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The one exception to his mediocre 1970s output was 1975's Blood on the Tracks -- which, longtime Dylan enthusiasts maintain, is the "most mature and assured record" of his career, as Robert Christgau wrote in The Village Voice. One Dylan Web site suggests that Dylan considered himself in retirement during the 1970s and wrote only the 10 songs that appeared on Blood on the Tracks, including "Tangled Up in Blue" and "Idiot Wind," during the entirety of the decade. "Either that," said the Byrds' Roger McGuinn in 1977, "or Bob got lazy and real lucky." The record recalls Dylan's pre-electric music, hinting at the country ambience that marked John Wesley Harding in 1967 and 1969's Nashville Skyline.
It would be eight more years after the release of Blood on the Tracks before Dylan received any more kind words from critics. But 1983's Infidels, his first secular album in years, ranks among his lowest-selling albums, no doubt because critics and fans didn't quite know what to make of it. The same thing happened in 1985 with the release of Empire Burlesque, which was a cross between a rock record and a dance album. One writer referred to it as "Disco Dylan."
At the press conference, Rolling Stone's David Fricke asked Dylan about his stormy, love-hate relationship with the music press.
"Come writers and critics who prophesize with your pen, and keep your eyes wide, the chance won't come again," Dylan said. "And don't speak too soon for the wheel's still in spin, and there's no tellin' who that it's namin'. For the loser now will be later to win."
Indeed, in 1985 Dylan released what's considered to be the first boxed set, Biograph, a three-CD career retrospective. It would be followed six years later by yet another triple-disc collection, The Bootleg Series, Vols. 1-3, which contained many wonderful songs allegedly left off some of his inferior records.
One Sony Music source told the Associated Press last week that the songs that appeared on The Bootleg Series were actually written and recorded from January through March 1990 -- "as a sort of practical joke," said the label representative. Allegedly, she said, half of the songs on the third disc were written by Bruce Springsteen and performed by Tom Petty.
"Was that some kind of joke?" Dylan shot back at one reporter, who asked him if this were true. "All these people that you mention, yes, I know them. They're quite lame. I had to rearrange their faces, and give them all another name." It was the only moment during the press conference that Dylan appeared the slightest bit unhappy, and it soon passed. For the rest of the afternoon, he wore what appeared to be a smile in the face of mankind.
Dylan spent the first half of this decade returning to his roots, releasing two traditional, folk-blues albums: 1992's Good As I Been to You and 1993's World Gone Wrong, the latter of which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album. But the windfall for Dylan would come in 1997 with the release of Time Out of Mind, an introspective meditation on growing old. The disc won three Grammys: Album of the Year, Best Contemporary Folk Album, and Best Male Rock Vocal.
Dylan did not seem too impressed with the accolades, however, telling the assembled media that what he most wanted in life was a Golden Globe award. Neil Strauss of The New York Times asked him why he wanted a Golden Globe, of all things.
"Lenny Bruce is dead, but his ghost lives on and on, never did get any Golden Globe award, never made it to Synanon," he explained.
Mottola said that Dylan will still release the fifth volume of The Bootleg Series, this one an odds-and-ends collection consisting of commercial jingles Dylan recorded in 1959 and 1960, when he was a struggling folkie in Minnesota and Denver. (One Dylan historian insists his previously unheard jingle for Hamm's beer became the basis for "Tangled Up in Blue," since it, too, contains the lines: "She was workin' in a topless place, and I stopped in for a beer, I just kept lookin' at the side of her face in the spotlight so clear.") Sony is also going to remaster and reissue most of Dylan's back catalog between February 2000 and June 2012, Mottola said.
"Except, of course, Planet Waves and Self-Portrait," he repeated, smiling broadly.
With that, Dylan stood and offered a final farewell.
"I'm a-leavin' tomorrow," he said, without mentioning any specific destination. "But I could leave today, somewhere down the road someday. The very last thing that I want to do is to say I've been hittin' some hard travelin' too."
Dylan, however, is expected to sit in on some dates on the forthcoming Art Garfunkel-Arlo Guthrie arena tour, scheduled to hit the road next spring. After the press conference, Dylan's publicist at Sony also announced the first leg of his 1,945-date post-retirement concert tour, which begins in January at the Trempealeau County State Fair in Wisconsin.