Friday, January 19, 2007

Things I dig: Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is quite talented really, so talented that I would probably have sex with him if he offered. In case you aren't keeping notes, here’s the official list of male celebrities that are so talented that Captain Great would probably fellate them if they asked him to: Bill Murray, Stanley Kubrick and now Bob Dylan.

But disturbing insights into my celebrity spank bank aside, I think Bob Dylan is really very good. Even a brief embarrassing stint as a born again Christian in the eighties hasn’t dimmed the man’s prestige such is the unbelievable quality of his body of work. Blonde on Blonde, Blood on the Tracks, Highway 61 Revisited, Bringing it all Back Home, Desire: the guy has any number of genius classic albums under his belt and should be considered the least overrated musician of all time.

My favourite Dylan album is probably Blood on the Tracks but when I was a teenager I used to listen to Highway 61 Revisited a hell of a lot. Most of the albums in his first twenty years or so as a recording artist are worth a listen, though. Even Bob Dylan’s lesser efforts are pretty good. For example, I’ve lately been listening to the soundtrack to the film Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid that Bob Dylan penned. It’s mostly just instrumental blues and folk pieces but I’ll be damned if it’s not the best thing I’ve heard in weeks. And even his poorly received albums usually have three or four sensational songs on them.

Seriously, he's really, really great. I know everyone has a subjective right to an opinion and all that but I think that right should be revoked for people who hate Bob Dylan. The only thing I think of that anyone could possibly have a problem with is Dylan's voice but personally I love it. Sure it's unusual, coarse etc but he conveys more wit and emotion in his voice than anyone else I can think of. I would rather listen to Bob Dylan singing for an eternity than five minutes of Mariah Carey's shrill warblings.

But Bob Dylan isn't just great because of his musical abilities. I watched the Martin Scorsese documentary No Direction Home a few months ago and Dylan comes across as a really intelligent, witty and charismatic guy, a really great pop cultural figure without all the smug self importance of a John Lennon. It was a pleasant surprise because, at the time, I had only really known him through his music. I especially loved the bit where he played with his interviewers by providing weird random answers to all their questions. As someone who worked for a time as a journalist I can understand the frustration celebrities go through being asked inane questions all the time. But it was cool seeing Dylan deal with it in a playful, funny way instead of just being obnoxious like every other celebrity.

Dylan is also a good writer as well. His autobiography Chronicles Vol.1 is probably the best I've ever read. I also dug Tarantula, his contribution to the stream-of-consciousness beat genre. He has a very confident, appealing writing style with a great turn of phrase. In another life, Dylan probably could have enjoyed a successful career as a writer.

Sure, in his twilight years, Dylan has indulged in the sort of nonsense middle aged rockstars tend to get up to that makes you secretly wish they died of a drug overdose in 1973. I'm talking about wacky exclusive deals with Walmart or that time he tried to get a movie banned because it protrayed him unfavourably, all that sort of nonsense. And his musical output has been a bit ordinary in recent times. Modern Times got good reviews but let’s face it, whenever a great sixties artist is declared to be “back on form” after releasing a new album, it’s never anywhere near as good as everyone says it is. Similarly, I went and saw him live a few years ago and I thought he was a bit crap to be honest.

But he's Bob Dylan so I'll cut him some slack.


Hoardmeister said...

Dear Captain -

I quite agree! Just last month I attended the Bob Dylan exhibition at the Morgan Library (rather an odd juxtaposition, if you ask me) and it was superlative. A look over the first twenty-odd years of his career, with listening booths where one could listen to songs from his albums. I chose to listen to a live variation on "Paranoid Homesick Blues"--the title escapes me--but it was incredibly funny. Also an old video of Dylan looking at two signs with different words on them, and then doing an amazing game of verbal agility using the words. He was cute, too. No wonder Phil Ochs despised him.

Captain Great said...

"Also an old video of Dylan looking at two signs with different words on them, and then doing an amazing game of verbal agility using the words."

I've totally seen that video; I was almost going to write a little bit about it!

I thought Phil Ochs and Bob Dylan were pals.

Hoardmeister said...

They were, but Phil Ochs was terribly jealous of Dylan's crossover success, while Ochs was considered washed up once the protest/folkie trend was over. He had a tragic life. I recommend "Death of a Rebel".

Captain Great said...

Thanks for the tip!

Phil Ochs is one of those people I've always meant to look into but have been too lazy to actually do.