The mid-1990s was the last heyday for Bob Dylan fanzines. The best and latest Dylan news, analysis, history, and rumors were printed on the pages of Homer, the slut, and The Telegraph, Isis, Dignity, On the Tracks, and Look Back. Although those zines had unpredictable publication timelines, they had loyal subscribers, readers, and contributors. Some zines operated long-distance telephone hotlines that fans called for the latest Dylan setlist or tour-adjacent gossip. Others printed books of Dylan history and analysis that were maybe too high-minded or just too lengthy for the fanzine. One of the zines had a robust merchandise operation and sold hard-to-find Dylan memorabilia in catalogs, listed beside zine-branded shirts and hats. A few of the fanzines made it as far as having their own website.
The Rumors Move Online
As the internet became more available, Dylan fans increasingly moved their conversations online. Some of the early Dylan-themed fan websites offered message boards for their readers. An early version of Expecting Rain (then located at a different URL: http://bob.nbr.no/) had a rough and rowdy fan forum called DylanChat. It was a primitive version of the Dylan forums that still exist on Expecting Rain today. The usenet group rec.music.dylan (RMD), which began in 1989, was very active by the late 1990s, and populated by a wide spectrum of Dylan fans, including casual listeners, fanatic Bobcats, and genuine crazies. Nowadays just the crazies are left.
It was inside these online communities that rumors of a new and forthcoming Bob Dylan album broke in early July, 1996. As best as I can tell, the initial whispers emerged on Expecting Rain’s DylanChat and then migrated to RMD. First details were sparse, but intriguing, and claimed that Dylan was again working with Daniel Lanois, who also produced Dylan’s 1989 album, Oh Mercy. The rumored new album also had a name: Stormy Season.
Details and Song Titles
As the summer of 1996 heated up, so did the rumors. They became more detailed, exciting, and weird. Supposedly the album featured Emmylou Harris—who had most recently recorded Wrecking Ball with Daniel Lanois—on harmony vocals. Apparently, Dylan was proud of his new songs, and told the suits at his record label that the album was “one of his best ever.” Others said this would be Dylan’s first jazz album.
By the fall of 1996, the Stormy Season rumors were circling inside Dylan’s own touring band. That’s strange, considering different rumors claimed Dylan recorded the album with that very same touring band. Still more details emerged, including the pronouncement that the new album featured a song about Jerry Garcia called “No Compassion.”
Eventually, on October 8, 1996, the entire track list emerged:
- Butcher’s Crew
- The Fire Starter
- Apollo’s Love
- Police State
- You Belong To Me
- Abraham’s Altar
- When You Give Me Your Love
- Up On The Hill
- Stormy Season
- No Compassion
By then the rumors were so widespread, so concrete, that the Dylan print media—the fanzines—picked them up and published periodic updates on their paper pages. “The Wicked Messenger,” akin to the AP Newswire of breaking Dylan news, and at that time published in Isis, printed numerous new album rumors. Series of Dreams, the between-issues newsletter for On the Tracks, printed the Stormy Season rumor beside another, different rumor, that claimed Dylan was planning a solo tour for the fall of 1996. Even The Telegraph, the most sophisticated of Dylan fanzines, carried the rumor.
Dylan fanzines report the Stormy Season rumors. Excerpted from Series of Dreams issue 36c, “The Wicked Messenger,” published in ISIS #s 70 and 71, and The Telegraph #55.
It Goes On Sale
As 1996 turned to 1997, the Stormy Season rumors entered the real-life world of dollars and cents, pounds and pence. Badlands, a British record store, ran advertisements in Q, a glossy music magazine, offering for sale: “Bob Dylan, Stormy Season. New Bobby songs, produced by Lanois. CD £12.99.” Correspondence with the shop claimed that Stormy Season was a “brand new self-penned album … produced by Daniel Lanois and featuring Emmylou Harris.” Thoughtfully, Badlands promised “not [to] debit your card until the album is dispatched to you.” Advertisements for Stormy Season appeared in both the February and March 1997 issues of Q.
As the fidelity of the rumors grew, so did expectations, predictions, and assessments. Some online commentators developed serious opinions about Stormy Season, even though none of those bold prognosticators had heard the album.
And, of course, they never would.
That’s because Stormy Season didn’t exist. At least not in the guise described online. Although Dylan did indeed make his next album with Daniel Lanois, Time Out of Mind was recorded in sessions that began months after the Stormy Season rumors first circulated. As things tend to do, in real life and online, the rumors outpaced reality. There was no “Butcher’s Crew” or “Apollo’s Love,” no Dylan jazz album, and no song about Jerry Garcia.
