Something's Burning, Baby

2002-08-09, Harbour Station, Saint John, NB

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I started collecting Bob Dylan bootlegs in the mid-2000s. That was peak CD-R era. The internet was just fast enough to connect fans to each other - the days of some record store owner surreptitiously pulling the bootlegs box out from behind the counter had passed - but not yet fast enough to share the music itself. So, for several years, I found myself at the post office once or twice a week mailing off burned CDs and, hopefully, picking up some in return.

As my collection grew from trading with fans around the world, I kept them meticulously organized - first in jewel cases and, then, when the quantity made that impractical, in paper sleeves (the two CDs placed label to label, of course, to avoid scratches). In each case, I would print out the fan-created art, making sure it was exactly the proper CD size, and dutifully paperclip it to the sleeve. Several dusty boxes still sit in my parents' house. It’s a collection painstakingly amassed over years that you could now download in an afternoon. I doubt the CDs even still play.

I didn't have today’s show at the time, but I wish I had, merely for that cover art. It strikes me as a pure embodiment of this era, and of fan art in general. The concept is half-assed at best. The Photoshop skills are just good enough to pull it off, but not so good they make it look anything other than amateur. The artist, who went by Scouser Art, did covers for every show on this 2002 tour. Bob played six shows in Canada this week. You better believe Scouser used this same Canadian-flag Photoshop job for each one.

This is, sadly, a lost art. As those of you who download the shows here may have noticed, I try to embed an album cover in each one. I'm not burning them onto CDs anymore, and I expect most of you aren't either - though if you are, more power to you! - but even in iTunes, a bunch of unidentified grey squares looks terrible and quickly becomes impossible to navigate. Unfortunately, I don't see much fan-created cover art for new shows. Not only that, but as forums die and fansites disappear, much of the fan-created CD art from even a decade ago has vanished. (Shoutout to whoever keeps Dusty Old Fairground’s server bills paid, even though it stopped updating 16 years ago and many of the artwork links have gone dead.)

There used to be a guy who went by stewArt. When I started collecting CD-Rs, he did art for every show. For years. It was very distinctive; he always used the same layout, font, amateur Photoshop skills, and usually a photo of the show’s location, rather than of Bob himself. I'm sure I have a bunch of his stuff printed out in my parents’ house. But you can't find it online. I tried a while back, too, asked around a bit. Turned out he passed away unexpectedly some years back. Now the hundreds of hours of work he surely put into these CD covers has left no record online. A double tragedy. Here's a vintage stewArt sample I still have saved from a show I was at:

Fan art generally has been written about some, but I'd love to see an article or book about this amateur CD-R cover artists. The fact that they did it for no money probably goes without saying, but they did it for no credit either. Most of them didn't use their real names. It's just one small example of something beautiful about the early-2000s internet, fans helping each other just for the sake of it. Now a lot of that entry-level-Photoshop energy goes to making memes about Pizzagate.

So pour one out for stewArt, Scouser, and all the other pseudonymous fans spending hours at Photoshop to ensure that every 2000s-era show had its own endearingly janky CD cover. Or, better yet, download this show, burn a couple CD-Rs, print out the cover art (at 4.75 inches x 4.75 inches of course), grab a jiffy mailer, and mail a little package of bootleg Bob someone who might like it. You could even include a personal note recommending a track or two. My pick: the first acoustic "Man in the Long Black Coat." Check out the line reading on "every man's conscience is vile and depraved."

For anyone so inclined, I'll even include a FLAC version. The CD-trading internet was generous and benevolent, but heaven help you if you started burning MP3s…

2002-08-09, Harbour Station, Saint John, NB 
* MP3s for the newbs
* FLAC for the traders

Find the index to all shows covered so far in this newsletter here.

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