In Praise of Bob Dylan
by Will Brennan Page 3
It’s hard to believe that when Another Side of Bob Dylan first came out, with songs such as “Chimes of Freedom” and “My Back Pages” included, it was berated by the folk press, for its lack of ‘protest’ songs, its veering away from the political purism of its predecessor, “The Times They Are a Changin’” Then it got worse. Bringing It All Back Home was partly electric (as if electric
blues, which the folk community embraced, wasn’t being played
at the same time) and filled with strange imagery, the surrealism
of “Mr Tamborine Man” and “Gates of Eden,” the startling protorap of "Subterranean Homesick Blues." By the time Highway 61 Revisited appeared, it was an all out war, well documented in Martin Scorcesse’s, No Direction Home and many other sources, where Dylan and band were booed all across the country as soon as they started plugging in the guitars for the second set. There hasn’t been anything like it, again, before or since, in American musical history.
At the time, Dylan remarked that those so-called fans must have
a lot of money to buy tickets and come just to boo. The music itself
was incandescent because of the atmosphere it was played in – white-hot, snarling, ferocious, magnificent. If after the trials of that electric tour Dylan had died in his legendary motorcycle accident, he would have gone down as music’s most heralded and beautiful martyr, an impossible combination of James Dean, Arthur Rimbaud and Martin Luther King. But, instead, he managed to live. Someone I know once said they’d wished Dylan had died in the motorcycle accident, because the symmetry of it would have been so perfect. This was the world Bob Dylan inhabited, one where people who loved him and his music could wish him dead because it’d be cooler.
As time went on, Dylan became seemingly less and less relevant – he put out a record of country songs sung in a smooth, Bing Crosby croon, astonishing everyone, sending critics into apoplexy and some seriously misguided people, lead by Dylanologist/Garbologist A. J. Weberman, into forming the Dylan Liberation Front, which intended to free Dylan from himself, force him out of his life as a father of a brood of kids in the countryside of Woodstock, N.Y. and get him back onto the front of the protest lines, where he never was in the first place.
All the while Dylan continued to do what he always did, the only thing he knew how, “to keep on keepin’ on” writing songs. He wrote several albums full of born-again gospel songs, once again righteously blowing everyone’s minds, though not in what was considered to be a good way. Later, in retrospect, those gospel songs have come to be regarded among of the best written in modern times. He released albums during the 80’s which not many people listened to, and in the nineties, he was at such a standstill that he released two CD’s of covers of traditional tunes or old blues songs that he loved. Both were excellent works, but something wasn’t flowing. The well had gone dry.