Saturday, September 15, 2012

In His Time Of Dylan

My friend Gene Oberto has been a big time Burning Wood/Sal Nunziato supporter since I was just a blogging pup. Gene has been writing some very fine essays over at his place, Inte Bulle and he's just posted something perfect to end "My Inadvertent Dylan Week."

Take a look, and when you're through, if you can find some more internet free time, go over and say hi.

I can remember laying on my bed, listening to the Sears Silvertone record player playing Bob Dylan, over and over and over. I can also remember my mother’s voice coming up the staircase. In a combination of tolerance and plaintiveness, she would say, “Gene, must you play it so loud?”

Of, course, we all know the answer to that. Just as we knew, somehow, that Bob Dylan was just for us. There would never be the acceptance of that singular voice, no matter how true the lyrics may ring. My parents never accepted Bob like they eventually embraced John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Which was all right because what Bob Dylan said to us was about things much deeper than all we needed was love. Dylan understood there was another side to the picture. He continually warned and exposed what would happen to our generation if we didn’t pay attention. Indeed, half of us slid from the Summer of Love to Woodstock to Altamont, with the other side coming home, if not in a bag, then with ideals and dreams buried forever in the monsoon mud of Southeast Asia. We all met at Desolation Row, where we became further desensitized by Watergate, hostages, suicide bombers, wars, mayhem, oil crisis, corporate manipulation and stolen elections. We once thought that the Mad Men lied to us about cigarettes. Now we know that positions in power lie to us every time their mouths move.

He cringes at the thought of being called the Voice of a Generation. It’s because Bob Dylan is anything but. He alerted us to the craven world, yet we have become a country of Gordon Gekko. Greed is good and I got mine who cares about you. All draped with the Stars and Stripes, with the flunkies and deceivers of those in power telling us its all good and America will be great again.

“There’s a whole lot of people in trouble tonight

From the disease of conceit
Whole lot of people seeing double tonight
From the disease of conceit
Give ya delusions of grandeur
And a evil eye
Give you the idea that
You’re too good to die
Then they bury you from your head to your feet
From the disease of conceit”

Yeah, that’s the Bob Dylan who spits in the eye of his tormentors and continues on as the age old troubadours of times gone by. He constantly travels around the world, playing his songs, changing keys, tempos and, sometimes, words. In listening to Bob Dylan from album #1 through Tempest, I have come away with two overall understandings of Bob’s music.

While he is thought of by many to be a “political” song writer, he writes many more songs on love and relationships. The eternal mystery of what love is and how do we deal with it is probably a major theme. A minor theme is how he deals with being Robert Zimmerman traveling through his life cycle. Is there a God? What is the best way for RZ to communicate with him? How do i deal with my fellow pilgrims? Do they hear what I say when I let them in on my thoughts?

Dylan may demean the Masters of War, but only because of the plagues they bestow on people.

Another thing they call Dylan is an angry man. Really? I can use “Bob Dylan’s Blues,” “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream,”  “Maggie’s Farm” or the “Clothes Line Saga” to counter that misread.

“I ain’t lookin’ to compete with you

Beat or cheat or mistreat you
Simplify you, classify you
Deny, defy or crucify you
All I really want to do
Is, baby, be friends with you”

Lastly, has any songwriter been scrutinized and deconstructed as much as Mr. Dylan? His genius lies just not in the way he sculpts words, both directly and abstruse. Unlike other songwriters, Dylan’s songs are open to any interpretation. How many different ways can you sing “Something?” Against how many times have you heard another artist sing a Dylan song and it’s like you never knew the song existed. Hell, even Dylan pokes and prods and looks at his song through other prisms before coming up with an arrangement that doesn’t resemble the original. Go to a Dylan performance (because that’s what it is. It is beyond a show) and listen to people in the crowd ask what that song was? Like a Johnny Appleseed, Dylan spreads his songs out to the winds and allows us all to get whatever we can out them. They are not for him, they are for us.

In the Rolling Stone interview coming up, Dylan says he plays by his own rules. I say thank goodness. This lad from the iron ore rich area of Minnesota called Hibbing, has never let his gift rust.


buzzbabyjesus said...

Thanks, Sal I've really benefited from the discussion. I learned enough from wading through a lot of music I'd previously dismissed so that this post really hit home.

buzzbabyjesus said...

One more. From "Street Legal"

Albert said...

Dylan is Dylan....God to some, laughable to others...and that croak,up to and including Tempest, is gorgeous...period...but there's a reason why Mom and Dad liked the well as generations that weren't born yet when they landed here...they were better...and at least as influential...long after the anger of Masters of War will be forgotten, kids will perk up when the old folks put Rubber Soul on the turntable....but I digress...

William Repsher said...

I remember hating Dylan when I was a teenager ... the voice more than anything. The heaviness of the image. It all felt sour. Then one day in college, I heard "I Want You" on the radio, and the doors swung open. This sounded like the pop music I loved. And the lyrics. Laughing boy in a chinese suit? Took his flute? WTF?!

I got Blonde on Blonde, and I don't think it's any accident it took me until college to get into Dylan, because that's when you experiment/explore. That was also a time when 60s Soul, Velvet Underground and Reggae exploded in my life, so there was a lot of that going on.

But with Dylan it was the lyrics. We'd imagine Shakespeare in the alley next to our apartment, in his pointed shoes and bells, hitting on a French girl. The imagery was beyond belief. For our friends who didn't (and never) got Dylan ... we were insufferable because there were a few months there where our listening habits were non-stop Dylan. We'd talk to each other in that weezing sarcastic tone of voice which we called "pulling a Dylan."

The "smart ass" phase of his career will always be my favorite -- he was brilliant then, but as I get older, I find myself drawn to the more quiet/human aspects of his music, the songs of personal loss, or something as open as "Forever Young." The Born Again albums, too -- which were so scorned at the time. His willingness to try different things, to commit fully to something he knew would cause trouble -- that's what I value him for these days.

He reminds me of a cranky Vincent Price now, but is still putting out good music. I don't think people raised in the last 20 years or so can fully grasp how monumental he was in the 60s, how he changed everything. Of course, he wasn't the only one, but there hasn't been anyone like that since then (same can be said for The Beatles with pop) who caused such a before/after shift in music and culture.

wardo said...

Um.... yup.