What musicologist and culture critic Griel Marcus termed ”the old weird America” , an invisible republic that lingers in the background and is interwoven into the fabric of everyday life. Bob Dylan and The Band’s ‘‘The Basement Tapes” was recorded, yet not released, two years before the Woodstock Music and Art Festival. Recorded in 1967 during the flowering of the hippie movement, in the basement of Big Pink, West Saugerties,New York; the music was the antithesis of psychedelia and the hippie movement, and prevailing pop culture in general. It seemed like an antidotal response to the Beatle’s Sergeant Pepper’s album, yet also familiar and complementary; a shadowy reflection of the rubble and obscurity a commodity oriented consumer culture could discharge.
The Basement Tapes was anti-materialist music and anti-counterculture, at once politically irrelevent and yet encapsulating the spirit of revolution, …”a playground of god, satan, tricksters, puritans, confidence men, illuminati, braggarts, preachers, anonymous poets of all stripes.”( Luc Sante, New York Magazine). Basement as metaphor for den of iniquity and dark eroticism.
” The ’acceptance of death‘ that Dylan found in traditional music- the ancient ballads of mountain music- is simply a singer’s insistence on mystery as inseparable from any honest understanding of what life is all about; it is the quiet terror of a man seeking salvation who stares into the void that stares back”
Basement Tapes are a form of narrative of deep rooted strains of a cultural language which are retrieved and reinvented. A music devoid of romanticism and sensation. Subjects who can be interpreted as folkloric and symbolic, but are here and now as well. Music that is anti-art yet the compositional drama, themes of obligation, escape, homecoming, coming of age, are poetic and ingenious in execution. People on the margins of history, embedded between the lines of obscure passages in the Constitution.
There is a sense of Dylan as a figurative creation of William Blake. An expression that the the good can only be borne from the experience of obscurity. A juxtaposition of diverse theories and projections of anti-theology. From William Blake in The Marriage of Hea
and Hell: These two classes of men are always upon earth, and they should be enemies: whoever tries to reconcile them seeks to destroy existence/Religion is an endeavour to reconcile the two/Jesus Christ did not wish to unite, but to separate them, as in the parable of sheep and goats:/ and he says:”I came not to send Peace, but a Sword”
William Blake: And the original Archangel, or possesor of the command of the heavenly host, is call’d the Devil or Satan, and his children are call’d Sin and Death.
Regarding the unusual cover art, its arrangement and composition: The photographs on the outside and inside of the gatefold sleeve were taken by Reid Miles in the basement of the YMCA in Los Angeles ,CA in 1975. Apart from Bob, the Band and various people depicting characters from the songs, guests include Neil Young and david Blue. The newspaper seller is the legendary Jimmy Berman from New York, the subject of Allen Ginsberg’s ”Jimmy Berman Rag”.