Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Dylan Update

Arlo Guthrie once mused that there’s no way Bob Dylan could have written that many good songs in such a short time... he must have just taken a pen and transcribed them as they floated by in front of him.

Not surprisingly, with the release of No Direction Home, there’s a rush of new Dylan articles. The Washington Post’s Jefferson Morley has a new World News Roundup blog and for 9/26/05 supplied links to three British papers:
The Guardian has an editorial about how the once-skeptical culture has come to embrace the unpredictable singer-songwriter. The Times has a perceptive piece on his melding of high and low culture. The Independent has the best package of articles, "Dylan: A Special Celebration," including an excerpt from his nomination for a Nobel prize: "In words and music Dr Dylan has created an almost unlimited universe of art which has permeated the globe and, in fact, changed the history of the world."

The Guardian now has a number of other links, including past articles on Dylan.

Meanwhile, Slate’s David Greenberg has a good article pondering why nearly everyone seems to focus on Dylan’s early career and completely overlooks such masterworks as Blood On the Tracks and Time Out of Mind (I would add World Gone Wrong, although it is an album of covers by Dylan, but stunning none the less, especially his version of “Delia”). The short answer: boomer nostalgia. Dylan for me is one of those musicians like Willie Nelson or Neil Young who’s never content to rest on his laurels. While I might not like all of their material, new or old, it’s impossible not to respect them, as well as their right to keep exploring musically.

Finally, I stand corrected... While Slate’s content can be good, it is also prone to the cranky, curmudgeonly, contrarian and contrarian-wannabe statements that can easily get out of hand on many a website or blog (this one included). I tend to get turned off by sweeping regal pronouncements such as the astoundingly stupid one that men should not wear shorts (it’s the tone more than the content). In the article I linked below, Slate’s David Yaffe complained about Liam Clancy, observing that “We sit in Manhattan's White Horse Tavern with Liam Clancy, an insufferably melodramatic Irish folkie perched in front of a pint of ale that does not seem like his first of the night.” Having fond memories of seeing Liam Clancy and Tommy Makem perform, I took issue with this. While the Clancys and Makem can be caricatured, they remain very good folk musicians with a lasting positive influence. However, I must concede that in the Dylan doc, Liam Clancy really does come off at times as a drunken blowhard versus the charming wry folk poet I’m more accustomed to.

(As part of my penance, I am hunting down a copy of the stupidest, most obtuse article on Dylan I have ever read, in this case from the usually superb Atlantic in the late 90s. The boomer author pronounces Dylan’s career a failure that ended all promise in 1967, which must surely come as a surprise to Dylan... not to mention every fan and every professional musician who’s bothered to listen to him in the 38 years since then! Wait, I'm getting cranky here...)

In the meantime, I’m breaking out Time Out of Mind again.

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