The Free-Floating Bob Dylan

The wonderfully inauthentic art of America's most vital singer-songwriter

(Page 3 of 3)

What adds piquant pleasure to watching Dylan is that in most cases his shape-shifting seems calculated to annoy and enrage his current audience. And yet these turnarounds -- from folk to rock in 1965, from rock to country in 1969, from secular sybarite to fundamentalist Christian in 1979 -- have almost always ended up working out well both for Dylan's art and his pocketbook. (The turn to born-again believer only worked at first. His Slow Train Coming LP, on which Dylan consigned non-believers to Hell in no uncertain terms, was a big seller and earned Dylan his first Grammy, for the single "Gotta Serve Somebody." However, once the novelty wore off, his relentless preaching murdered his commercial prospects for over a decade. As Sounes accurately notes, "Electricity had annoyed folk purists, but religion bothered everybody.")

Dylan's life has been a series of inauthentic moves. It was fake for young rocker Dylan to become a folkie, fake for folkie Dylan to become a rocker, fake for rocker Dylan to become a country squire, fake for protest Dylan to become a poet of amphetamine-driven Beat wordplay and internalized reflections on romance, fake for superstar Dylan to become a vagabond minstrel with his 1975-76 Rolling Thunder tour, fake for secular Jew Dylan to become a vengeance-spouting born-again Christian, fake for that born-again Christian to return to secular pop and tour with the Grateful Dead, fake for rock star Dylan to return to acoustic folk-blues roots in the early '90s, and fake for a washed-up zombie to release one of the most vital records of his career, Time Out of Mind (1997), after knock, knock, knockin' on heaven's door with a heart infection.

Because of this, attempts to lay bare the "real" Bob Dylan inevitably feel strangely insubstantial. You can't touch this Dylan guy. He's not there, he's gone, as Dylan once sang of himself. Then again, he's easy to find: This summer, for instance, he toured state fairs across much of the U.S., at last the ramblin', gamblin' man he pretended to be as a clean-cut kid hanging in Greenwich Village 40 years ago. Dylan knew all along, if often only instinctively, that nothing fresh, new, or startling comes from being "authentic." It comes from change, growth, evolution, electricity, and "selling out" to the wide world that exists beyond any blinkered, limited conception of proper culture.

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  • nfl jerseys||

    yhz

  • John||

    Bob is the Joker. It has always been an act. That is what makes it great. And that is why he never faded into tiresome irrelevance the way his folkie counterparts did.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    Dylan has written a huge body of wonderful songs with rich, fresh language, a vast emotional range, and an appreciation for and understanding of the totality of human experience. He has blended these with exhilarating melodies and musical backings. He has been absurd, tender, vengeful, smart, sexy, foolish, mystic, pious, nostalgic, journalistic, and phantasmagorical.

    Somebody get Barfman in here. I think his emetic rate is about to go through the roof.

  • John||

    If only he could live up to the standards of real artists. You know, like Madonna.

  • Neoliberal Kochtopus||

    That's right.

  • sarcasmic||

    Dylan songs sound best when someone else plays them.

  • Almanian!||

    hah! yes

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Only the cover of 'All Along The Watchtower' is better than the Dylan original and that is because Hendrix did his best guitar improv in it.

  • anon||

    I honestly had no idea Dylan wrote "All Along the Watchtower."

  • sarcasmic||

    He wrote "Knocking on Heaven's Door" as well, though Guns 'n' Roses did a better job playing it.

  • Almanian!||

    My garage band in the 70's did a better job playing it.

  • BigT||

    The commercially available Knockin' is terrible. I had a few other live versions on bootleg albums. All better. One was absolutely sublime. I gave all those away a few years ago - to a real vinyl head.

  • Irish||

    Dylan songs sound best when someone else plays them.

    I agree sometimes, but Like a Rolling Stone is just a great damn song. Hurricane is also great, even though it's a total misrepresentation of what actually happened.

  • Almanian!||

    I cannot begin to express how much I hate Bob Dylan as a performer. Written some REALLY great songs - but they all sound better when someone else sings them.

    He's more overrated than Springsteen, which is saying something.

    And - Bob - it's been, what, 50, 60 years? LEARN HOW TO PLAY THE HARMONICA, YOU WHEEZING WINDBAG!

  • John||

    He is not as overrated as Springsteen. Springsteen is a terrible performer who also can't write songs.

  • Almanian!||

    I just hate them both. Dylan's just been overrated for longer cause he's been around longer :)

  • John||

    Yeah but Dylan really has written some great songs.

  • Apple||

    No one is more overrated than Springsteen. Bob Dylan mostly deserves his high ratings. I'm even a fan of his own performances on the records up through somewhere in the '70s. I didn't buy into the "he can't sing" shit. I wouldn't pay to watch him grumble through unrecognizable tunes now, but he WAS great and still writes good songs. Springsteen isn't fit to lick his boots.

  • Hawk Spitui||

    Let's face it - America may never produce a Bach or a Beethoven, but we'll always have an endless supply of guitar twanging commies who can't carry a tune in a bucket.

  • Loki||

  • Almanian!||

    Hah! I always considered this to be a not-quite-so-direct parody. Heard it on a Python album back in the day - maybe "SEcret Policeman's Ball" or something?

    Anyway - "I've suffered for my music. Now it's your turn..."

  • sarcasmic||

    That was terrible yet oddly compelling.

  • Almanian!||

    exactly

  • ChrisO||

    Adrian Belew's impression of Dylan on Frank Zappa's song "Flakes" has always been my favorite.

    "Want to buy some mandies, Bob?"

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    Yes, a discussion on Dylan is proof of the inanity of the Peanut Gallery.

    No single person has contributed more to popular music since 1960 than he has - both in performance and composition.

  • Almanian!||

    Shriek, ladies and gentlemen! He'll be here all week! Try the veal!

    Shriek - THE BEATLES. CAROLE FUCKING KING, EVEN!

    You're a moron.

  • sarcasmic||

    Page, Clapton, Lennon, Presley, fuck. Dylan wrote a lot of words, but that's about it.

  • Irish||

    No single person has contributed more to popular music since 1960 than he has - both in performance and composition.

    I like Dylan, but this is just absurd. Was there anyone other than Bob Dylan that actually attempted to write, play, or perform like Bob Dylan? Not really. People covered his songs but they always did so in a way that was totally different than Dylan's version.

    Compare that to the Beatles, the Stones, or any number of influential punk bands who were imitated by all of their contemporaries. Compare Dylan's influence to the early rap and hip hop artists who essentially invented a style of music. Dylan was no where near as influential.

  • Pro Libertate||

    I was just thinking about Led Zeppelin and how three quarters of the metal in the 80s was a direct knockoff of them.

  • Pro Libertate||

    Isn't he Mr. Green Jeans' son?

  • Almanian!||

    DON'T TALK SHIT ABOUT MR. GREEN JEANS. I always liked him better than Captain Kangaroo.

  • Pro Libertate||

    What's wrong with the Captain? I loved him and that show.

  • Mainer2||

    http://www.sctvguide.ca/episodes/sctv_s1.htm

    What about Captain Combat and Mr Green Fatigues ?

  • anon||

    This 45 years/45 days thing is just their way of slacking off for a month and a half at work, isn't it?

  • Almanian!||

    I believe you are correct.

  • ||

    Was this view of Dylan as an invented man, the changing man, and a cultural marauder new back in 2001? It seems to be widely accepted now. His 2001 album was called Love & Theft and I thought that was a joke on him stealing from all the things he loved to make his music. I'm Not There in 2007 was all about Dylan putting on and taking off different personae.

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