Bob Dylan's new album of outtakes, "Tell Tale Signs," has some great countrified blues numbers for coping with the coming depression. And in a seeming nod to the tough times, the folksinger streamed the album for free on NPR's website for a week ("Bob Dylan Understand The Weak Economy," said the Times). And yet when the compilation finally dropped earlier this month, aficionados had to pay $130 to get all 39 tracks. That you could buy a smaller, poor man's version for the usual $20 or so was no consolation to hard-core online fans, some of whom vowed to aid and abet piracy in an act of revenge. They shouldn't get too flustered at their hero, judging by Gustavo Turner's review in the Boston Phoenix. You can safely blame Dylan's "mafia" entourage.
Dylan himself doesn't think too much about albums, in this telling of his story, tinkering with his songs before, during and well after he records them in studio. He was likely fairly oblivious to Columbia Records' experiment in applying airline-style discriminatory pricing to his record.
Instead look to Dylan's entourage:
Much like Elvis was sheltered from the demands of his fans and the world by an entourage known as “the Memphis Mafia,” Dylan relies on a group of close advisers, employees, and friends that filter anything that would distract him from his real interests: his family life, touring, and occasionally getting into a recording studio. We can call these trusted consiglieri the singer’s “Malibu Mafia,” after Dylan’s home away from touring since the 1970s.
Within the Memphis Mafia, Turner shines a light on manager Jeff Rosen, friend to "sympathetic journalists" like "Greil Marcus, anyone on Jann Wenner’s payroll" (heh) and guardian of the singer's image. "Rosen bears much responsibility for Dylan’s post-1980s renaissance among critics, and for the singer’s current stature as a national icon feted by the Lincoln Center and honored with Grammys and Oscars," Turner wrote.
Tell Tale Signs, then, is something of a self-made shrine to Rosen, listed as "compiler" of the album in the liner notes. And thus you can blame everything on a music-industry suit if, you know, the whole "legendary 60s icon sells gimmicky ripoff album" thing gets you hot and bothered.
More calming, probably, is the knowledge that the cheaper version of the album gives fans the essentials, at least according to Turner: "You’re not missing any pieces of any puzzles by not paying 130 dollars..."
And you get to tell people that only the truly insane spend $130 for a bunch of alternate takes and live performances — not you. As crazy as the "Deluxe Edition" of the new Dylan album is, however, expect more of such products as industry revenues decline and traditional media executives attempt ever-more-outlandish cons.