Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Me and Bob Dylan, Slight Return

I remember now. I remember why Dylan seemed less than essential when I turned 14 in 1968. Two simple lists might do it:

Dylan releases:

1967 John Wesley Harding
1968
1969 Nashville Skyline

World events:

1967 list here
1968 list here
1969 list here

From those lists, I suppose I would highlight the escalation of the Vietnam War and anti-war protest, the dangerous nuclear face-offs of the Cold War, race riots in the USA, the events of May '68 in Paris, the RAF (Baader-Meinhof), the "Six Day War" in the Middle East, the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the shootings of Rudi Dutschke and Andy Warhol, Enoch Powell's "Rivers of Blood" speech, the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Days of Rage, British troops in Northern Ireland ...

It was a turbulent, angry time. People who focus on the "Summer of Love" have no idea what they're talking about. Dylan's turn to quiescent Americana and away from politics at that precise moment in history seemed merely to underline his irrelevance. Radical left politics was on the upturn, and a singer who had formerly seemed a spokesman for radical youth was recording in Nashville with Johnny Cash (not then the apotheosis of Cool he has somehow subsequently become).

I rest my case. I also note that those Wikipedia lists record the first performances of Fairport Convention and Led Zeppelin. One might also note the launch of Island Records' "pink label", surely a defining event in anyone's chronicle of World Events.

18 comments:

Martin H. said...

Yes, these were momentous events. More than enough to cause a 13 year old to take his eye off the ball. But at this point in my life, I was intrigued by Dylan's words and learning to play guitar in a rudimentary way. Political and social injustice didn't sink in until later and, until it did, I only really protested against going to school.

Mike C. said...

Martin,

It's quite a list -- and I haven't even put in the more usual "Can you remember the 60s?" type of thing like the Moon landing, the self-destruction of the Beatles, Charles Manson, Monty Python, Isle of Wight Festival, Woodstock, Altamont ... It was the birth of the modern world.

I remember when "John Wesley Harding" came out, the main thing (as we flipped through the record racks in W.H. Smith after school) was trying to make out the alleged faces in the tree branches. I don't think I ever knew anyone that owned a copy.

Mike

Martin H. said...

Yes, I was there, although my recollection of the 60s were skewed, following the painful divorce of my parents. In some ways, the experience made me more sensitive to change, but it also drove me towards anything that offered sanctuary. In short, I had enough personal guff to sort through, without occupying myself with whatever ailed the world around me.

I first became aware of JWH through the older sister of a friend. Inevitably, I became distracted and ultimately preoccupied with the older sister.

Mike C. said...

Ah, older women and Dylan... I have a story about that, too, but it will have to remain untold. I wonder where she is now, and whether she still thinks Dylan is some kind of avatar? She tried very hard to make me a convert, but it was never going to happen.

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

Strangely, I find I can often enjoy Dylan's songs when performed by other people, but not when sung by him. It's the voice I can't stand.

Mike C. said...

Martyn,

You're far from alone in that. I have grown to admire Dylan's ability to "phrase" a song -- it's easy to caricature his voice, but almost impossible to imitate his way of spacing out the words, which is very expressive.

"Forever Young" is a classic example -- unlistenable, on one level, as he wobbles all over the notes, but compellingly moving (I find, anyway) in a way that the many covers are not. "Simple Twist of Fate" is another.

But, as I say, I'm not really a fan, and even Dylan concedes that, say, the Hendrix "All Along The Watchtower" is "definitive".

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Kevin Ayres used to say that when things get serious, "throw in a banana".

With that in mind, has anyone else noticed that "Down to the Waterline" - the opening track on the first Dire Straits album - seems to be a re-write of "Simple Twist of Fate"? Or maybe I've spent too long on Planet Dave making James Burke-type connections.

"Blind Willie McTell" from "Bootleg Dylan volume 3" is absolutely superb (over to Mr Burke: Dylan/Knopfler/listenable Dylan/sublime performance). Oops! Geekdom.

Mike C. said...

"Geekdom" (or "Nerdsville"?). Hmm, yes, Dave, I think you've outed yourself in a big way, there...

The only comment I have is that not a few of Dylan's songs are, shall we say, "adaptations" (appropriations?) of existing material. As I'd heard "Nottamun Town" years before I heard "Masters of War", I was suitably shocked...

Mind you, on the subject of "appropriation":

As you have kids, and no doubt have spent many happy bedtimes with "In the Night Kitchen" and "Where the Wild Things Are" in hand, check out "Little Nemo in Slumberland" on Google images, and be prepared to gasp.

I cannot comprehend how Sendak explains this. (Little Nemo was published in the teens of the 20th century). His whole graphic style is borrowed, lock, stock and barrel, not to mention whole panels.

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Okay, nerdsville rides again - I couldn't find my copy of "The Penguin Book of The History of Comics" (honest!) so have referred to Wikipedia:

"In fact, the imagery is very similar to Winsor McKay's Sunday comic strip series Little Nemo from the early 1900s. Maurice Sendak has cited these comics as influential in his work, and on page five of Night Kitchen, one of the ingredients shown has a subtitle saying "Chicken Little, Nemo mass", a nod to this influence."

But there's nothing wrong with showing one's influences - look at the way Jim Steranko nods to Jack Kirby and Neal Adams nods to Jim Steranko etc in 1970's Marvel & DC Comics.

Or is that just taking my geekdoom a tad too far?

Mike C. said...

Influence? INFLUENCE??

As in, "My essay was influenced by Mandy's essay, sir, I never copied it!"

I must go and check the copyright statement and acknowledgments on our copy -- I don't recall any mention of an "influence" there.

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Possibly "influence" was an understatement but we started out talking about rock'n'roll. Dylan/Guthrie; Bowie/Reed; Oasis/Beatles; Eagles/Jethro Tull (oh yes); Led Zeppelin/Spirit & Jansch; everybody/Neil Young etc et al.

Artists and writers have been ripping each other off for years and years.

I guess that often, if you don't know the original you probably don't care.

Is there really anything original nowadays?

Mike C. said...

Dave,

True enough -- as the saying goes, "Where there's a hit, there's a writ". But the Sendak/McKay thing irks me, much more than any copycatting in music. Not sure why.

Mike

Martyn Cornell said...

Oasis/Beatles? Yes, but before that, John Lennon/Arthur Alexander. And all the way back past JS Bach being influenced by Vivaldi, to when the second Homo habilis was influenced by the first one to bang two rocks together. (Thus, of course, inventing "rock" music …)

Mike C. said...

"rock music"... Heh!

We are approaching a discussion of classicism vs. romanticism here (or "tradition vs. innovation"), and I'm not going there today. Another time.

Mike

Tony_C said...

I think the point is that Dylan got scared by the way he was being viewed as a kingpin of the civil rights movement. That is the impression I got from reading his memoirs, which I recommend highly.

Of course R2 had acres of coverage of Dylan around his birthday, including a great docu about the making of Blonde on Blonde. Don't know if it's still available.

Mike C. said...

Tony,

I'll look that up, I've never really understood the cult of Blonde on Blonde. I've always thought that no one we knew (who was the same age as us) was into Dylan, at least as I recall.

Apart from one or two older folks, I don't think I knew a Dylan cultist until I go to university. Weirdly, it seemed to be something that people at boarding schools were into.

Mike

Tony_C said...

Yes, I'd never heard of "West Coast" music before university either. I was more into the English rock and blues scenes.

Graham Laughton was the first big fan I met. You probably don't remember him, but you slept in his bed one night. He was not in it at the time, I hasten to add.

Tony_C said...

Graham Laughton. Dylan fan, that is.