The "BOB ON BOB" Rave ("This Old Man")
You've got to read this fantastic New Yorker Magazine article about Bob Dylan from the end of August entitled "BOB ON BOB". Written by Louis Menand, the article starts off as a review of "Bob Dylan: The Essential Interviews", a book I just read earlier this summer, but it soon becomes much more than just a simple book review.
It was wonderful to read in print here what I've argued with so many people about time and time again over the years: Far from being a "bad singer", Dylan is simply one of the greatest singers of all time. I love Aretha, Otis, Marvin, Billie, Ella and many others universally considered to be great singers; but I love them not because they hit all the notes perfectly. No, I love them for the same reason I love The Bob's singing - and Neil's and Willie's and Joni's and Van's and Stevie's and Louis' - because they have a wonderfully inventive and creative way of phrasing and making every song they sing their own. Now that's what singing is all about. It's not about what Mariah, Whitney, Britney or Celine do. God no!!
This is dead on:
Dylan is also, despite the silly things people said about his voice when he started out, one of pop music’s greatest vocalists. His chief weakness is a tendency to shout, particularly in performance (and he is, let us say, an inconsistent performer); but, when he is in control of the instrument, no one’s voice, with that kind of music, is more textured or more beautiful.
Ninety per cent of musicianship is phrasing, and the easiest way to appreciate Dylan’s genius for phrasing is to listen to him, on bootlegs or on the late albums of traditional songs, perform songs that he didn’t write—“Folsom Prison Blues,” or “People Get Ready,” or “Froggie Went A-Courtin’.” He gets it all. When my children were little, we used to have a cassette around the house of songs for kids by pop stars, on which Dylan did “This Old Man” (“With a knick-knack paddywhack, give the dog a bone”). That performance had the weight of the whole world in it. I listened to it a hundred times and never got tired of it. You can refute Hegel, Yeats said, but not the Song of Sixpence.
As far as that cover version of "This Old Man" goes, my friend Wendi Mitchell used to have it and I, also, like Menand, the author of this article, listened to it over and over again. It's truly brilliant!! Find it, if you can.
Anyhow, it's an excellent article, but I must insist on strongly disagreeing with two particular statements. First of all, he asserts that the following lines from “When the Ship Comes In” are "not even lyrical, forget about the sense":
“And the words that are used/For to get the ship confused/Will not be understood as they’re spoken”.
Well, on the contrary, I'd say that these are, in fact, great lyrics that make perfect sense within the context of the song. The Bob has most definitely written some bad lyrics - and whole songs - over the years, but these are not some of them.
Secondly, Menand, makes the following claim:
“Ballad of a Thin Man” does not profit from the verse about the one-eyed midget shouting the word “NOW.” (“And you say, ‘For what reason?’/And he says, ‘How?’/And you say, ‘What does this mean?’/And he screams back, ‘You’re a cow/Give me some milk/Or else go home.’)
However, the way I see it, that's a classic speed-and-acid-fueled line that fits in PERFECTLY on "Highway 61 Revisited".
I'd also have to disagree with his insinuation that Dylan is often a bad interviewee. I'd say that, in fact, there's no one more interesting. He may, in many an interview, fail to give a straight answer, especially when the questions are what he considers trivial or asinine, but few interviews are more stimulating to read. Furthermore, he's sometimes absolutely hilarious. If you're looking for factual information, well, yeah, Dylan's not always the most forthcoming with that, but few people have ever given such great - make that brilliant - interviews. You never know what you're going to get when Dylan sits down for a talk. Especially back in the '60s, when he seemed to view the interview as some sort of a game... a game he played to perfection at times.
Almost all of "The Essential Interviews" was a fascinating read. I mean, even when The Bob has been at his least appealing in interview, such as when he became a born-again fundamentalist preaching about this and that, he could never be accused of being boring.
Here's the link to the article:
"Bob on Bob: Dylan talks" by Louis Menand
So sit down for a good read and enjoy. And throw on a Bob CD while you're at it. That is, "If your time to you/Is worth savin'"... and cherishin'.
Mike Cowie (Oredakedo)
Tuesday, September 26th, 2006
To read my two - yes two - recent rave reviews of Tell Tale Signs click here: Bob's Back: Tell Tale Signs of Joy... and A Complete Lack of Judgement
And to read my piece on Bob, Neil and Joni click here: Talkin' Prairie Triangle of Inspiration (A.K.A. Bob Dylan, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell Make Their Great Escape)
And for much more on all things Dylan click here: The Bob (as in Dylan)
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