Saturday, August 2, 2008

Take Your Diamond Ring and Pawn it Babe: A Five Song Intro to Bob

I finally figured out how to embed songs within my entries. Not too difficult, as it turns out. So, as alluded to earlier, here is the inaugural "5 song intro".
Like a Rolling Stone – 1965

You've heard this song, probably about a hundred times. I don't care, listen to it again. This, along with ‘Blowin in the Wind’, are probably his most recognizable anthems. This is the original album version from his masterpiece Highway 61 Revisited.

This song is a “F#ck You” to overeducated, self assured, privileged entitlement. It is addressed to a girl who was once a sheltered princess but through the grind of the real world and drug addiction she is left out on the street, alone. Bob’s response? Not, “Can I help you?” or “Poor thing.” It’s “How does it feel?”, as if to say “Suck on that one, you stuck up ho.” It’s funny that many of the people who embrace this song are the very people he is deriding; pseudo intellectual college freshman who can’t decide if they want to major in Philosophy or English. People who have a flippant, self righteous answers to every issue, every problem and yet have never lived a day of their life in reality. I include myself circa 1999 (and probably circa 2008 as well) in that statement. Yet for all his scorn, Dylan ends the last verse with his own kind of hope. Upon complete self destruction, a unique freedom presents itself. “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” The subject is both crushed a liberated. It is only after we lose everything when we are free to do anything.
Mama, You've Been On My Mind - 1964

This was an unreleased song that Bob played live quite a bit and got a lot of traction as a bootleg. It wasn’t officially released until 1991 in the Bootleg Series Vol. 1-3.

It is an anti-love song. The simple acoustic progression and Dylan’s weathered voice articulates the conflicted confession perfectly. This is the most beautiful drunken phone call to an ex I have ever heard.

By the way, Dylan gets a lot of crap for his voice. That is pure bull. I will admit there are some live performances where it just isn’t on. But in cases like this song and 95% of all of his recordings, the people who crap on Dylan for his voice are dead wrong. His road weary voice gives his words authority. It’s not about shiny, soulless perfection. His voice is ragged and dirty and real, marinated in bourbon and cigarette smoke. It’s more about how the words feel verses how they sound. His voice is not something to deal with and tolerate, it something that needs to be embraced and explored.
Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie – 1967

Okay, this is an unusual choice to pick as an introductory song since it his only released spoken word piece that I know of. If anyone knows of any others, let me know because I would listen to stuff this good for hours and hours. This is a poem that Bob never put to music and read at a concert upon the death of his idol Woody Guthrie. It is an expression on alienation, materialism, frustrated creativity and most of all hope. Basically, it’s what every god awful, sniveling, emo bitch fest aspires to be but it doesn’t cause me to roll my eyes and laugh out loud because of its ham-fisted obviousness.

Here is a link to the complete poem. But as with all great poetry, it must be heard out loud, not merely read silently.
Simple Twist of Fate – 1975

This song comes from the masterpiece album Blood On the Tracks. It was his first really good album in about eight years and the album that secured his status as a timeless recording artist, not just a 60’s icon. STOF tells of a young couple that hooks up one night in a cheap motel. The woman leaves in the middle of the night and the man wanders the streets looking for her. It’s not until the last verse that it is revealed that the woman is a hooker which changes everything we knew about the story. (this of course is my take on it. feel free to add your own) They unintentionally fell in love. Or at least they saw the promise of love in what was supposed to be a business relationship. This promise of love, or twist of fate, ruins everything. It makes the man miserable. Or it at least makes him aware of the misery that was always there.

This is probably my favorite love song of any band. It tells of the elusive, tortured nature of unfulfilled love. Basically, it is a rebuttal to the old platitude ‘better to have loved and lost, bla bla bla.’ Speaking as an 30 year old unmarried Mormon, believe when I say it, that saying is pure bullshit. Yes, I realize I just proclaimed my devout Mormon ways in the same sentence in which I said ‘bullshit’. It’s okay. We have a broad tent. No really, we do.
When the Deal Goes Down – 2006

Bob has released 32 full length albums of original material over the last 46 years. That does not include compilations and live albums. The dude has made a lot of music and his most recent album, Modern Times is as good as anything he has ever done. In fact, his last three albums are that good.

In this song, he is no longer the idealized youth, or the social critic. He is an old man, possibly close to the end, proclaiming his love to his long time special lady, reflecting on the lifetime they have shared together. This is a beautiful example of the perfection of Dylan’s voice. Critics be damned. The gentle delivery and the expressive cracks of his road weary voice display the quiet pain that is implicit in even the happiest of nostalgia.

“More frail than the flowers, these precious hours
That keep us so tightly bound
You come to my eyes like a vision from the skies
And I'll be with you when the deal goes down”

This is a link to the video starring Scarlett Johansen. Shot like the “Wonder Years” intro set in the early 60’s (?) on an 8 mm home camera. Driving in a convertible, playing with little kids, sleeping on the porch swing, looking at photos with grandparents, these are the fragments that make up a lifetime. If it wasn’t so perfectly done, it would be more sappy than the worst long distance / Hallmark / toilet paper add. (they don’t really make long distance ads anymore, do they?) But it is pitch perfect and totally sucks me in every time I watch it. Of course it doesn’t hurt to look at Scarlett for five minutes, either. Holy moly, she is beautiful.


Jared said...

Well done for the most part, I'm gonna have to kinda disagree with you a little about Simple Twist Of Fate... as far as love songs about Hookers goes I think Rocket Queen by Guns 'n' Roses takes the cake.

BusterBluth52 said...

Jared, you may be a little young but honey you ain't naive.

Informant said...

Whoa, Brian. You have almost made me a fan of Bob Dylan. And Jared (is that my brother?) is right about Rocket Queen. Best song about a hooker. Hands down.

Spencer said...

New Idea: Every Sunday the mormon church opens up "Vote A Mormon Out" ling on their websites. Any intersted member of the church, you get a code or something, gets to vote a on a preset list of mormons on the chopping block. Sister Heigel gets my first vote.

tmildenhall said...

i like the first three...last thoughts on woody guthrie is a great spoken word piece...i would put visions of johanna and masters of war on that list...okay maybe the lonesome death of hattie carol as well...good list

BusterBluth52 said...

This was in no way an effort to be a 'best of' list. This is an introduction to the career of Bob an so i chose songs from different eras of his catalog. If i were to make a "favorites" list, i could possibly pass on all five of these selections. Yes, Visions of Johanna is sublime as is It's Alright Ma, Most Of The Time, Don't Think Twice and about 100 more. Narrowing down that list is like cutting your fingers off.

BusterBluth52 said...

Spencer, that is a fantastic idea, however you may be the next person on the list after Heigel. Not my list. But there are a lot of young Mormon moms out there and you could be trouble.