It's funny. My Dylan obsession is still in full force. I have been reading the great Paul Williams, (the father of rock criticism, the founder of Crawdaddy), and his Dylan performer series of books. No one writes about Dylan with more passion and authority than Paul Williams. He's a great writer, a man who devoted himself to Dylan with all his creative being. He makes you re-think and re-listen to tracks you may have missed, or dismissed. He brings incredible knowledge, strength and soul to the task. Williams makes clear that early on he considered Dylan one of the greatest artists of the 20th Century, standing toe to toe with Pablo Picasso. Williams makes a compelling case. Plus he's a kick to read, funny, engaged, loves music and the creative pursuit.
I started reading about Dylan's Gospel years 1979-1981, I was long horrified by Dylan's Christian-Born-Again period, but after reading Williams, and taking a deep dive into the music from Dylan's studio albums (Shot of Love, Saved, Slow Train Coming) and live recordings from those years, I now consider that period one of Dylan's most passionate, creative and dynamic eras. I then started working my way backwards in time. I am now in the early Dylan years. Hanging out with the young, earnest, folk-troubadour, Dylan singing with an "Okie" accent, suffused in the classic folk & acoustic blues, deeply influenced by Woody Guthrie.
This morning I re-listened to Bob Dylan's first record released in 1962. Talk about the way-back machine. JFK was alive and still President. The first stirrings of the Civil Rights movement were percolating, the blossoming of r&r and the Summer of Love was in the distant future. Folk music was big in New York City, bigger than r&r. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones hadn't hit the shores of USA yet. Dylan, just a green kid from Minnesota with only two original compositions on the record.
I guess what's amazing, funny, and completely clear, Dylan was totally obsessed with songs about death. He was a peculiar, charismatic, death-haunted young man. The record is raw, powerful, no-frills, Dylan's unvarnished, untutored voice, already captivating. Bare-bones folk and acoustic blues. Death. The young man was thinking and singing about death an awful lot.
It funny, knowing what we know, to hear this young kid. We know he has a lot of living to do: writing, singing, performing and morphing into many different Dylans. There will be big civil rights anthems, voice of generation stuff, redefining r&r, opening hearts and heads to new meanings and methods. But first time out of the gate, he was already singing about the deep mystery of our lives. That young voice, speaking of Love, Loss, Death, Mystery. Essential listening.
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