Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Radio Week: "All Along the Watchtower" by Bob Dylan

 Katie talks to us about concerts and covers

My first real concert--high school friends, no parents, stretched out on a blanket on the lawn under the stars--was Dave Matthews Band. During that tour--as with many others--DMB closed the night with the song ‘All Along the Watchtower.’ In the years to come, I listened to every live version of that song that I could get my hands on--Red Rocks, Chicago, Central Park, you name it. And if you are a DMB fan, you already know that there is never a shortage of live recordings to track down. True even in the days before YouTube. 

And then something happened a few years later… I heard the Jimi Hendrix cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ on the radio and loved it every bit as much as the DMB version. (Let’s not argue the merits of one version over the other, I still have a book to talk about.)

And then came the Dylan Years (which, by the way, go on forever once they start), and suddenly I found myself listening to the very original studio recording of ‘All Along the Watchtower’--worlds away from the jam band spectacular I had first experienced--and head over heels in love once more. 

Somewhere in that one song, my entire musical biography can be summed up, each version managing to simultaneously be unique to the artist and wholly familiar at the same time.

Which brings us to Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (see our full review). You have only to flip through the pages of this book and see the old black and white photographs of levitating girls and invisible boys to know that this is a different sort of book you are holding. Not entirely unlike comparing DMB’s 14 minute cover of ‘All Along the Watchtower’ to Dylan’s original 2 minute version. But then you start reading the words, and somehow you find that warm, cozy, familiar place that comes from sinking into a book that feels like an old friend. As Ransom Riggs tells the story of Jacob Portman and his ‘peculiar’ friends, he reminds us of other books we have loved--other tales of orphans, of magic, of time travel, of discovering your hidden potential.

The night Jacob’s grandfather dies, Jacob sees something in the woods, something truly terrifying. It puts him in therapy, alienates his one friend and his parents, and eventually drives him across the ocean to an island off the coast of Wales. What happens when he arrives on that island is steeped in mystery and ancient magic and just the slightest touch of horror. It’s the old wrapped up in the new--in more ways than one when you admire how Riggs manages to work the old photographs seamlessly into his storytelling.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children is for anyone whose taste in books is like my love for ‘All Along the Watchtower’: dress up something old, make it your own, and transport your reader/listener to somewhere else entirely. It makes for pretty excellent entertainment.

Just don’t ask me to play favorites.

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