On May 29, 1997, the Stormy Season passed in an instant, with the real-life announcement of Time Out of Mind, via internet post on a now-defunct music website called Wall of Sound. The internet spread the lie. The internet spread the truth.
Where Did That Come From?
So, what exactly are we dealing with when we remember Stormy Season? A leak? A rumor? A hoax? Seems to me, the answer is D.) All of the above. It was a (excuse me here) perfect storm, aided and abetted by the increasingly available, and popular, World Wide Web, where anyone could post anything. Oftentimes they did.
The Daniel Lanois connection, present from the start of the Stormy Season story, is obviously true. Although it’s not impossible that someone told a lie that predicted a future that then became real, that seems unlikely here.
It’s also not so easy to dismiss the involvement of Emmylou Harris. She did indeed record with Dylan—in May of 1994—and sing harmony vocals. The song they sang together was “My Blue Eyed Jane,” made famous by Jimmy Rodgers, and included on Dylan’s 1997 tribute album honoring The Singing Brakeman. But the vocals on the released version were overdubs that dispensed with Emmylou’s contribution. Still, in a way, Bob and Emmylou Harris did reunite in the studio. Just not for Stormy Season.
And how about that title? Stormy Season is a rather fitting name for an album like Time Out of Mind, where every single song (except, maybe, “Standing in the Doorway”) includes a reference to the weather, and usually bad weather at that. One of those songs, “Can’t Wait,” even has the line: “I’ve been rolling through stormy weather.”
Dylan himself connected the dots between storms and the songs on Time Out of Mind, telling John Pareles in an interview promoting the album: “Environment affects me a great deal. A lot of the songs were written after the sun went down. And I like storms, I like to stay up during a storm. I get very meditative sometimes and this one phrase was going through my head: “Work while the day lasts, because the night of death cometh when no man can work.” (Dylan’s quote is from The Gospel of John 9:4. My thanks to Andy Muir’s fantastic book Troubadour: Early and Late Songs of Bob Dylan, for everything in this paragraph).
Is it possible that Stormy Season was a working title or placeholder for the songs Dylan wrote while snowbound in Minnesota? I mean the songs that eventually became Time Out of Mind? Dylan apparently demoed some of those songs—an uncommon practice in his recording history—and shared those tapes with Lanois, before any attempt to put them down for the album, first in Oxnard, California and then in Miami, Florida.
Were those demo tapes Stormy Season? Is all of that too much to be a coincidence? I don’t know. Maybe someone poking around in Tulsa will turn over a sheet of paper and find out the timeline truth. Better yet, maybe they’ll find a tape of Dylan performing demo versions of the Time Out of Mind songs. Call it whatever you want, I’d love to hear it.
That track list? It reeks of bogus more than any other aspect of Stormy Season. And that’s before you realize the original post announcing the song names was made by someone calling themselves “El Tortilla.” The titles are Dylan-esque in a way that’s self-consciously hokey, but just vivid enough to maybe be true, if you believe hard enough. There’s even a knowing nod to fans pre-inclined to buy a bill of goods, with the inclusion of “You Belong to Me,” on the track list. That song is a Good As I Been to You outtake released in 1994 on the Natual Born Killers soundtrack, and a conceivable addition to whatever Dylan album followed.
Someone Told A Lie
The best explanation that I’ve encountered for the track list is the simplest explanation: Amid the initial wave of Stormy Season rumors, a networked Bobcat invented the track list as a well-intentioned joke. Thanks to the internet, that joke—a hoax, if you prefer—spread too far and too fast. It echoed among fans eager for any news about the new album, and those who were predisposed to believe.
That’s the defining aspect of the whole Stormy Season episode. There is—there always has been—a supply and demand imbalance when it comes to Bob Dylan news. To me, that’s one of the more interesting aspects of Dylan’s art and life—the mystery of it all, and especially its creation. But to others, there’s a long list of bothersome unknowns. What’s Bob up to right now? Is he married? What’s his religion? Is he working on a new album? When can we hear it? Inquiring minds want to know, but can’t.
That dynamic existed long before the internet and thrives still today. It comes with the territory of being a Dylan fan, whether you like it or not. The dust of rumors is thick enough to cover me, and you, and everybody in between. You learn to live with it, even if you don’t love it.
The Next Album
By the way, have you heard that Bob is working on a new album? It’s true. Right after those last shows in Oklahoma, Bob and the band headed right for the studio and started putting down a whole slew of new songs. Yeah! I’ve got it on good authority from a top Bobcat. She knows somebody who knows somebody, and they would know, of all people, absolutely. You can believe me. It’ll be Bob’s best since Street Legal. Just you wait and see.
James Adams is an independent researcher and writer living in Charlottesville, Virginia. In the world of Bob Dylan, his primary interests are Dylan fans, fanzines, and fan culture.