Sunday, 26 April 2009

Dylan: The Write Stuff

I’m going to see Bob Dylan in Edinburgh next Sunday. I’ve never seen him before and I not sure I want to this time, but I feel I should. I’m kind of looking upon it as I would a trip to the dentist or filling in a tax return, something that simply has to be done – and who knows, maybe you’ll feel better afterwards.

I don’t think I’ll be rushing to hear his new album, Together Through Life (awful title). Only the promise of accordion tempts me – I love the accordion, but is it enough? I didn’t like Modern Times much, thought it was ludicrously over-rated by many critics for what it was. Musically it just felt … atrophied. I’m not a blues fan, which doesn’t really help when it comes to post-millennial Dylan. He hasn’t written a really decent tune for over a decade, not since "Trying to Get to Heaven" and "Standing in the Doorway". Or perhaps "Mississippi".

His music means a lot to me – but I think his mind means more. In fact, I think he should stop making music and just write. Chronicles was great, and I’d love to see him write a book purely about music. I don’t think anybody describes music better. The much-circulated interview with Bill Flanagan – the only one Dylan has done to promote the new album – is simply electrifying when it gets to the part where he starts talking about his favourite writers. Listen to this:

Warren Zevon? “Down hard stuff. "Join me in L.A." sort of straddles the line between heartfelt and primeval.”

That’s good, but it gets better.

John Prine? “Prine's stuff is pure Proustian existentialism. Midwestern mindtrips to the nth degree. All that stuff about "Sam Stone" the soldier junky daddy and "Donald and Lydia," where people make love from ten miles away. Nobody but Prine could write like that.”

That’s brilliant. And what about Bob Dylan? How did he turn out this way?

“The side show performers - bluegrass singers, the black cowboy with chaps and a lariat doing rope tricks. Miss Europe, Quasimodo, the Bearded Lady, the half-man half-woman, the deformed and the bent, Atlas the Dwarf, the fire-eaters, the teachers and preachers, the blues singers. I remember it like it was yesterday. I got close to some of these people. I learned about dignity from them. Freedom too. Civil rights, human rights. How to stay within yourself. Most others were into the rides like the tilt-a-whirl and the rollercoaster. To me that was the nightmare. All the giddiness. The artificiality of it. The sledge hammer of life. It didn't make sense or seem real. The stuff off the main road was where force of reality was. At least it struck me that way. When I left home those feelings didn't change.”

Yes, that’s him. And yes, he should stop singing and recycling tired old blues shapes and start talking more. Write it down and let us read it. I’ll tell him next Sunday.


last year's girl said...

I'm going to the Glasgow show, but only because one of my friends had a spare ticket. I've seen him before, at the SECC a couple of years ago... it's a strange experience, because "my" Dylan is the Dylan of the early 60s - a Dylan I obviously missed the chance to see by, er, about thirty years. The music is so important to me, but it's hard to reconcile that love with the contemporary figure sometimes.

I quite enjoyed Modern Times, but haven't been able to convince myself to drop twenty quid on the new album yet. Perhaps I should give it a listen on Spotify before I make up my mind.

I hope you get something out of the Playhouse show though - I'll look forward to reading about it here afterwards.

Anonymous said...

Yes, yes, yes,
and you should stop writing today
and start singing your rubbish away

Steve said...

The problem with Dylan - as the anonymous caller above makes very clear - is that his shamefully contemptuous attitude to his audience and his own music is legitimised by the sad sacks who travel the world to see him and who won't countenance a word of criticism against him. Blind devotion is never great for encouraging creativity.

I've seen his three times, and after the last I swore I wasn't going to be hoodwinked again into this charade about him 'reinveting' his songs each night and all that bluster. He is *terrible* live, absolutely shocking. End of story.

If people stopped going, it might force him to actually put some care and concern into what he does on stage - and perhaps acknowledge the audience now and again. Until that happens, I'll resist paying 50 quid to let him wallow in the unthinking adulation of the Bobcats. The Emperor Has No Clothes.

Richard said...

Since 1978, I've seen Dylan about 7 times. I've heard him in small theaters, amphitheaters, and sports arenas. The last show I caught was in 2005. I have never been disappointed. All of the shows were good, a few were great, and I think every one held at least one transcendent moment. I have to tell you, though, I don't think I'd go to another show. Granted the bootleg sound we get to hear is really bad, but even so, the shows are expensive, the set lists aren't that compelling, and, well, I've heard the man in his prime.

Anonymous said...

I feel the same way about the Leonard Cohen in London DVD. Love him, but I have the early albums, and that is enough. And sadly probably better.