Starbucks cafes to sell 'Gaslight 2' CD
By DAVID HINCKLEY
NEW YORK DAILY NEWS
Come Labor Day weekend, you will be able to walk into your local Starbucks and order the following combination:
1) a white-chocolate mocha Frappuccino and 2) a 1962 recording of Bob Dylan singing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall."
You may remember that one.
"... Where the executioner's face is always well hidden,/ Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten,/ Where black is the color, where none is the number..."
Yup, that was a real toe-tapper. Oh, and give me a slice of lemon-yogurt Bundt cake, too.
On Aug. 30, Starbucks will start selling a 10-track CD of songs Bob Dylan sang at New York's Gaslight Cafe in October 1962. Circulated and coveted for years as a bootleg, the "Gaslight 2" tape includes an early version of "Don't Think Twice," one of the great wounded-love songs ever, as well as "Hard Rain" and "John Brown," a bitter tale of a soldier whose medals speak only of maiming and death.
Those last two are what give this Starbucks deal a surreal glow. They evoke the Dylan many fans have long revered for spitting their generation's wrath at a world gone mad. And now, apparently, they're serving the ambiance of Starbucks, an untroubled oasis of premium coffees and sweets that speaks to a comfortable, contented affluence.
You don't go into Starbucks to think about a hard rain.
As with most other matters involving Dylan, however, we find irony here at our own peril -- because Dylan has always declared to anyone who would listen, and a lot of people who wouldn't, that he never wanted to lead anything more ambitious than a band.
Moreover, this isn't the first time that someone who played a crucial role in a cultural watershed has later been found in a situation that seems to contradict our earlier assumptions.
Past double takes
Remember the first time we heard John Lennon's "Revolution" selling Nike sneakers? We knew we should howl, but with outrage or laughter? What would John do? Alas, he was gone by then, so we had to improvise.
Jack Kerouac's "On the Road" gave a sense of freedom and possibility to a generation who years later saw Kerouac sitting down with William F. Buckley to grumble about the lack of values among kids today.
Sammy Davis Jr. hugging President Nixon in 1972 triggered a national double take, though Davis' impulsive grab was no more bizarre than what has happened with rapper Ice Cube. Fifteen years ago, most of the country wanted to slap him upside the head for songs like "F--- tha Police" that he recorded with Los Angeles gangsta rappers N.W.A. Now he has recast himself in the movies -- to the surprise of some friends and foes alike -- as a lovable teddy bear.
However, what we need to remember is this: Cube didn't grow a new personality. He just let another side of the old one loose. Which brings us back to Dylan.
Sharing the music
A fascinating new Dylan biofilm, called "No Direction Home," directed by Martin Scorsese and airing in September on PBS, shows Dylan 40 years ago telling rooms full of dumb journalists that he isn't a protest singer and he never set out to write message songs.
He did write "message songs," of course. Brilliantly. His point, though, is that he wasn't thinking about the label, he was thinking about the songs, and when you look at it that way, it's much clearer why they migrated to Starbucks.
It's a way to get songs to people who might enjoy them.
Starbucks sold 700,000 copies of a Ray Charles CD. It sells artists like Etta James, Frank Sinatra and Joni Mitchell who get little or no radio promotion these days and have many fans who still like music, but don't visit record stores.
Now, in Dylan's case there could be one other factor, as well. Dylan just might enjoy being in Starbucks because he knows some folks don't think he should be.
The only red flag here, really, is Starbucks' casual comment that it would like to "do more" with Dylan at some point.
If he shows up in a Starbucks TV ad with a frothy mustache, saying "One more cup of coffee for the road," then we may want to consider an intervention.