October 27, 2014

"The idea that a New York teen-ager in 1981 would turn to Bob Dylan — after Dylan had turned to Jesus — rather than to rap or hardcore punk, was illogical."

"The only Dylan song I liked was Jimi Hendrix’s version of 'All Along the Watchtower,' and even that was stuffed with clunky Biblical references to princes and thieves. Dylan seemed like a square or a failed hippie, and I found both equally hard to take. During the next two decades, playing in bands and obsessing over records, I felt my ignorance of Dylan moving up to the front of my brain. I had, most likely, been put off by the idea of absorbing an enormous catalogue and interacting with an enormous fan base, any member of which would happily fill me in if I didn’t immediately offer up that, yes, he was born with the last name of Zimmerman and grew up in Hibbing, Minnesota. I suspect that this is how gaps in taste often work: even when we are old enough to know better, we dodge certain artists because we sense that engaging with them will be like signing up for a crash course. Where to start with Milton? Is this the year for Henry James?"

From a Sasha Frere-Jones piece about The Basement Tapes in The New Yorker. Frere-Jones was 14 in 1981.

27 comments:

Psota said...

If you can't enjoy "Another Side of Bob Dylan," "Blonde On Blonde" or "Blood on the Tracks," then don't bother. The crash course will not be necessary.

Ann Althouse said...

I started with "Bringing It All Back Home," the year it came out, listened to it every day until it was etched in my brain, and I added each new record as it came out and at the same time filled in the earlier albums. I listened to all of these over and over, along with the great cover versions of the period, most notably the things by The Byrds.

This had a profound effect on my mind. It's scary to think of all this exposure to one person at such an early age. How many of the great issues in life I found my way into through Dylan songs!

m stone said...

It's all perspective as Ann points out. When you're mature (18?) at the cusp of Dylan's greatness, the impact on the mind is lasting and, yes, profound.

This is an interesting piece of musicology by Sasha, but he was born too late. Dylan's conversion was a blip on his creative career.

I do like the verb "woodshed". I'm working on making "fluke" a verb.

chickelit said...

And something is happening here
But you don't know what it is
Do you, Frere-Jones?

RazorSharpSundries said...

First album I bought of Dylan's was the Greatest Hits - the first one that had my favorite Dylan songs, "Like A Rolling Stone," "Absolutely 4th St.," and "the Times they are A'Changin'." I got that when I was about 17, early 80's, and I heard some other songs on there like "I Want You," and "Subterranean Homesick Blues," that made me think, 'Hm, maybe I should get some of his other stuff.' So I went to the record store to purchase "Bringing It All Back Home," because I knew "Highway 61 Revisited" was s'posed to be his best according to Greil Marcus, but I wanted to dip my toes in the water first. When I bought it a coupla of superannuated know-it-all hippies standing by the counter, inspecting hash pipes in the glass case no doubt told me I should buy Highway 61 because that was his best, and I thought no way, I know what I'm doing, I'm making a long time commitment here, I don't want to get laid on the first date. What the hell. I was right although at the time those old hippies (prob. late 20's/early 30's at the time) made me feel like I was uncool. That's my engaging Bob Dylan tale.

Ann Althouse said...

"It's all perspective as Ann points out. When you're mature (18?) at the cusp of Dylan's greatness, the impact on the mind is lasting and, yes, profound."

I was 14 when "Bringing It" came out.

Gahrie said...

I don't think I like what it says about me that the bands of my youth were Buck's Fizz and The Nolans.

Bob R said...

It's interesting that brother Jones needs to take up so much of his article establishing his Dylan-cred with the boomers who read the New Yorker. The review is about what I expect. I must be a target buyer since I am a Dylan fan and a bigger Band fan, but this sounds like one listen on Spotify on a rainy Saturday morning.

Gahrie said...

Well I appreciate, admire and respect the man's songwriting abilities, I simply don't grok him as a singer.

Gahrie said...

I am more of a Jim Croce kind of guy.

madAsHell said...

