First post here.
You’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody
In the late ’70’s Bob Dylan – who is Jewish – had a religious conversion and became a born-again Christian. Like so many things Dylan, no one saw this coming. But he had by now gone through a particularly painful divorce and like so many people, was looking for more meaning in life. (And hasn’t his music in some way, shape, or form always been about that)?
Most of Dylan’s material from this period has been dismissed as being overly preachy. But I’ve always liked “Gotta Serve Somebody” from Slow Train Coming. I suppose that’s the case even if it’s just the person you’re working for:
A movie called Wonder Boys came out in the year 2000. (If you get a chance, see it. Michael Douglas plays a stoner professor). But what’s relevant here is that Dylan did a song for the movie called “Things Have Changed.” You can really hear Dylan’s voice start to fray here.
He won an Oscar for this and I remember him performing it either at the Oscars or Golden Globes. I recall everyone leaping to their feet to hail the genius with a standing ovation. But at home I was thinking, well that sucked. But this is a great song anyway.
Now recall that Dylan recorded his first album in 1962. So like all artists who span multiple decades, he had to struggle to stay relevant. Which is no easy feat in a pop market that favors the young, the immediate, the new. Dylan no longer represented any of these. (If I can go by the Grammy list, it is now heavily R&B and funk).
But against all odds, he had a late-career resurgence. Working with renowned producer Daniel Lanois (U2, Peter Gabriel) – who sounds like a real pain in the ass to work with – in the late ’90’s he created three well-regarded albums: Time out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Modern Times. I have a particularly hard time listening to these because Dylan’s voice is so shot, so scratchy that it’s just not appealing to me regardless of the quality of the songs. (And I loved his earlier voice. It was so expressive).
But that said, here’s a cool, somewhat bluesy tune from 1997’s “Time Out of Mind.”
For the last song, I need to go back a few years earlier, specifically to 1976. Dylan spent much of his formative late ’60’s years playing and recording with The Band. When they did their Last Waltz concert it only made sense that he would be prominent. “I Shall Be Released” is one of the great songs that came from that earlier collaboration. Dylan wrote it but The Band actually released it first on their highly influential first album, Music from Big Pink.
In addition to the guys in The Band, present on this track are Van Morrison, Ringo Starr, Neil Young, Ronnie Wood, Neil Diamond, Eric Clapton, Doctor John and Joni Mitchell.
If you can find it somewhere, check out the Martin Scorsese-directed documentary “No Direction Home.” Reporters’ zeal to ask a young Dylan stupid questions is matched only by the myriad ways he tells them to go fuck themselves. Hilarious.
Anyway, that’s my Dylan stuff. But there will be more somewhere down the road, perhaps featuring his lyrics or cover versions of his songs. Or both.
If you never got into Dylan, I urge you to rethink it. Because you’re missing some great stuff. You probably won’t like everything. But you’ll probably find something you love. And his music is still very much relevant.