heard those magical early songs that spoke of optimism and change.
He might not have had a song in the Top 40 since 1978 and until last year's Time Out of Mind he'd only produced one album of critical acclaim in years (Oh, Mercy, in 1989). Hits such as "Blowin' in the wind" were written as long ago as 1962 and in 1987 he somewhat ominously agreed to play the part of a washed-out singer in the poorly received film Hearts of Fire.
But that does not matter. There will always be people for whom Bob Dylan, the troubadour from the mid-West, has no match.
BOB AND GOD
Bob Dylan seems to have knocking on Heaven's door for as long as he has been famous. He was born Jewish, changing his name from Robert Zimmerman, and in his early years he was stoutly atheistic.
In the seventies his attitude changed again and he became a born-again Christian and produced two overtly Christian albums, Slow Train Coming and Saved. In 1977, asked by the Times Literary Supplement to name the most overrated and underrated books of the past 75 years, he gave the Bible as the answer to both questions. In his most recent turnabout he has been showing an interest in Catholicism, last year playing for the Pope.
ONLY THE OLDIES
While younger audiences may still lap up the Beatles and the Stones, it seems they are not so turned on by Dylan. "He is not a core artist," said Trevor White, head of music at Virgin 1215. "Artists like Dylan are used as an occasional historical thing." His birthday last year was marked on Radio One by two Dylan cover versions and one original. However, old hippies still like him. Michael Eavis, organiser of Glastonbury - Britain's largest pop festival - has confirmed he is lining him up to play at this year's event.
DYLAN AND DOPE
Dylan may be personally responsible for corrupting the minds and bodies of our young people. Er, ... well maybe not, but he is charged with introducing the young, impressionable and clean-cut Beatles to cannabis.
The year was 1964 and Dylan was on a British tour when he got to meet the Fab Four, who up to then thought a joint was something you bought at the butcher's. Within a few years the boys were skinning up in the lavatories at Buckingham Palace and writing drug-inspired songs such as Tomorrow Never Knows.
AT LEAST THEY COULD SING
Bob Dylan once sang: "All I have is a red guitar, three chords and the truth." The simplicity of many of his songs has made them popular with buskers down the years and some of his best-known songs were made famous by other people: All Along the Watchtower by Jimi Hendrix, Mr Tambourine Man by The Byrds and Blowin' in the Wind by Peter, Paul and Mary.
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