"My advice is to not let the boys in": Bob Dylan
Predictably, perhaps, this post begins with the beginning. In this case, it would have been the car, again, though which car I cannot quite say, nor could I pinpoint the year. I think it was before the tapes came out from the depths of the entertainment center, and well before the surviving vinyl came sneaking into the house. This may even have been before Dad bought me Fleetwood Mac, and maybe even before he tried to impress upon me the merits of James Taylor and Hall & Oates (how would he have guessed I'd pick Judas Priest and Ozzy over both of those respectable acts?*). I can tell you it was nighttime, and the whole family was in there, and Dad said he had a treat for us. He popped a CD in and admonished me to take note of the violin on this album. This seemed like an appropriate connection to make, since at the time I hadn't yet admitted to myself that I'd given up playing it.
Lo and behold, after a few measures of gentle, serious guitar, there it came- the low, husky voice of a violin with a story to tell. At first, I felt curious.
Then, that voice. Not particularly pleasant, especially not compared to the violin, which spiraled like ribbons around it. I put on my best sub-teen sour face and turned it toward the window. My siblings were equally, and more vocally, tickled to mockery by the singer. Mom was on his and Dad's side, and on the verge of chiding us on our poor taste, when the wording in the lyrics turned a little coarse. But in the end, good taste (and a dab of forgiveness for the aforementioned lyrics to "Hurricane") won out. Although it took months of hearing Desire in the car (Mom played "Mozambique" on endless repeat), and some of my own initiative, I ended up falling for Bob Dylan. Like anybody in their right musical mind does sooner or later.
What was once in my mind was the most obnoxious song on that record, "Isis", is now one of my favorites. And
when somebody asks me if anybody asked me about the very best Bob Dylan song, despite my modest gemlike collection of Bob Dylan's catalog, I have to again point to Desire and say the best song is "Sara".
If I have my history right, Desire was recorded at, well, record speed, and it came at a dramatic moment in Robert Zimmerman's personal life, too- his marriage was ending and his wife was in the studio when he recorded "Sara". It was a song for/about her. Again, if my memory serves, he only allowed for one cut of that song, because it was so personal and emotional. If this legend is true, its truth is supported in the recording. You can hear the sorrow and the love of something that was lost.
I used to have a link to a video of some concert footage where he actually choked up a little in the middle, and you can see a escape his eye, but apparently it has been removed from YouTube for copyright issues. This version is less emotional compared to that, but I think my assessment still stands.
Above all, I love Dylan's lyrics. I love that he can/could say more in a single song in the lyrical fashion of the bluesmen than some artists say in their entire careers. He changed the game more singlehandedly than anybody since the game was invented. The Beatles changed the way they wrote songs because he once said he'd like them better if their songs had any depth of content. Bowie wrote "Song for Bob Dylan" and put it on his Hunky Dory album, that "his words were truthful vengeance that could pin us to the floor."
Not that it's all been glory and roses where his track record is concerned- I once heard a critic's quote about his Christmas album that ran something like: "When Dylan sings 'I'll Be Home For Christmas' it sounds more like a threat than a promise." But again, that's part of being human, and you could expect nothing less from as fascinating and idiosyncratic an artist as he is.
I did see him in concert, so to speak. I didn't catch much of the show, and if I felt vindictive I'd suggest you ask my baby sister why that is, but it suffices me to say that we were late and that's OK. The concert was at the Coliseum at the Arizona State Fair, which is a totally acceptable venue for acts that are not Bob Dylan. As it was, his voice rolled like a wave of thunder and static electricity through the place, with the static, unfortunately, winning out. I barely recognized the songs I arrived in time to hear, the sound was so bad. And I think it's a reasonable point to say that an already unique voice has not really aged that well. But I'm willing to let it slide, because he's freakin' Bob Dylan, rock's original anti-hero. (Other acts that came up short for some reason will not be so lucky, but we'll talk about that later.)
Here's why YOU should also like Bob Dylan (search for the playlist under the name "Don't Let the Boys In: Bob Dylan" on Spotify):
For Your Playlist: Side A
1. "Tangled Up In Blue" from Blood on the Tracks
2. "Subterranean Homesick Blues" from Bringing It All Back Home
3. "The Times They Are A-Changin" from the album of the same title
4. "All Along the Watchtower" from John Wesley Harding
For Your Playlist: Side B
1. "Tombstone Blues" from Highway 61 Revisited
2. "Thunder on the Mountain" from Modern Times
3. "I Want You" from Blonde on Blonde
4. "Sara" from Desire
*By the way, I appreciate James Taylor and Hall & Oates a lot more now than I did when I was twelve or thirteen. Might just go to show ya that sometimes it's the softer stuff that requires a more mature listener.