Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bob Dylan's Birthday

It ain't he, babe

  • Sydney Morning Herald. May 24, 2008

A cyberspace homage to Bob Dylan has got everyone drawling, as Benito Di Fonzo found out.

Even Kris Felscher considers Bob Dylan's voice to be an acquired taste.

"I think a dog caught in a barbed wire fence is a good way to put it," he says when reminded of one reviewer's response to hearing Dylan for the first time.

The Florida computer programmer and musician is the driving force behind International Talk Like Bob Dylan Day.

The project began as a website ( which Felscher built last year to celebrate Dylan's 66th birthday. He encouraged fans to record themselves talking and singing like their hero and post the results to the site.

The response was enormous: hundreds of video submissions and more than a million hits.

Today is Dylan's 67th birthday. And with interest in the enigmatic American singer as strong as ever - he recently scored a Pulitzer Prize to accompany his Oscar and multiple Grammys - Felscher is hoping today's International Talk Like Bob Dylan Day will encourage Dylanophiles the world over to find and film their inner-Bob.

"I get a lot of people sitting in front of their webcams playing Dylan songs," says Felscher, 31. "And quite a few saying 'here's a song inspired by Bob Dylan."'

While most of the films are simple productions, a few fans have gone to extraordinary lengths to honour their hero. One hilarious spoof, No Direction, Period, claims that Bob Dylan has written every pop song since 1964 and includes impersonations of Dylan singing such unlikely material as Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back.

Felscher and his friends need no excuse to talk like Dylan - they do it all year. But he hopes the event also makes a comment on today's music industry.

"A lot of the music you hear now is just manufactured and fabricated and you don't hear popular music like Dylan writes," he says. "His songs really come from the heart and mean something and really speak to the soul."

So far there's been no word on what the man himself thinks of a day designed to make people adopt his drawl. "I hope he would find it amusing, but certainly if he were to call up and say 'stop it! You're pissing me off', the site would be taken down in a heartbeat," says Felscher.

He believes the secret of Dylan's longevity is the uniqueness of his voice, as well as his lyrical substance.

"Part of the magic and the appeal is that he isn't pretending to be something other than he is. It's not something fabricated for mass appeal. He's presenting himself naked on stage. I think it's a hunger for substance that has brought him back into the limelight."

Yet Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941, is also famous for his many noms de plume. They include Elston Gunn, Blind Boy Grunt, Lucky Boo Wilbury, Elmer Johnson, Sergei Petrov, Jack Frost and Robert Milkwood Thomas.

Is it possible Dylan might post a video to the website under a pseudonym?

"It would be especially awesome to see whether he wins," says Felscher. "Jerry Lewis once came third in a Jerry Lewis lookalike contest, so you never know. He may not sound Bob Dylan enough."


In 1966, when Dylan was asked for his thoughts on Australia, he said: "They don't have a baseball team here." The answer didn't suggest any great familiarity with the country but nor did it diminish his popularity.

More than 40 years later, Australians can celebrate Dylan's 67th birthday today by tuning in to 2SER-FM, 107.3, for its five-hour Bob Dylan Birthday Marathon from 8pm to 2am. Now in its 24th year, it is produced by Bill Kitson and Bruce Williams, who say Dylan was not at the peak of his popularity when the show first went to air in the 1980s.

"The Empire Burlesque album had disappointed many fans with its messy production," says Kitson. "Many were still getting over his 1979-1981 religious conversion."

However, the marathon created immediate interest and inspired the formation of the Sydney Dylan Society (

"There were many people out there like myself and Bruce … who thought they were alone in their inordinate interest in the man and the music," says Kitson. "The show brought us together and soon we were having monthly meetings."

The society watched keenly as Dylan's fortunes improved with the release of critically lauded albums such as Oh Mercy (1989) and Time Out Of Mind (1997), which won three Grammys, including album of the year. His most recent LP, Modern Times (2006), went to No.1 in the US which, says Kitson, "in 1985 you would not have believed".

The Sydney Dylan Society also organises Dylan Conventions that occasionally coincide with his tours. Amanda Rose, 31, an Egyptology student, went to her first convention in 1998. She obliterates the stereotype of Bobfans as grizzled-hippies who trade bootleg recordings in beer gardens and says the society gives her a place to discuss the twists of Dylan's ever-evolving life-narrative with like minds. "From the '60s right through to now he has so many different threads," she says, "and they're all quite different."

