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

Monday, May 14, 2007

The last couple of days, songs of mine have been going through my head, one from a few years ago, and one from 1990 or '91, from my last year in Chicago. And then I heard "Tangled Up in Blue" in a cafe yesterday, and was put in my place! Not in a bad way -- I may never write a song as good as "Tangled," but few do. Or, rather, lots of songs may be as good in their way, but "Tangled" is unique in its lyrical breadth.

Went home and put on the only Dylan that I have on disc, Self-Portrait, my favorite Dylan album, easily. Maybe no masterpiece songs, like on his mid-60s and mid-70s peaks, but no super-annoying songs either, and great performances, and great covers, and I love the bad-assed-ness of the conceit, that Bob at his most-obviously masked, switching masks from song to song, his two styles duetting with each other on a single song (country crooner Bob duetting with folky raspy Bob on a fantastic cover of "The Boxer") -- that the Self Portrait is a collection of masks that don't fit together. The only album that remotely reminds me of it is The Great Rock-n-Roll Swindle.

Songs. I LOVE SONGS. I want to shout it out. I LOVE SONGS. Like the Psalms say, Make a Joyful Noise.

Dylan's presence looms large in the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone, getting an interview from The Man himself, founder and publisher Jann Wenner. And it's a great interview -- hilarious to see Wenner vainly trying to match wits with Dylan, and being arrogant and famous enough to call bullshit on Dylan when Dylan's being evasive, only he isn't nearly quick enough -- and who would be? -- to trap the master evader.

Bob, come on.

No, you come on.

Then, a little later . . .

What can I do to get you to take this seriously?

I'm taking it seriously.

You're not.

Of course I am. You're the one who's here to be celebrated. Forty years . . . forty years with a magazine that obviously now has intellectual recognition. Did you ever think that would happen when you started?

I was taking it seriously.

Look how far you've come. You're the one to be interviewed. I want to know just as much from you as you want to know from me.

When they cut the comedy, Dylan has some acutely perceptive and touchingly generous things to say about his peers.

What do you think of Neil Young?

Neil is very sincere, if nothing else. He's sincere, and he's got a God-given talent, with that voice of his, and the melodic strain that runs through absolutely everything he does. He could be at his most thrashy, but it's still going to be elevated by some melody. Neil's the only one who does that. There's nobody in his category.

Tell me about George Harrison.

George got stuck with being the Beatle that had to fight to get songs on records because of Lennon and McCartney. Well, who wouldn't get stuck? If George had had his own group and was writing his own songs back then, he'd have been probably just as big as anybody. George had an uncanny ability to just play chords that didn't seem to be connected in any kind of way and come up with a melody and a song. I don't know anybody else who could do that, either. . . .

What was your relationship with John Lennon like? Somewhat competitive?

Yeah. Only to a certain extent, but not really. Him and McCartney both, really, they were fantastic singers. Lennon, to this day, it's hard to find a better singer than Lennon was, or than McCartney was and still is. I'm in awe of McCartney. He's about the only one that I am in awe of. He can do it all. And he's never let up. He's got the gift for melody, he's got the rhythm, he can play any instrument. He can scream and shout as good as anybody, and he can sing a ballad as good as anybody. And his melodies are effortless, that's what you have to be in awe of. . . . [Ellipses in original.] He's just so damn effortless. I just wish he'd quit [laughs]. Everything that comes out of his mouth is just framed in melody.

Maybe now with Dylan's endorsement, people will see Chaos and Creation in the Backyard as the return-to-form wonder that it is. I'm still baffled by the indifference that record received.

And Bob is right. Neil's a great guitarist, but his great secret is his gift as a melodist. He's right about the Beatles too.

And here we are, 40 years later, still mooning over Dylan and Beatles. As if subsequent rock music is just a footnote to the Beatles and Dylan.

It isn't. Madonna and Chuck D -- two notable absences from Rolling Stone's parade of white guys (20 interviews in their big anniversary issue, 18 white men, 2 white women) -- aren't particularly prefigured by Dylan and the Beatles -- or are they? In a way, Madonna and Chuck D represent the split between Dylan as verbal master and Dylan as shape-shifting persona maven. With their own unique spins.

Simon Reynolds* waxed excellent on the decline of musical intensity in rock in a recent interview by k-punk. I think he's right -- music appears to have a less intense place in the culture than it once did. Simon attributes this to a lack of edginess in rock, but the lack of edginess may be a symptom, not a cause.

Edginess has been subsumed into the mainstream. Nothing is more corporate than edginess, nothing more mom-and-dad play-it-safe play-your-prescribed-role fit-into-the-pre-existing-narrative than going for being "edgy." Maybe mom and dad won't completely approve of the tattoos or the unorthodox piercings -- but maybe they have them themselves; in any case, mom and dad will understand the career move behind it. Even if the career is really unlikely to pan out. Extravagant visual accoutrements on one's body won't be a barrier to employment any more. It's safe to come out of the freak-cave. Anybody can be freaky now.

After our Mother's Day brunch Sunday my spouse and our kid and I walked downtown to go to the art museum. We admired the old buildings along the way, and we took a pedestrian bridge we'd gone under hundreds of times without noticing before. A very nice walk.

Punctuated by a sweet handmade sign in a bank window rooting on Blake, Seattle-land's local American Idol finalist. Yea, Go Blake, Seattle's American Idol! As if he were a sports team.

I've seen some of his clips on the internet (the station that broadcasts the show does not reach our house since a hospital expanded several blocks away), and I've enjoyed all of the would-be Idols, to one degree or another. My 50-something African American co-worker is partial to Jordin -- "that girl has a beautiful voice!" -- but nobody has caught me. But in a recent "historical" issue of one of the glossy mags -- I think it was Life but it might have been Time -- the decade that I recently saw dubbed "the ohs" (by SFJ writing in the New Yorker) was represented culturally by American Idol and another reality show.

A friend recently sent me a CD-R of a variety of stuff, mostly current indie bands, and he chose well in that I like all the songs -- but nothing really grabs me. The songs are fine, but not especially compelling. The disintensification of music. Music made out of a compulsion to make music, but not to make anything particularly distinctive or unique.

The iPod is the perfect tool for the dis-intensified age. That brilliant ad campaign, successfully glamorizing the individualized, cut-off, isolated consumption of music, and conferring on the isolated status of the earphone listener an image of passion and abandon. Whereas the net effect of the MP3 players has been to mega-ultra-ubiquitize music which had been ubiquitous already. And something that's there, always there, always waiting for us to consume it, always available -- how could we expect that people would have an intense relationship with that? That super-cheapo always everywhere slice of the service economy, serviced by mostly drastically underpaid or volunteer people. (I'm a volunteer; please download my music for free at my band's web site; link at the top right of this page.) Some earphone listeners do have that intense relationship, I'm sure, but not many. I'm guessing that Simon is right when he says about the download-and-earphone age,

I sense that there’s a lot more skimming and stockpiling, an obsessive-compulsion to hear everything and hoard as much music as you can, but much less actual obsession with specific arty-facts.

But I feel no compulsion to mourn. Like Frank O'Hara said, If people don't need poetry bully for them. Music is cheap-ified. I enjoy it too.

* I really enjoyed meeting Simon, however briefly, when he was in town for the Pop Music Conference a few weeks ago. Enjoyed meeting Douglas Wolk as well.

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