Just as JD here wrote of the power of numbers, I’d add the power of inevitability, plus the post on atonalism, in order to say that there are certain keys, arrangements, chords, which produce effects and you can say this song seems to have it, this one doesn’t.
I read that Stephen Stills, after Dylan had been in there with them, was not impressed. “He writes good songs but he’s no musician.” That may have just been snarkiness but why snarkiness?
Maybe it was the attitude of the man, that his ‘music’ was untouchable, impervious to criticism, that Dylan could not be held to account, an attitude he pushed.
This, coupled with the poseur stance, e.g. over the award in Sweden, cooled people’s ardour. Many of us are curmudgeonly for sure, don’t suffer fools and so on … but Dylan took it to extremes on something not that great to begin with. Let me defend this statement.
First this from the Jannie:
Yes, maybe he was not such a good musician but these four songs today certainly stand up unless you’re anti-folk-pop as unserious music – he was the voice of a generation for sure, like Cream, Yes, Santana, many others. I can also understand him becoming sick to death of clumsy music journos worshipping him for that reason, so kudos if so.
And these four songs certainly have something special.
Not a good musician? Well, take the New York recordings on Blood on the Tracks, redone in Minneapolis with much alteration, much post-production, if only to simplify it and thin it out further, producing the ‘strolling bard’ effect.
It’s all effect, music, is it not? Combinations of sounds after all, which can move us, but then not for some reason. Numbers again, mathematics, plus tone.
Also, being in the right place at the right time, having the look of ‘the people’s poet’ [eat your heart out, Rik Mayall], being right for the role, plus the raw, crafted amateur voice. Don’t forget the agenda of those days – Laurel Canyon, songwriters behind the scenes churning out mass effect – White Rabbit, irreverence, drug culture and so on. Lead yoof astray, separate the generations. Huge money behind it all, control from within the military, CIA etc.
The ones we loved best were the longer numbers, e.g. Desolation Row, Like a Rolling Stone, this tale below. Ed over at OoL mentioned cognitive dissonance – well was that not so with our generation? Peace and love, man and yet Dylan’s lyrics are not nice.
The whole feel of ‘Just like a Woman’ gives that warm, nostalgic, soppy, hug your true love effect in the arrangement but the lyrics are nasty in places – ‘That Baby can’t be blessed, Till she sees finally that she’s like all the rest, With her fog, her amphetamine and her pearls.’ Ouch, not nice. ‘I just can’t fit
Yes, I believe it’s time for us to quit, But when we meet again, Introduced as friends, Please don’t let on that you knew me when I was hungry and it was your world.’
As someone who strings words together in a less poetic way, I can see the pathos he creates, for sure I can … but to what end?
It’s to create the ephemeral, uncommitted drifter who ‘gets his luvvin on the run’ – the attitude also pushed by JJ Cale which has caused so much of the trouble today, the harvest we’re reaping today. Marshall Tucker Band too. This is not an attitude to respect, it’s the attitude of someone with no respect for sanctity. Says Higham who was very much part of that milieu then.
And then we get to the really, really nasty side of it – the carefully crafted Tom Hanks and Hollywood, looked at yesterday.
Credit where credit’s due – Dylan came up with fine sounding songs, either in his bardmanship or in combination with the other musicians and producers, whatever – it came out sounding nice but what, ultimately, was it all about?
It was about dysfunction, dislocation and breaking people’s hearts who had placed trust in you. I’d like to send ‘Just like a Woman’ to a woman but how could I when lyrically, it’s just plain nasty, whilst at the same time, musically, it’s superb?
This is the dilemma of Dylan. Effect on the late Silent, Boomer and Gen X world? Undoubtedly – it would be churlish to try to play that down. In retrospect though – a good effect? One worthwhile? I looked for a song for a lady yesterday – One Solitary Life – and sent what was maybe a good version but it would not move the majority of people in the way Dylan did.
I just think we need to step back and look at what we’ve been directed to do by the ‘effect’, while quite convinced we’re unmalleable.