Singer, songwriter, troubadour, wiseass, painter, and businessman Bob Dylan is stumping his own whisky brand around the ether these days, and is part of what brought him back to doing his radio show. He had such a show 11 years ago and then took a hiatus. The new show recently aired on Monday, 21 September on SiriusXM. (I listen to him on my “smart toaster”— wink nod, Little Bobby Dylan). This is a show of “Themes, dreams and schemes,” where Dylan refers to Walt Whitman as, in his whispering and nasally gliding voice, “The safecracker of the soul.” This guy is a pisser, and is still mining the gold of everything American; history, music and odd and brilliant personalities. Heaven’s Door is his whisky brand and he must be selling some of the stuff because he’s got to be hitting a huge demographic on Sirius Satellite Radio. Just think of all of the ear-budded baby boomers with iPhones and smart toasters out there, grabbing that celestial signal to listen to this guy yammering away with myriad tidbits of musical minutiae with his mid-western tongue impacted firmly in his cheek.
Dylan’s voice grabbed me as a kid and got me bashing my cheap $27 gut-string guitar in the basement in 1963. I loved the way this guy sang and phrased his songs. And I loved to mimic him; when I did a Dylan imitation and got a yuk from a girl, I also got a phone number. Win-win. Dylan must’ve been a wiseass kid. You don’t learn to be a wiseass later in life, because it’s a vocation we dial into in our formative years. I’ve seen this guy play a few times and he’s good at his job, and of late was doing his audaciously named “NeverEnding Tour.” Unfortunately, these days, he and his band are sidelined during the pandemic like all other performing artists, and the guy, like all of us, needs a dodge. So why not rig up a whisky brand and go on the stump while not even needing to leave the basement — Sirius Studio.
I always thought of what an ideal coffee klatch would be. I picture a greasy spoon, if any are still open, in Brooklyn or the East Village with Dylan, Woody Allen, and Little Stevie Van Zandt. Just to listen to these guys talk — about any topic under the sun — would be an absolute yuk fest. Each guy has a distinct voice, and they all have something to say. More importantly, they are all wiseasses and are very funny. We’re talking funny off-the-beaten path kinds of guys. Of course, that ain’t happening for Joey Houlihan, so I’ll just snag the voices of these guys in any format or context that I can.
In fact, another guy who does a similar thing to Dylan is Little Stevie Van Zandt. Steven started playing with Bruce Springsteen as a young kid and came up with that whole Jersey music scene. Van Zandt’s his own guy with the acting and radio thing, and is a terrific songwriter. Van Zandt’s Little Steven’s Underground Garage, is a Sirius show which has DJs like Andrew Loog Oldham, who was the manager and producer for the Rolling Stones, and Palmyra Delran, who is a guitar-wielding and singing and songwriting Rock and Roll gal who has the coolest female DJ voice out there. I like Palmyra almost as much as Dylan. She’s hilarious and knows her music. One thing that all of the aforementioned in this entire column have in common, is that they have great speaking voices. Without question, these folks could read a telephone book and demand attention. So, when they set up songs, and historical tidbits of musicology they completely subject the listener’s ears. They all know their stuff and this fact hovers over all of their respective shows. Van Zandt does similar setups like Dylan and the guy has me bursting out laughing. He does this whole thing on the invention of the Swanson TV Dinner which is like a comedic shaggy dog story. Van Zandt is a very funny and multidimensional guy.
Of course, Dylan did a theme show about whisky, which flowed seamlessly from the iPhone and smart toaster. For example, Dylan talks about the song “Whisky in the Jar,” which is an old traditional Irish song adapted from the 1700s. He cites an Irish group called the Dubliners who sang the song — Dylan probably heard it from the Clancy Brothers when he was a kid in the 60s — and how the Irish group Thin Lizzie covered it, and Metallica lifted the idea to shred out their own version of the song. The Dropkick Murphys did, also. I sang this song for years in my saloon days and it was a great song to get people all riled up and hoisting drinks. Dylan has created a very entertaining and informative music show, with folks that call in a hello. For example, Dylan is talking about the Scottish Plowman’s Poet Robbie Burns and actor John C. Reilly is phoned up by Dylan to talk about and recite a poem of Burns’ called “Comin’ Thro the Rye.” Reilly, at Dylan’s behest, then goes on to sing the song, which is, of course, related to whisky.