After all the cultural acknowledgment and blanket coverage, Nick Triani decides we need one more article celebrating Bob Dylan's 80th year.
One Quart Magazine Playlist: Bob Dylan and his 80th Dream
Eurovision Song Contest fever certainly was big in Finland this year. I didn’t watch it but after the event it was great to see so many people energised by the evening. Blind Channel and the thought of live music (sort of.) And hey, did you notice that ROCK music is back big time? Somehow reflecting the battle between analog and digital, the face-off between organic versus electronic music has been raging on in the background. Not having live music available for a long time has made the public thirsty for real performances and real musicians, whatever they are. My point? The pandemic has shifted the musical palette. Back catalog is king and this often means music with a human touch, nostalgia for our perceived idea of popular music with feelings and emotions and ‘real’ instruments that we can all relate to. Cognitive music if you like. Even Billie Eilish is at it.
Back catalog is king and this often means music with a human touch, nostalgia for our perceived idea of popular music with feelings and emotions and ‘real’ instruments that we can all relate to. Cognitive music if you like
Bob Dylan and his 80th dream
Simultaneous to the general shifting of the musical sands, the cultural icon Bob Dylan celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this week. If you want a great argument for the organic, you can’t get a better touchstone. He is the ultimate live-in-the-studio one-taker. Yes, he’s a mystery to most of us, but that’s simply part of his talent, keeping up that veil of mysticism. I often think it must be fun being Bob Dylan: everybody raves about you as you release increasingly opaque and old sounding music which sounds like it’s there simply to please Dylan himself. Can’t say I’ve cared so much for Bob over the last 20 odd years. That doesn’t mean he isn’t one of my all time faves or hasn’t released some gems recently, just less frequently and it’s maybe not as exciting to me as that groovy music of his past.
I love Dylan’s 1960s stuff and the kitsch country-Bob who sings in a funny voice that came after that. The groovy Dylan who just looked so good. I could in reality check out of Bob around 1978 and still be eternally happy to proclaim him the greatest. Who can argue with that? No one it seems as everybody loves Bob, even those that didn’t used to. He’s been around long enough that he’s now back in fashion. In recent times I’ve come to appreciate Bob’s sidekick Joan Baez a lot more. Not as much as I appreciate Judy Collins or Dory Previn, but almost as much. These people are and have been as great as Bob. No voices of a generation, but who wants to be that? Not Bob, he’s been running away from it ever since. And here’s the rub: the constant modern love for all things Dylan is as much an indication of the fading power of popular music as any other indicator. It’s in the withered voice and one-note harmonica. The deeper meaning of Dylan’s lyrics and the fact that pop has rarely been better than it was around 1966. Those are the depressing facts.
…the constant modern love for all things Dylan is as much an indication of the fading power of popular music as any other indicator
That being said, here is my “Deep” Dylan playlist. I’m sure you’re sick of these things by now and of the blanket Dylan coverage we’re living through. It’s the last days of patriarchy, a final hurrah. Perhaps this sheds some light on some other Dylan music if you’re not a connoisseur . I’ve left out most of The Hits and featured mainly album tracks and unreleased gems. The contrast between 60s & 70s Dylan and the lost Bob of the 1980s is stark (I couldn’t find anything from Knocked out Loaded that sounded decent, though I love the song “Brownsville Girl”). So the playlist is top-loaded, but the more dignified tracks from the 1990s onwards are here. As is his late masterpiece “Murder Most Foul”. If we’re considering pop music as an artform that has greater meaning, then Dylan certainly acts as the lightning rod that delivers deeper understanding and serious themes. But that is perhaps putting too much meaning into what Dylan did. It could just be as Dylan told Baez in the bizarre home-movie Renaldo and Clara: “That’s what thought has to do with it, thought will fuck you up.”
Nick Triani is an editor and contributor to One Quart Magazine.