I bought the first Bob Dylan album. I saw it in a record shop with an interesting-looking guy on the front and the weirdest track-list I had ever set eyes on; what sort of songs were, See That my Grave is Kept Clean: In My Time of Dyin’: Man of Constant Sorrow? Certainly not the same stuff that Cliff and the Shadows were wanting us to buy. But it pretty much altered the course of my life. That’s what art does sometimes, it allows you to see the world in a completely different way. You have to be ready for it and I guess that at 18, I must have been ready.
Very soon after that of course, Eric brought out his version of House of the Rising Sun, and pretty soon everyone had heard of Bob Dylan although I think Nina Simone claimed credit for it. I believe that The Animals, who I saw numerous times around the North East clubs did acknowledge that it was her concert version they based their own recording upon [and not Dylan’s], although the song itself has a long folk heritage. Woody Guthrie for example sang and recorded a version back in the forties.
So, I was a big fan for several years and gobbled up everything he put out up until probably, Nashville Skyline which for Dylan was probably yet another ‘re-invention’ but for me, was too great a departure from what I thought he was about: poetry set to music.
In my novel, Train That Carried the Girl there is a character called, Zimmy who visits Kiri at home. Zimmy is a Dylanologist. He is not a real person or particularly based upon someone I have met, although I think there are a lot of them about. There is a guy called Martin Colyer, who blogs fairly constantly about Bob Dylan here and still loves what he does, buys and recommends recent albums, goes to his concerts, acknowledges that he can no longer sing but doesn’t care because it is and always was the lyrics for him and is for ever uncovering archive stuff that is essential listening/reading.
I think I have moved on. I listen to Jazz now . . . and World on Three. Comfort Zone? There may be a case for saying that. Colyer says that his lyrics now represent the thoughts and feelings of a 74-year old man, they are different to what he had to say back in his thirties but are still relevant; if not to everyone, then to other seventy-year olds. Asking that his grave is kept clean one might surmise? Same as when he was in his early thirties? But I find his rough delivery and bish, bash, bosh musical accompaniment a barrier, to be honest. When he used and experimented with bands and musicians from other genres, for example Daniel Lanois on Oh Mercy and Jaques Levy on Desire [Desire is in fact the last Bob Dylan record I bought] it all becomes so much more accessible. Not that I live in a comfort zone, I am challenged enough by life these days but books and literature [and Jazz and World on Three] are where I go for therapy, not Bob Dylan’s latest offering.
There is a new [November 2014] film just come out about Hockney, which I understand looks at his art not just down the years but at what interests him now; i pad art; driving along videotaping the countryside with nine digital cameras; collage; paint, even colour photocopiers. Another seventy-year old [77 actually] just going on and on. I blogged in October in a similar vein about Picasso, reaching for a new ‘artistic language’ until the day he died.
I guess Dylan is in the same bag. He is an artist and there is something he still wants to say, regardless of whether anyone is still listening.
Anyway, here are my five favourite Bob Dylan songs:
Tangled up in Blue from Blood on the Tracks
The Ballad of Hollis Brown from The Times They Are a-Changin
Bob Dylans Blues from Freewheelin’
Boots of Spanish Leather from The Times They Are a-Changin
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll from The Times They Are a-Changin
Lay Lady Lay from Nashville Skyline
So I have cheated and put in six, not five. It wouldn’t have been hard to find twenty.
Haven’t tried to put in Youtube links for these. They aren’t about performance.