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Saturday, January 5, 2013

LISTENING TO BOB DYLAN



Am listening to Bob Dylan's TEMPEST again. It hasn't left the jukebox since it came into the house. Whenever I want to hear some music, there is nothing else I want to hear. It satisfies my music sense completely, somehow, now. That's a hard thing to say about it, but that's how it is. The satisfaction is like I get from Kronos Quartet playing Philip Glass, the Alban Berg Quartet playing Dvorjak, the Stanley Brothers, Ralph Stanley, the Carter Family, Lucinda Williams. Odd as it looks, this is the musical company Bob Dylan has in my own particular aesthetic, which Bob Dylan was instrumental in developing from all the attention I gave his lyrics over my entire adult life. He has an integrity I've admired all the way along. It's an integrity that goes with him through all his musical changes, through his personal life. He's been a superstar since before he was 25. In a sense, he started a superstar. I heard someone in the A&E Biography video call him a genius. I'd heard that all the way along and have thought about in it the past. This time, after he's been writing his songbook over half a century, the word reverberated with the answer to what it is about Bob Dylan. I've come to see that all the way along he has probably seen himself an American traditionalist. He may consider that too egoic to think about, but he has the reins of the American tradition in his hands. He's carrying it through to the next generation. He's every bit as American traditional as the Stanley Brothers. Dylan is what was next.

Bob Dylan has musical associations in every part of my adult life, from It Aint Me Babe to I'll Pay In Blood, but not my own. I have to pause to listen to the song Tempest, the story of the Titanic. It feels like standing before Old Glory hearing the national anthem after 6 weeks of boot camp. It feels like a song of respect for all the people that went down with the ship. It's watching the ship of state go down as we have been seeing since 1980. It strikes me as a song of respect/love for the American people going down with the ship of state. The same kind of innocence, didn't see it coming. Jumped on the unsinkable Titanic and it sank. It sank at the height of party time, between 12 and 1. What a drag. The rich love to party. Midnight in the North Sea with no schedule for a few days, enough good liquor and wine to be feeling about right, partying, dancing, whatever they do in first class, and then in the hold where the immigrants, the thick-fingered masses, were locked to prevent them from overwhelming the polite rich with their raffish ways. Seems unfair, but look at it like this, the immigrants from the UK were at sea in the territory of the rich with the permission of the rich. The maiden voyage of the unsinkable Titanic was an occasion for the rich to reek of privilege, the ultimate opening night at the opera. Anybody rich stays out of the poor part of town, because that's where the poor rule. Somebody rich would be mugged and likely killed. It runs both ways. In Capitalism the rich and poor are enemies. Both the movie and the Dylan song in this time point to Capitalism going down to the bottom of the sea. It has come to its completion. It's time for whatever is next.

Watching the video biography after seeing another video documentary and before that, Scorceses Dylan film, and a few more video bios I've seen over the last several years have filled me in on his life pretty well. The theme that comes through all the films and through his music is that he is a musician songwriter and singer who wants to write songs and sing them, wants to be allowed to do that, doesn't want to be boxed in a corporate category, has become his own category, doesn't want to be a spokesman for a generation or anything that is a handle he can be grasped by. He's a musician writing and singing songs. He taught me early on to allow him his owns space, don't expect of him. He explored his own path. "I've faced stronger walls than yours." He went his own way as a true artist, telling his audience all along that he requires the freedom of an artist to explore where his art form leads him. He left me when he made his album Saved. I listened to the first side and there was the didactic side of Bob Dylan as preacher: you better not, you hadn't oughta. I gave it away. Never listened to the second side. It was ok with me that he went that way, but I didn't have to go with him. Been there, done that, not going back. It was several albums later before I listened to him again. Blood On The Tracks and Desire caught my ear again and pulled me slowly back.

I'd realized I didn't have to follow Bob Dylan everywhere he went. He was on his own trip and I'm on mine. It's like friends who bond in a certain period of their lives, times change, each of their lives change and they grow apart. No problem. It's just how it is in a time of change, in a life of change. I never connected with him like I did before. Appreciated him. Listened to much of the music from the period I missed and liked it well enough. I found I'd become addicted to the anthemic Bob Dylan and he'd left that mind, leaving me in the dust. When I'd freed myself enough to allow him to make his songs without having to be what I expect them to be, I came to a place where I could listen to everything with equal enjoyment. Then his last 5 albums pulled me all the way back. I couldn't listen to Modern Times for a long time, had my copy about a year before I could listen to it. I was afraid to hear it, afraid I was going into it with expectation. I waited a year until my expectations dimmed away, waited until I could hear it fresh without any pre-conceptions. I wanted to received it plain, like it is a new project by Skeeter & the Skidmarks, people who are musicians and love to make music. When I put it on the player I was ready to hear it as a bunch of musicians who make music first; lotsa musicians in the world, this what these guys are doing. It turned out to be the right approach for me. I needed to go into it with that freedom. And the freedom opened Dylan back up for me. Now I hear him the best he's ever been, a poet whose mature books of poems are simply stellar.


          last night I heard you talking in your sleep

          saying things you shouldn't say

          oh baby you just might have to go to jail some day


In the A&E Biography film they talked about his album SELF-PORTRAIT as a critical failure and not very good, etc. I think it was the one that came after his period of recovery after the motorcycle wreck that was also a wreck of running himself into the ground with is work. I loved it. It still is one of my favorite Dylan albums. In fact, these latter 5 albums tend to hearken back to Self-Portrait in my ear. I think To Ramona was on it, one of my favorite Dylan songs. Boots of Spanish Leather. That is a classic Dylan song. I don't care at all about critical success or failure. I've written enough reviews of books, movies and music to know that critics are totally subjective. I learned never to see a movie Pauline Kael or Rex Reed liked back in the late 60s, the last time I paid any attention to critics of anything. I had a friend who never talked about a movie he saw until after he'd read what critics had to say, then he'd quote the critics without citing his sources. I thought, why bother to see the movie, just read the critics. So I see the movie and don't read the critics. Too much, way too much, critics steer us away from real art. Like Sergio Leone's Once Upon A Time In America, a critical bomb, while a beautiful, beautifully made film. But critics didn't get it. It didn't conform to expectations. I think that's something I've learned from Bob Dylan along the way, to give less value to expectation, to receive art openly, allowing it and the artist to be themselves, the same as I automatically expect allowance to be myself.

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roy lichtenstein

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