Of course, there had to be a Dylan record on a list of albums that had a high impact in the manner I put my straight shoulder to the wheel, and it's this one, "HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED". This is less a music collection than a weapon, a dual-edged shiv that brought everything that songwriter was interested in--Burroughsesque nightmares, the plaintive flatness of rural folk traditions, a carnivalization of the inane and crucifying obligations we've bought into to rationalize lives based on a religion comprised solely on the idea of debt. It was glorious anarchy as well, a chamber of blues, boogie, electric guitars, guitars, and drums thrashing forward without penance with a momentum that ripped the seams of whatever structure these songs had to begin with. Dylan is nasal, braying, mewling, nasty in his vocalizing, which is to say that he's pissed, a combination of gotcha! Dead-to-rights broadsides against what is false and based on distraction, deception, deceit, and outright schoolyard finger-pointing, an aggrieved creep ranting at others about how unfair he's been treated. This fantastic combination, folkie Dylan backed by an electric band, gets the tracks done fast, taking little time for finessing the brew. It's worth mentioning that while blues guitar genius Mike Bloomfield was on the session (with Al Kooper as well, late of the Blues Project and later to found Blood Sweat and Tears), Dylan, jerk/punk/asshole/speed freak he was, told Bloomfield that he didn't want "any of that B.B.King shit..." Or words to that effect.
The disc is full of rawboned, ethereal masterpieces like JUST LIKE TOM THUMB'S BLUES, FROM A BUICK SIX, BALLAD OF A THIN MAN, QUEEN JANE APPROXIMATELY, and his epic Masterwork DESOLATION ROW, which may be the most convincing evocation of Dante's 9 Circles of Hell. Without going into the tall grass of direct textual comparison of works created in different mediums, I do regard Desolation Row as a cunningly succinct lyric evocation of a hell very closely related to Hieronymus Bosch's oil painting The Garden of Earthly Delight. A triptych composed on oak panels between 1490 and 1510, the painting, like Desolation Row, is a horrid tour of a terrain where we have the souls of who we assume is the deceased being tormented and tortured by methods and nightmare creatures who represent the earthly vices and gluttonous pleasures that become instruments of eternal agony. The scenarios in Desolation Row, delivered in swift and surreal stanzas, seem, as well, a range of types which each in their own way thought that they had arrived at some inevitable claim to greatness or destiny only to realize too late that it was all vanity and pride that kept them from being authentically alive. There is room for argument o this point, and no doubt there are cries already from listeners who find it sophistry and pretentiousness on Dylan's part to try to up his stature with what has been termed over the years as witless jabbering. Dylan has run of ideas more than once in his lifetime and has written and released songs that were crowded, cliched, and vague rather than evocative, but there are other moments during his decades where he was firing on all cylinders, so to speak, where his taste for the surreal, the discordant, the dissolutely baroque could evoke not just thrills over blazing, quotable couplets, but which provide the condensed, Emily Dickens like the capacity to stir within the listener a deeper, more fulfilling introspection. Yes, he could be that good.
One can enthuse, elaborate, abstract form, and wax philosophical upon these keen nihilistic odes. Still, it will have to suffice to remark that I consider this record one of the albums that needed to exist for the birth of punk rock to take place, along with the "KICK OUT THE JAMS" by the MC5 and the first albums by the Stooges and Velvet Underground. . Everyone seems to start and end at different places, tempos are ragged, sometimes tentative, the pace is bludgeoning, the instruments are often out of tune, and its all glorious, brilliant Dylan in the middle of it all, snarling, burning through his genius and abusing his muse for the greater glory of what would become a definitive record. It is raw and spiky and gives you a perspective that says no proof because there is no pudding.
You'd be right, I suppose, in linking Dylan's early cynicism about the motives of people and the institutions they represent to his dalliance of brimstone Christianity. It does seem a natural progression, although I've expanded my view on is "SLOW TRAIN COMING" album and would equate it closer to the fatalistic Christianity of Flannery O'Connor, a writer who was obsessed with the vision of Christ, the afterlife, as a strange way of thinking that you've cut the spiritual requirements to sit at God's right or left hand, whichever comes first. She's was a body of thinking about Christianity that was too weird and personal to be of any use any to anyone except those readers of American Southern fiction who marveled at the writer's skill at imagining the worst while dealing, even in submerged form, on matters of Belief. Dylan's Christianity is likewise too weird to be of any use to any evangelist who might cite him as a saved celebrity. His view was apocalyptic, and I think no less nihilist than when he was a mad lad realizing the universe with his skill at saying profound-sounding things that no one honestly understood. But for "HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED", it's more profitable, nay, more enjoyable to take this on its own terms and its own era-defined conditions of composition and again get wowed by the spiked punch of insight, insult, revelation, resentment, love, rage, the general rampage of impulses he contained with the simple guitar chords he had in his armory. The wonder of the album is that unlike so many discs by great artists at the time, including, this one hasn't aged.