Dylan Website Provides Rare, Unreleased Recordings

Folk-rocker's longtime label oversees his official online home.

There are official websites. There are fan websites. And then there is

bobdylan.com.

What makes this official site from the Sony/Columbia label so special is

that it features full audio -- not snippets -- of rare, unreleased

recordings by folk-rock pioneer Bob Dylan. This is especially remarkable

in an era when so many record companies are worried about music piracy.

A recent visit to bobdylan.com found such delectable items as the

iconoclastic singer/songwriter's early classic "Girl From The North

Country," performed earlier this year at The Theater at Madison Square

Garden in New York; a rendition of

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Dylan,_Bob/Love_Sick.ram">"Love

Sick" (RealAudio excerpt), a song from his most recent album,

Time Out Of Mind, as performed at this year's Grammy Awards

ceremony; and tracks from his 1993 run at New York City's Supper Club,

when he performed mostly traditional folk songs.

Bobdylan.com, much to the delight of Dylan fanatics and collectors, also

features selections from the wealth of unreleased studio recordings. An

alternate take of "Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?" from 1965 is

just one of the treasures on the site.

Begun in 1997 with the full cooperation of Sony/Columbia (the record

company that releases Dylan's music), this one-of-a-kind site is edited

and produced by Dan Levy, book editor and Bob Dylan fan. Sony's

involvement is indicative of the label's regard for one of its

longest-running artists. (Except for two albums, Dylan has been with the

company since 1962.)

Levy credits Sony for its desire to create such a site and points to its

other innovative projects, such as the interactive CD-ROM of Dylan's

classic 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited (1995) and a CD-Extra

version of his Greatest Hits, Volume 3 (1994), as evidence of the

company's support of technology.

But why is Sony so unconcerned with song piracy? After all, the

Recording Industry Association of America, numerous record companies and

the representatives of significant artists such as Pearl Jam, Madonna

and Alanis Morissette have been quick to prevent unreleased music from

getting on the Web in any form.

Mark Ghuneim, Columbia Records' vice president of online and emerging

technologies, stressed that this rare Dylan music is on the company's

site, not a fan site. "Bobdylan.com is consistent with Columbia's policy

to put the artists themselves online, not just information," Ghuneim

said. "Check out our sites for Slayer and Maxwell, and you'll see it's

the case with those as well. It's consistent with our growth plan since

1993 when we went online."

As for Levy's involvement, Ghuneim was enthusiastic. "Dan Levy

understands Dylan extremely well. He's brought a lot to the party."

Even Dylan's management has approved the site, Ghuneim said, adding that

the label is working "with the artist as much as possible."

Fan interest in the site has been phenomenal, Levy said. "[Dylan's fans]

have been quite positive, more so than I expected. Dylan fans are

notoriously picky, and some of the pickiest are friends of mine."

The site's mail-ordering feature also has proven very popular, Levy

said. Most recently, tickets for Dylan's West Coast concert tour with

Joni Mitchell and Van Morrison were sold through the site, and "most

people have been very happy with the seats they've received."

Again praising Sony's dedication, Levy pointed out that artist sites

such as bobdylan.com are rare because of the amount of time and

resources necessary to do one properly. But he believes fan sites "do a

good job" interpretating lyrics, telling stories about people's feelings

and interacting with the artists. He also said some of the best

unofficial sites "take on a narrow subject and illuminate it

beautifully." He highlighted a few devoted to Dylan, such as the Slow

Train Coming Home Page, Tangled Up In Jews and Bob Links

(www.execpc.com/~billp61/boblink.html).

Bobdylan.com is surprisingly easy to keep going, Levy said. "The hard

part is coming up with a steady flow of good editorial material." The

site currently features actor Peter Coyote's reminiscences about growing

up with Dylan's music and an exploration of the cornucopia of Dylan

recordings that are unavailable on CD in America.

There's also a RealAudio version of a broadcast in which noted rock

critic and Addicted To Noise contributor Greil Marcus was

interviewed about his book, "Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement

Tapes."

Noting that the biggest jump in traffic on bobdylan.com occurred after

Dylan won three Grammys in February (including Album of the Year for

Time Out of Mind), Levy said he was "interested to see what

happens as [the artist's current] tour progresses. This summer, Bob

Dylan will be playing extensively in Europe, and I hope that increases

traffic from other countries to the site."