Sunday, September 10, 2006

Bob Dylan - New Yorker article

I was behind in my magazine reading, so I hadn't seen the thing in the last New Yorker about a collection of interviews with Bob Dylan coming out in book form.

The author (of the article) says that Dylan is, at least, a better interview than Elvis, because Elvis really just didn't have anything to say. But the thing about Dylan is, he lies. He lies like a dog. He also doesn't brook fools. But, of course, the other thing is that interviews used to be so much worse for musicians because the interviewers were a thousand years old and the music was new. I mean, you've seen the footage of interviews with the Beatles and Stones and Bob and everyone back then. Nobody in the media knew what to do.

(We saw a very funny example of this recently - a retrospective on drugs and pop culture and music, in which an interviewer asked Lou Reed whether, given that he made so many drug references in his songs, he himself used drugs. Perfectly straight, perfectly sincere, Lou replied that he was high on life, thank you very much. J and I nearly peed our pants laughing. It was nice not to hate Lou Reed for a minute.)

But back to the Dylan piece.

In one excerpt, from 1978, Bob talks about the "wild mercury" sound from Blonde on Blonde and before Highway 61, the Byrds and Beatles and "That ethereal twilight light, you know. It's the sound of the street with the sunrays, the sun shining down at a particular time, on a particular type of building. A particular type of people walking on a particular type of street. It's an outdoor sound that drifts even into open windows that you can hear. The sound of bells and distant railroad trains and arguments in apartment buildings and the clinking of silverware and knives and forks and beating with leather straps. ... All pretty natural sounds. It's water, you know water trickling down a brook. It's light flowing through the -"

Interviewer: "Late-afternoon light?"

Bob: "No, it's usually the crack of dawn. Music filters out to me in the crack of dawn."

And, at the end of the article, the author won my heart unreservedly:
"Dylan is also, despite the silly things people said about his voice when he started out, one of pop music's greatest vocalists. His chief weakness is a tendency to shout, particularly in performance (and he is, let us say, an inconsistent performer); but, when he is in control of the instrument, no one's voice, with that kind of music, is more textured or more beautiful. Ninety percent of musicianship is phrasing, and the easiest way to appreciate Dylan's genius for phrasing is to listen to him, on bootlegs or on the late albums of traditional songs, perform songs that he didn't write - "Folsom Prison Blues," or "People Get Ready," or "Froggie Went A-Courtin." He gets it all. When my children were little, we used to have a cassette around the house of songs for kids by pop stars, on which Dylan did "This Old Man" ("With a knick-knack paddywhack, give the dog a bone"). That performance had the weight of the whole world in it. I listened to it a hundred times and never got tired of it. You can refute Hegel, Yeats said, but not the Song of Sixpence."


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