Thursday, August 3, 2023


The only two bootleg albums I ever bought were lIVEr that You'll Ever Be (1969) by the Rolling Stones and The Great White Hope by Bob Dylan (also released in  1969). The Rolling Stones one is entirely dispensable–there is a cult around their live albums that is pure fiction in my view. They have always been dicey in live performance, save for Jagger’s antics. Their legacy is their long line of studio albums. 

The Dylan, though, is genuinely historic, a batch of diverse and wonderfully crafted tunes melodically and lyrically. I still don’t think he is a poet, but the lyrics here-- TEARS OF RAGE, THE MIGHTY QUINN, THIS WHEEL’S ON FIRE, TOO MUCH OF NOTHING-- are some of the finest and most subtle of his career, and his selection of covers are choice and reveal that Dylan, in his prime, could reinvent traditional material and make them relevant to an audience that was starved for something more than cocktails, drunk romance and songs that were thick with cliché and platitude. The Great White Hope has only gotten richer with time. I subscribe to the idea that the best rock poetry are the ones that show the art of what was almost said, which was what Dylan could do when he had all his pistons firing, a mix of idiomatic diction, biblical allusion, a sort of bucolic surrealism , along with a host of other lyric influences that sift through blues, country and such for the sort of mash ups he specialized in. I think we’re on the same page, that his best lyrics work not because they make sense in literal terms but that they give a sense of mood, temperament, whatever the prevailing emotional tone might happen to be for the song, joy, or despair.

 He does this in any number of ways–odd juxtapositions of physical items (lace=knot), cunning use of nonsequiturs to undercut encroaching cliché and sentimentality and suggest there are deeper levels to explore–but the fun in Dylan’s strongest songs-as-poems is the sort of oh-wow factor where you can’t believe he came up with one catchy couplet after another, a sensation similar to (in my mind) to listening to a Coltrane or Dolphy solo where the runs , riffs, and full on phrases exhibit a serial genius. This is my Bob Dylan.”

BARRY ALFONSO:I certainly agree about GWW, Ted. Tackling the value and substance of Dylan's Basement Tapes songs is difficult because, I think, they involve a different standard that you might use for most song lyrics (or poetry, for that matter). There are lines in "The Mighty Quinn" and "This Wheel's On Fire" that are near-gibberish, akin to the silly wordplay in "Polly Wolly Doodle" or "Oh, Susanna." "If your memory serves you well/I was going to confiscate your lace/And wrap it up in a sailor's knot/and hide it in your case" -- this sort of thing has almost no conventional meaning worth treating seriously. It is almost the sort of nonsense you might write in a song if you are holding a place for what you might write later. (I did that in Nashville.) But the FEELING of it is clear -- it is sly and spooky and insinuating and begs you to try to untangle what it is saying. Add to this that the performance of these songs by Dylan and the Band is filled with wacky/ominous emotion. Scarcely any people can write and record stuff like that. I love those songs. Those are my favorite Dylan songs, in fact.

WILLIAM HAMILTON: Breet, chitter, grelb.

No comments:

Post a Comment