There is a TV commercial that shows Bob Dylan talking to the IBM Watson computer. (It astonishes me that he would even do a commercial.) The computer tells Dylan that he’s analyzed all his lyrics and most of them are about “the passage of time and how love fades.” Really? The guy who wrote Times they are a-changing, Masters of War, Hard rain’s gonna fall, Hurricane, Like a Rolling Stone? He signed off on this?
And maybe that’s what Dylan’s been singing about the last couple of years, but for me he’ll always be that troubadour, that musical activist, that rabble-rouser. And if I were to categorize his songs, for me they would be as follows: protest songs, traditional folk songs, put-down songs, love songs, revenge songs, stream-of-consciousness songs, and then maybe the aforementioned passage of time, etc.
I’m old enough that Dylan was very much of a vital force at the time. I don’t recall exactly when I got into him but I know it was not in his initial folk era. Popular though he was, I literally knew not one person that was into him. At the time, Rolling Stone magazine worshiped the guy. Every interview, every album was like they were presenting the Second Coming. So I wound up going back and purchasing his big three mid-60’s albums – “Bringing it All Back Home,” “Highway 61 Revisited” and “Blonde on Blonde.”
After that, I followed Dylan pretty intently at least through the mid-to-late ’70’s. He had a pretty good run for a long time. And it was astonishing – to me at least – that he came out with something as vital and powerful as “Hurricane” some 13 years after we first heard from him. I’m still very, very much a Dylan fan, love to quote his lyrics, love to listen to his music for a couple of hours at a time. (I recall reading somewhere he was quoted in Supreme Court decisions more than any other artist).
But I will confess that while he appears to still be writing good stuff, his best days are clearly behind him. And his singing, IMHO, is now an atrocious croak. I cannot listen to or enjoy his recent stuff for that reason. Nor will I go see him live. Check him out on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean. Regardless, Dylan is a big topic and I think he will require another post down the road.
I leave you with one of my favorite Dylan songs of all time. Supposedly it was done as a write-off of the folkies who turned on him when he went electric. Around that time – mid Sixties – someone at a concert in England called him Judas. “You’re a liar!” said Dylan. His persona is every bit as interesting as his music. For evidence, check out the Martin Scorsese bio “No Direction Home” sometime.