I’ll run through some of my favorite Dylan music which I thought of when I started writing this series but haven’t mentioned in previous posts. Blowin’ in the Wind was his first classic. It’s hard for me to get back to the hopeful naivety which provides its power, but still a classic. Like a Rolling Stone led off one of his finest albums, Highway 61 Revisited, with its aching tale of karma, loss, harsh reality, and homelessness. A couple songs later comes It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry, a great shuffling piano and harmonica blues.
Positively 4th Street: I’ve never personally felt this degree of disgust with an individual but here’s one of the greatest putdowns ever, concluding a song full of them-- “I wish that for just one time you could stand inside my shoes, you’d know what a drag it is to see you” Just Like a Woman: I think of it as a beautiful touching song but it pissed off a lot of feminists. Dylan was happy to egg them on by occasionally changing a lyric to “she bakes just like a woman”.
The mid-70s was my favorite Dylan period, highlighted by what most people consider his best album, Blood on the Tracks. I’m one of those people, even with the nine minute mistake of Lily, Rosemary, & the Jack of Hearts which doesn’t fit with the rest of album which is filled with heartache that seems more real and personal rather than overtly fictional characters. Idiot Wind was a favorite song at the time. I can remember snarling along with anger and misanthropy and jealousy and self-loathing even back then. The next album Desire wasn’t quite as good but Emmylou Harris’s vocals and Scarlet Rivera’s violin made for a memorable sound.
The 1975 Rolling Thunder tour which featured many of the songs from these two albums is captured on a release in the official bootleg series. These high energy fast songs (reportedly driven by lots of speed) aren’t the definitive versions but they’re interesting versions; it’s not a favorite of some people but at least his vocals are understandable. I also have three cds of live Dylan concert versions of songs from Blood on the Tracks which were put together by fans.
The born again religious period made me stop paying attention to Dylan releases so I didn’t notice Oh Mercy at the time it was released. It was a Chris Smither cover of What Was It You Wanted which made me finally check out the album. I liked the sound which producer Daniel Lanois provided and have a cd of alternate takes; some didn’t like Lanois’s production and Dylan apparently had issues with him, yet he used him again to produce another of my favorite albums, Time Out of Mind. That one was released while I was managing a college bookstore where I chose the music, which one student said always made coming into the store interesting because of the variety. I remember telling people I considered this Dylan’s best album since Blood on the Tracks.
I used to care, but things have changed
Clearly, one thing that hasn’t changed much is my love of music. It may not have quite as much emotional power over me as it once did but it’s still one of my favorite ways to spend my time. The arts in general still matter to me, but almost nothing else about the human world does.
I used to march, to protest, to write passionately on a variety of social issues which I no longer care about. As society has moved further away from interacting with the natural world, I’ve chosen to remove myself further from society. And it’s a society which has become increasingly fractured, with no shared values or goals. There is no human issue, including matters of life and death, which I consider important compared to what our species is doing to nature and other species because of our overpopulation, greed, selfishness, and shallowness. Earthquakes, explosions, economies, wars, who’s shooting who--I don’t care. The last human disaster that mattered to me was Katrina, and that was only because of location.
For the most part, being among people irritates me. As Anders Osborne sings in one of the songs on his great latest release Flowerbox—I used to be sexy, now everything vexes me. And I’m ten years older than him! Imagine how vexed I am!
Next and last up: http://bobdylan.com/songs/not-dark-yet