Wednesday, December 28, 2005

In Musical Praise of: Bob Dylan


I actually don't think he is as good as they say, although I suppose, like The Beatles, he was a bit of a pioneer.
Of course, when I was at Junior School, shortly after we moved to Hertfordshire, one or two of the teachers inflicted him on us, and I thought he was okay, albeit just an average folk singer.
Skip forward about eleven years to Uni and I heard his song 'Gotta Serve Somebody' for the first time, and finding that he was a fellow Christian, (or professed to be for a while, depending on what you read) I found some of his songs suddenly took on a whole new meaning and I suddenly saw the originality and poetry of his lyrics. Insightful and profound, peppered occasionally with humour and acerbic social commentary. I soon discovered Like A Rolling Stone, Knockin' On Heaven's Door (which I thought was an original by Eric Clapton, and All Along The Watchtower. I even discovered that he wrote Quinn the Eskimo ;), which shows that he has a sense of humour. Unless the rumours are true and it is about drugs.
In any case, this Christmas, my sister got me 'The Essential Bob Dylan', so now I have two Dylan compilations in my CD Collection.
And yes, I appreciate that, as a Bona Fide Dylan fan I ought to have Blonde on Blonde.


Snapt Pensuls said...

The problem of pop culture generally is that it provides no context. Indeed, corporate profits depend on finding the next big thing, next big star to drive sales of "product." The corporate philosophy of the presenters is to flatter each generation as it appears and to scatter the dust of oblivion over what was. Young kids with lots of disposable income aren't going to go out and blow it on some 65 year old hard travelin' mummy (sorry,Bob) or some happy faced nigra with a big smile on his face. Culture depends on context and time. If literature was run by record execs we'd never hear of John Keats or Walt Whitman unless they could be invoked to sell poems by much much much lesser poets who were younger and could be featured in fashion magazines. The two great popular musical presences in twentieth century are Louis Armstrong and Bob Dylan (yes the Beatles are up there, too). The point is if you don't know Pope you're not going to appreciate Keats; if you don't know America's earlier lesser poets you're not going to appreciate Whitman. Armstrong found a new way of conveying spontaneous joy and Dylan found that as a general matter the English language lacked personal honest songs that evoked an enlarged contemporary sense of life. Also important to the appreciation of these two great artists is that each was/is a consumate performer. Dylan is a cultivated taste, but once you cultivate the taste you see how when he sings he is all about the sound he makes; he holds nothing back from the sound of his song. Create a context and you can begin to discover through his songs and his performances how all popular music comes from his trunk, including much of the most admired work by John and Paul. If you want to appreciate Dylan's greatness you have to go back to 1965 when his songs were first hitting the radio and see what songs he was displacing. Dylan is a tree from which many branches grow; some people who are stars now have no idea that the people they most admire admired the people who admired Dylan. Dylan is papa of the modern song but in many ways he's been ruined by his legions of imitators.

Paul Burgin said...

Hi Snapt.
I do agree that if you look at people like Dylan in the context of their time it makes a difference, although in some respects Dylan simply made folk mainstream. That said, he does have a power with words which many lyricists envy.
It is almost an indictment of the music industry that there are few artists of a certain generation who have real talent, although they do seem to appear every seven years or so.

Kerron said...

Er, to get back to our usual level of conversation on this site, can I just add that I like the phrase Blonde on Blonde!

Paul Burgin said...

You would ;)