Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Times They Aren't A-Changing

I have never read Rolling Stone, but I am tempted to read this upcoming interview with Bob Dylan.  Apparently, he has commented on race relations in the USA and blamed the legacy of slavery, which is hardly a newsflash, but it at least marks a rare occasion on which (1) someone famous has said something genuinely truthful about America and (2) Bob Dylan has said something that I actually wish to listen to. 

I have struggled for many years with Bob, not because I do not see the value in his contribution to history, but simply because so much of his music is very difficult to listen to, and I say this as someone who listens to the kind of free-jazz or avant-garde or whatever you wish to call it that most people find unlistenable.  It's not the message of his songs (some of the lyrics are good), nor is it the grating, whining voice (although that doesn't help).  It's the fact that his music has very little impact unless it's just him, his guitar and harmonica.  He has, in my opinion, never been able to make his music work with a full band.  One reason for this is that he tends to play with uninspiring musicians who fail to inject anything fresh into his material, but the other reason is that, even when he has good people around, he doesn't seem interested in bringing out the best in them as musicians.  They are always crushed under the enormous weight of his pounding, repetitive chords and endless verse-chorus-verse song structures.  Like many of his conemporaries, his music suffered in the studio during the 1980s, and his voice is virtually in ruins.  I am not one of those people who thinks he made a 'comeback' with this album or that album, and I do not believe that he has recorded anything important since the mid-1960s.  When it's just him and his guitar, the song structures make more sense, but even then, when do you listen to it?  When does one listen to Bob Dylan?  When you get home from work?  In the bath?  First thing in the morning? 

But, anyway, his remarks on the reality of race relations are refreshing.  It's like when Robert Redford claimed to prefer older women in a recent interview - that was refreshing too.  Maybe their generation will save us after all.  But, looking at the current polls, particularly in Ohio and Pennsylvania, it seems highly unlikely. 

James O.

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