Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's BĂȘte Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Monday, September 18, 2006

Good ol' Dylan.

Now why'd I have to go and diss Bob Dylan last night? What's up with that?

I mean, it's true, what I said, that's how I feel about Dylan's songwriting, but who in blazes cares, and why should anybody? AND -- it's hardly the whole story of how I feel.

I guess I was feeling frisky because Suzanne Vega up and said it -- he never pretended to be a nice guy -- and that's what I've often disliked about his songs -- even songs that I can understand as well-written and cohesive, like "Like a Rolling Stone," I often hate, because it feels like watching an abusive jerk laying into some woman who probably has her "moments," as we all do, but why is it pleasurable to witness? If you like it, if you find it cathartic, that's fine -- it is art, it's not everyday life, it's not a documentary recording of an actual dressing down of an actual woman who's there.

Dylan is huge. He looms large. J-Lon, in comments, quotes Picasso as saying that great artists steal, whereas bad artists copy. And Dylan is the Picasso of folk and rock, the genre-shattering force who did things different and influenced everybody after. Opened rock up to surrealism and different forces of satire. Like Picasso, Dylan's feeling for his fellow humans usually -- but not always -- strikes me as thin and stretched and parched. Also like Picasso, he's often a mediocre colorist. Picasso could color his pictures brilliantly beautifully, but more often than not, he didn't care about the color. Same with Dylan and record making. But always, there's the brilliance of their lines -- Picasso's physical lines, and Dylan's melodic phrasing. I compared him favorably to Billie Holiday and Sinatra and Willie Nelson, but he might be my favorite in that regard; or, him and Billie. Willie & Sinatra sometimes feel caught between wanting to sound conversational and wanting to do it interestingly, and not landing sure-footedly. When Dylan sounds un-conversational, he never sounds unsure. He's got style by the mile.

Some of my songwriting friends haven't been greatly affected by Dylan. I'm not one of them. 10 years ago or so I laughed out loud when I thought to myself, "Yeah, he's written five or 10 good songs." In truth, I think the number is greater than that.

So, yeah, right, whatever. Dylan is his Dylan-ness. His Dylanosity. When Dylan Thomas's father wanted to revive the old Welsh name for his newborn baby, Dylan Thomas's mother hesitated, because the traditional pronunciation is "dull-un," and she worried that people would call him "dull one." The Welsh poet's self-chosen namesake is many things, but not that.

One more thing, since we're on the topic. I enjoyed Dylan's memoir, but there's absolutely no reason to believe anything he says about his personal life and interests in it that hasn't been corroborated by other sources. Compound memory's inherit slipperiness and errancy with a lifetime and a career made out of put-ons and masquerading, and there's no reason to believe him unless there's another witness. I believe what he says about music he says he loves, and that's my favorite part of the book; but the other stuff -- yeah, maybe. It makes a good story, and that's all that matters.
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