I simply don't grok him as a singer

I think that was part of the appeal. Frank Sinatra, and the Bing Crosby were very excellent singers, and then here comes the Jew boy with the raspy voice. The antithesis of good singing, but very....populist. An outsider.

Today, popular music is some twit lip-synching while twerking.

oh, yeah!!...and GET OFF OF MY LAWN!!

Anonymous said...

Althouse just wants my Naked Bob Dylan robot.

chickelit said...

Does it run on batteries, betamax?

William said...

I listened to his early albums over and over. I don't know that they had such a profound effect on my thinking though. I didn't understand most of the lyrics. They were more evocative than expository, but certain images stuck with you. He had a harsh, whiny voice but that fit his underlying message that life sucks and enduring love is impossible.

Fritz said...

My introduction to Dylan was from my hottie 7th grade English teacher.

Phil 3:14 said...

Movie "St. Vincent" ends with Bill Murray riffing on Dylan.

Richard said...

Fr.Robert Barron on Dylan's All Along the Watchtower:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0Tckg686L4

eddie willers said...

Music From Big Pink is one of my Desert Island Discs.

In a weird and gutsy move, they opened the album with Tears Of Rage. How do you open an album with a dirge?

Anyway, I have never heard drums moan before, but they do here.

For you guys (and gals) not familiar with Dylan, I recommend Blood On The Tracks (his "comeback" album) and maybe the most commercial. If you don't like his singing here, you never will.

That album is so good its going with me on that island along with The Band's.

One song of his I have played a lot in the last few weeks is Isis (from the album Desire) for obvious reasons. Simply a crackjack song!

Anonymous said...

I avoided Dylan as a kid, much like the author of the article, because I knew it would be a rabbit hole I'd have to go down if I began the trip. I had already retro'd into an artist or two, so I knew how time consuming digesting an entire catalog all at once could be. IMO, it is optimal to spend the majority of your younger years firmly grounded in your own era, for better or worse. If you don't like the mainstream stuff then find something on the fringes that hasn't broken through yet, or make your own.

Never had anything against him though.

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I liked his singing early on. Desire has particularly good singing. But for the last 20 years, Dylan has been unlistenable, as far as I am concerned. And he was so right to abandon civil rights/ folkie crowd when he did (he saw 'finger pointing' songs as an artistic dead end). Specifically political songs are generally the worst an artist produces: think Steve Earl, Jackson Browne, John Lennon.

tim maguire said...

I avoided Dylan because I didn't like him.

Even today, while recognizing that he's a great lyricist, 99% of his catalog bores me.

BudBrown said...

I got Another Side and 61 Revisited out of the clearance bin at Eckerds in 69,70. Then I'm a Dylan head in the 70s. Ok, I have this nephew,another state lives, and in the 90s he's traveling 100s of miles to hear like Jane's Addiction and I'm thinking, great he can send me one of his fav albums and I'll have some sense of 90's music. Musta taken a couple years, anyway, finally, in the mail, 61 Revisited.

mikee said...

At my small southern liberal arts college in 1980, I roomed with the student manager of the ~50 watt campus radio station. He had one rule - only music unavailable on local radio stations could be played.

We got a lot of good music, stuff nobody had ever heard before.

His idea was that exposure induces interest, and with a 3000+ album collection of non-pop music, he could and did generate a lot of interest.

Richard Lawrence Cohen said...

You start on Milton with a handful of his lyric poems: "On His Blindness," "On Shakespeare," "On Being Arrived at Twenty-Three Years of Age," with a short hop to "L'Allegro" and "Il Penseroso," and then straight to "Paradise Lost."

Someone who doesn't know that is showing it off in a critical essay in the New Yorker.

viator said...

Between Dylan and Alexander Roger Wallace Jones I'd put my money on Dylan. And Dylan may still be on the cultural cutting edge. I see signs that the shelf life of cultural relativism is past it's sell by date.

paul kraamer said...

i first heard dylan(the freewheeln) at 8 yrs old. didn't stop listening until blood on the tracks in high school. it is doubtful i would an interest in poetry and literature without him