Those not wishing to stay glued to the radio can attend tonight's Tangled Up In Dylan tribute show at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL (tickets $25, bookings 9559 0000). It features Karl Brodie, Steve Balbi and Brett Hunt, and will be repeated next FRIDAY at The Basement (tickets $32/$25, bookings 9251 2797).

Says Hunt, "when you get inside a Dylan tune and really learn it you get centuries of songwriting. It's all in there - blues, folk, early rock; he had it all down."

Thursday, May 01, 2008

in coversation with jay ryan & jeremy lindsay taylor of The Packer.

(unedited version of preview published in The Sydney Morning Herald.)

“The Packer”

By Dianna Fuemana,

Directed by Jeremy Lindsay Taylor,

Performed by Jay Ryan.

Old Fitzroy Theatre,

20 April to 10 May.

$16 - $34 (for beer laksa show deal)

Bookings 1300 GET TIX

“One-Hander Job” by Benito Di Fonzo.

“That is definitely one to come and see,” says New Zealand born actor Jay Ryan, best known for his roles in Neighbours and Sea Patrol, of the multi-character sex scene he performs solo in Dianna Fuemana’s The Packer.

Ryan, who plays all eight characters in The Packer, has just come from rehearsing said scene in which an older Islander man engages in congress with a ‘gin-addled’ expatriate-Aussie named Joyce.

“It’s something that we’re working on at the moment,” says Ryan, “different positions.”

“He’s coming up with some crazy ideas,” says director Jeremy Lindsay Taylor, “I don’t know from where.”

The Packer tells the story of Joyce’s son Shane, a ‘white-trash Westie’ from the streets of West Auckland attempting to make it as a hip hop artist and escape a life packing boxes in a factory. By spending 24 hours in West Auckland through the eyes of this working-class hero audiences gain insight into the lives of those around him.

“He’s getting to that age where he wants to step up and live his life but he feels a responsibility to care for his mother,” says Taylor of the protagonist. “You get to learn a lot about all eight characters, they’re all multi-layered individuals.”

Ryan, who like the playwright is an Auckland ‘Westie’, has received glowing reviews for what one Edinburgh Festival critic called a ‘virtuoso performance’ of all eight characters, four of which are female.

“Well, three females and a trannie,” Ryan corrects me.

“That’s the challenge,” says Taylor, “to make them individual ladies. You’ve got to have the audience believing that it’s not a characterisation, they’re not stereotypes, they’re real, and they’re all different. It’s a tour de force for an actor. There’s not many actors I know who could even attempt this.”

While the original production was directed by the author, Ryan asked his Sea Patrol co-star Taylor to direct this Sydney debut, a mission that entailed a road-trip around New Zealand to see where the characters originated.

“A lot of them are based on Dianna and my friends,” says Ryan, “so I took [Taylor] to meet these people - my mother, a couple of my mates who still live in West Auckland and don’t really do much with their lives, but they’re still good mates.”

They devoted each day on the road to a character from the play, finding relevant characteristics in the locals, such as when Ryan found the template for his transsexual.

“I’d had a big night and I was just driving home, legally of course. On Edinburgh Street, which is the street where all the trannies hang out, just as the sun was coming up [there] was this huge black woman standing there right by the Edinburgh Street sign. As I went past she waved at me and winked and I went that’s her, so I’ve got her image in my head and that’s who I bring on stage.”

Taylor, who grew up in Campbelltown, saw much similarity between Sydney and Auckland’s ‘Westies’.

“The people were very similar, doing it tough,” says Taylor. “There was no difference but the accent really.”

“And a few more Islanders,” adds Ryan, who originally helped Niuen/Samoan/New Zealand playwright-performer Fuemana conceive the play as they waited backstage during a production of A Streetcar Named Desire.

“[Fuemana] was playing the prostitute and I was playing the young collector that Blanche seduces so we were on stage for like 10 minutes out of a three hour play so the rest of the time we sat backstage and ranted about family life. She had written a one-woman show which she’d won awards for and was really successful and I think she thought I’m going to give it another go but write from a different perspective. She wanted to have it from a white person’s point of view but still have the Islander culture-clashes and me being a white boy and giving some stories over gave her that freedom.”

After his experience in Melbourne and Edinburgh, where the author declined an offer by British filmmakers to buy the script and change the nationality of the characters, Ryan feels vindicated in the universality of the tale.

“It’s a love story and love stories work anywhere don’t they?”