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September 26, 2005

Obligatory Dylan post

I've been meaning to write about the new Dylan documentary for a while, but I got busy, and now Slate's David Greenberg has beaten me to my insight, which is this:

"Dylan, for all his efforts to keep living his life and making new music, remains trapped by our '60s fetish, with even serious, well-intentioned directors like Martin Scorsese complicit. In one scene in No Direction Home, a young folkie, peeved that Dylan has gone electric, sniffs: 'I like his earlier records but this I just can't stick.' The audience is meant to feel superior to this shortsighted purist, knowing as we do that Dylan was then creating his greatest work. But although the film can offer ironic distance on this stooge, it betrays no awareness that at some level it shares the same blinkered vision."

Had I actually written about this before Greenberg got around to it, I was going to compare "our" smug superiority to those who supposedly booed Dylan at Newport (a myth that the new film apparently encourages despite its having been debunked) to our refusal to even deal -- more than 25 years later -- with the people (i.e., "us," if you're a boomer, which I'm not) who really did boo him at his "born again" concerts. Why is it cool when Dylan challenged people's expectations of him by going electric, but not when he went religious? By making a film that stops in 1966, Scorsese can't even begin to answer that question, or countless others that arise out of Bob's critically neglected middle and late careers.

Related:
Eclectic and insanely great Dylan links.

An iMix of 244 songs mentioned in Chronicles Volume One.

Posted by Daniel Radosh

Comments

Your "debunked" link is broken...

But I have read somewhere or other that the "booing" at Newport was due to the fact that, well, the sound system sucked. The Folk Festival had a history of not accomadating electric performers very well, and there were no monitors, etc.

But do you think that the "refusal to deal" with the negative reaction to everything Dylan did from 1979-1989 comes, at least in part, from the fact that Dylan himself dismisses these years? He seems to agree with the critical consensus that he was "lost" or treading water during the '80s, up to and even including Oh Mercy.

That said, I love "Brownsville Girl."

Link fixed. Click it and you can hear exactly how the created reacted and why. Basically it was a short set more than anything else.

I mentioned the booing at the born again concerts in particular because it's such a nice parallel with going electric, but it's not just negative reactions from the later period that critics typically refuse to deal with, it's any import from those periods at all. True, Dylan glosses over 1979-1989 (though that's still 13 years beyond when Scorsese stops) but the old saying, "trust the song, not the singer," is never more apt than with Bob. That he dismisses this period is interesting perhaps, but not an excuse for Dylanologists to do so. Anyway, I don't think Boomer Dylanologists are just following his lead. I think they -- especially storytellers like Marty -- just like a nice simple hero's narrative: out-of-nowhere rise, reluctant fame, voice of a generation, dramatic flameout, graceful retirement.

I'm not saying that the middle and later years can match the early ones for overall combination of musical genius and social relevance (though he had far more great music during them than most people know -- I'd list Every Grain of Sand as one of his all-time best, born again and all) but if you want to understand an artist you have to look at the messy experiments too.

By the way, I don't think I take Dylan quite as seriously as that makes it sound. I mean, he's no Huckapoo.

It's odd with Dylan, isn't it, because a hardcore fan of (to pick a random example) The Fall will tell you that every album is essential, wheras Dylanologists act like curators, telling you what doesn't even belong in the catalog...

I personally think his 1991-present output surpasses in quality, if not "relevance," his "middle period" (Blue period?), but that's an almost boomer Dylanologist-approved opinion too, ain't it?

A compilation covering the best moments of Desire thru Down In the Groove just might equal anything else in his oeuvre, but in the '80s Dylan definitely stopped being the type of artist for whom it could be said that his "lows" are higher than most other artists' peaks.

The other thing the '80s showed for Dylan is that he should always steal, and seldom collaborate ("Brownsville Girl" aside).

I really think Huckapoo sold out when they redesigned the website, by the way. Judases, all of them.

And yeah, I should shut up now before I start channeling Greil Marcus.

A compilation covering the best moments of Desire thru Down In the Groove just might equal anything else in his oeuvre.

Ooh! A list! Well, you stack the deck by including Desire, but let's see. Off the top of my head (with a little help from bobdylan.com):

Isis (live)
Black Diamond Bay
Sara
Abandoned Love
Senor
Where Are You Tonight
Slow Train Coming
I Believe In You
Every Grain of Sand
Heart of Mine
Jokerman
Sweetheart Like You
Don't Fall Apart on Me Tonight
Someone's Got a Hold of My Heart
Blind Willie McTell
Emotionally Yours
Brownsville Girl
Got My Mind Made Up

Hmm. Not bad at all, but equal to any other 12-year period? Freewheelin' to Blood on the Tracks? Oh Mercy to Love and Theft? Not even close.

"Tight Connection to my Heart (Has Anybody Seen my Love?)" is one of the most underrated songs in the Dylan catalog, cheesy synths notwithstanding. But pretty much everything on "Knocked Out Loaded" (and I know I'm gonna piss you and Parenee off here, but I'm sorry, it's true, that includes "Brownsville Girl," which may be the most embarassing moment in Sam Shepard's career with the exception of that movie he did with Susan Sarandon) is worthless. "they Killed Him?" You can undersrand why.

Man, even the comments around here are getting pretty corrupt.

But what I meant was that a comp like the one Radosh made could almost stand up to any other individual album in the catalog (with the exception of the Holy Three, of course), not that it'd be equal to any other period as a whole.

And Balk, you are WRONG WRONG WRONG! Knocked Out Loaded is 24 minutes of crap and 11 minutes of GENIUS.

any other individual album. Yes, that's more justifiable. Though I believe in the Holy Three Plus One doctrine.

cheesy synths. For me it's the cheesy backup singers, which is why I opted for the more lo-fi, alternately-titled take.

Hey, Alex, I'm a big fan of the Fall, and I will gladly admit there are at least three Fall albums no one needs (though other Fall fans may disagree with my picks):

I Am Kurious Oranj (has good songs, but they're all on "The A-Sides" or "The B-Sides", making this entirely unnecessary)
Cerebral Caustic (I can never remember how a single song on this album goes)
Are You Are Missing Winner (crappiest production ever!)

Also inessential but not insultingly so:
Code: Selfish
The Light User Syndrome
Levitate (production not as bad as "Missing Winner", but still crappy)

As for Bob Dylan...actually, I've never listened to Bob Dylan; I'm sure he's pretty good.

Ah, but Francis! I Am Kurious Oranj features one of my favorite Mark E Smith lines:

They were positively deranjed
And they were Kurious Oranj

(translate into MES speak-ah at your own discretion-ah)

Though that track is also on the B sides disc, ain't it...

You have to understand how docu's like this are made to understand why it stops at 1966. There is obviously a high level of collaboration between the subject and filmmaker. He who holds the access to the subject (and many necessary copyrights and the ability to grant permission) calls the tune.

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