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On The Road With Bob Dylan

Above: Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour" makes for perfect music to accompany your summer road trip.

I'm back to work after a ambitious two-week road trip through Northern California up to Portland. We spent time in wine country (Guerneville and the Russian River), King's Canyon, Humboldt Redwoods State Park, and Gold Bluffs Beach in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

This all required a lot of driving. Beautiful coastal driving. Serious car time. I thought about strong-arming control of the iPod and forcing my fellow travelers to listen to my vast collection of public radio podcasts. But I decided to be respectful and was, in turn, rewarded for my good manners.

My dear friend Chris offered up his collection of Bob Dylan's "Theme Time Radio Hour," a now-defunct weekly satellite radio show hosted by Dylan. Each hour has a theme and Dylan plays related music. He jumps from blues, R&B, country, soul, rock, gospel and rockabilly. Some of the recordings are old and scratchy, others bear the mark of modern production. It's a lot of 50s, 60s, and 70s stuff, but there's the also the occasional off-beat selection like LL Cool J thrown in.

Some of the themes we listened to were "Night," "Friends and Neighbors," "Lock and Key," "Money" and the "Moon." Other themes include "Leftovers," "Women's Names," "Truth and Lies," "Madness" - even "Cats" got the Dylan radio treatment.

These hours are not just about the music. They are brilliantly produced, peppered with Dylan's thoughts and ramblings, old jokes, emails written to the show, a few callers, taped messages from celebrities (Tom Waits!!), poetry readings, trivia, and film clips (as a radio producer, this is a dream project!).

In the "Night" episode, we learn what flower blooms at night, hear a poem by Walt Whitman, and music by artists like Dr. John, Buddy Holly, The Strangeloves, Fred Astaire, and The Drifters. You can see the playlists for many of the shows here.

Apparently, much of the music for the show's 100 episodes was culled from producer Eddie Gorodetsky's music collection, which reportedly includes more than 10,000 records and 140,000 digital files.

Each episode begins with a short narrated noir scene read by actress Ellen Barkin. She starts out with "It's nighttime in the big city," and then goes on to read a short passage like the following: "A night shift nurse smokes the last cigarette in her pack. The moon goes behind a cloud...." See the video below, which is a compilation of many of the opening lines.

Dylan only recorded three seasons of Theme Time Radio Hour. The theme of the last show was "Goodbye" and aired in April of 2009.

Such a shame. I loved the music choices and inventive production. I especially liked listening to them on a road trip because you could get lost in Dylan's thematic landscape and still take in the physical landscape of the road.

At times, I imagined myself sitting in a dark bar at night, listening to bartender Bob Dylan philosophizing about the moon and using the jukebox to illustrate his points.

I'm having some trouble figuring out where you can download/purchase the series. Amazon seems to sell compilation discs, but it's only the music from each show. The best thing about the show is the combination of Dylan's voice and musings, mixed with the music and audio treats. As far as I can tell, you have to subscribe to Sirius/XM to record episodes of the show.

It's certainly worth it to subscribe for a stint and download the episodes, especially if you're hitting the road this summer.

Video

Opening Sequence to Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour

Above: Ellen Barkin reads the opening credits to each of Bob Dylan's Theme Time Radio Hour. This is compilation of many of those openings.

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