Thursday, July 16, 2009

Self Ordained Professors

I love my Bob Dylan. I realize that it sounds creepy, pathetic and little bit gay to stick that possessive pronoun in there. But when you spend the better part of a decade exploring an ocean of music, taking the time and effort to fully digest the well known classics while on the constant search for bootlegged gems, you get to call that music your own.

For the record, I am referring to his music. I really don't care all that much about the man himself. In most interviews I've seen, he comes off as a pretty big asshole. That doesn't hurt my feelings. Would you really want to have lunch with Faulkner? Just enjoy his work.

And I love the work of Dylan.

I love the "spokesman for a generation, Freewheelin" days. I love the "plug in and piss everyone off" days. I love the "country crooner with the weird voice" days. I love the "Blood on the Tracks" days. I moderately enjoy parts of the "Born Again" days. I like about one or two songs per album of the "it's the 80's and everyone else also sucks" days. And I absolutely love the "blow the roof off the term 'comeback' with 'Oh, Mercy' and then don't stop putting out insanely good music for another twenty years" days. I'm happy to say his latest album falls into that last category.

It was ten years ago when a friend of my older brother's made him two Dylan mix tapes. He gave them to him with the disclaimer, "This is not elevator music. It deserves to be studied and cherished." This guy is a bit on the obsessive side. Of course, it could just be that I'm an asshole. If you love Dylan more than me, then I probably consider you to be an obsessive loser (there's plenty of the out there). If you don't love him as much as me, well then you're an unsophisticated Philistine who has no appreciation of greatness. You can't win.

By the way, I have realized I have the same attitude toward people's flat screen TV's. If yours if smaller than mine (50") then there's a small part of my brain, shameful as it is, that smugly says to myself, "Ha! I have four more diagonal inches than you with which to enjoy 'Golden Girls' reruns. You are inadequate." But if someone has a TV that's bigger than mine, my inner braggart gets quite defensive. "What are you trying to prove? 55 inches? That's way too big." I'm sure Freud would have some kind of TV/penis observation for us, if he were alive, read my blog and was the type to leave comments. But he's long dead, so I'll just leave any schlong jokes to be implied.

How exactly did I start talking about Bob Dylan and end up talking about dicks? What the hell is wrong with me?

So back to the Dylan mix tapes of 1999. My brother listened to them off and on. But I quickly usurped them. Seeing as how he didn't notice that I took them, I didn't feel all that bad about it. He was pretty used to me stealing his crap, anyway. Now I was familiar with Bob, previous to these tapes. I had bought his first greatest hits CD years before and I loved all 10 songs on that CD. But these tapes first illustrated the true depth of his music to me. Depth within each song as well as depth of a massive volume of work. I had 240 minutes of Dylan songs on those well worn cassettes that I listened to, rewound and listened to again. One day the actual tape within the cassette broke about half way through 'Desolation Row'. So I found a tiny jeweler screwdriver, popped that thing open, preformed a little surgery via scotch tape and the cassette was back in my walkman in no time.

I went to work with my uncle on his dairy farm in Smoot, Wyoming in April of that year. I stayed at my Grandma's house in the blue bedroom upstairs. Late at night, I would get in my car and drive to no where in particular listening to these two tapes. I remember having to pull over outside of Etna one night to sit in my idling car on the side of the highway in the middle of the dark Star Valley night. I had to give the song "It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding" my absolute full attention.

A question in your nerves is lit
Yet you know there is no answer fit
To satisfy, ensure you not to quit
To keep it in your mind and not forget
That it is not he or she or them or it
That you belong to

This is the power of insightful expression. It articulates that which we feel to be most private and often perplexing. It says what we want to say, in a way that we never could. And there is great power in giving an emotion an exact description. If we are unable to verbalize the storm of emotions that swirl around in our minds and hearts, be they positive or negative, we can't really expect to manage them. But as soon as we are able to give them a name, we can then truly confront them and maybe even control them. This is the power of art. Music, literature, film, sculpture, Far Side Cartoons (I don't know why Spanish speaking dolphins make me laugh but they do), they all reach into our soul. They take that which we hold to be most private and personal and throws it down on the table, making it impossible to avoid while empowering us to confront it. And the fact that it was an outside entity that provided this discernment of our soul validates us as individuals as well as unites us within the human experience.

"That is exactly how I feel. And apparently, I'm not alone."

So, with that off my chest, I would like to now present five random video clips of my friend Bob. This is a bit of change in tone. I figure I've already done a "Dylan rules! You gotta check out this song!" post several months ago. (The music doesn't work, you can look up the songs you're own damn self.)

So instead here is a strange mix of video clips that feature Dylan's music and subsequently his cred ability being used (some might say co-opted) for whatever it is they happen to be selling. Some of these irritate me. But I'm not the type to get all butt hurt over a rock star selling his music for some ad space. As long as it is their decision and they are the ones being compensated for it, I figure they have the right to do it. As much as I love it, it isn't scripture. It's just pop music for hell's sakes.

This is the song "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" from Bob's latest album that was released earlier this year. It is a clip advertising HBO's series "True Blood". Look, I appreciate that HBO has given us some of the finest television ever. "The Wire", "Deadwood", "Curb Your Enthusiasm" all come to mind. But "True Blood" is shit. Hokey, preachy, hamfisted shit. I illegally downloaded (suck my balls, HBO legal) and watched the entire first season. I don't mind saying, that it was the worst combination or terrible writing and terrible acting I have ever endured. I have not spent much time in the South, but I know a bad accent when I hear it. And Anna Paquin couldn't sell a southern accent if she were magically granted a decent set of teeth for doing so. Enough with the Vampire bullshit already! Yeah, we get it. Vampires are like gay people. They can't help who they are and they just want to live normal lives. But those ignorant, hateful religious people just want to persecute them. Bla bla bla. Look, I'd be open to that metaphor if it wasn't handled with subtly of a sledge hammer.

Seriously terrible show.

Some months back, I took what I thought was a forgotten punchline of pop culture and ridiculed it. It's how I roll. Little did I know that a few months later, Michael Jackson would die and CNN would then ignore a people's revolution in Iran to eulogize and reinvent the noseless pederass (8 year olds, Dude) for nearly a month straight. And in the process, turn this punchline into a humanitarian and cultural triumph.

Don't I look like the dick.

I stand by my original statement that "We Are The World" is a terrible song. I really have no idea what the hell Bob was doing anywhere near it. I suppose he was trying to remain relevant. It was 1985 and he hadn't had a really good record in almost 10 years (1976's Desire). So I can give him a break for trying to fit in with the kids at school. Of course it wasn't until 1989 when he would figure out that all along, he just needed to be himself. I can't overstate just how good "Oh, Mercy" is. But at the time, it seemed like a good idea to stand next to Dion Warwick's nostrils and sing a self congratulatory Pepsi commercial.

Speaking of Pepsi commercials . . .

Alright, this one pisses me off. It's not that his music Bob's holy and cannot be defiled by corporate thieves or any horse shit like that. If Bob wants to sell his songs, I say let him. And it's not that they remixed one of personal favorite works. In fact I don't mind it. This is a way better version than Rod Stewart's atrocity. It's not that Pepsi took Dylan's image and authenticity and reduced it to a damn soda ad. Bob's authenticity is strong enough to survive that. The thing that pisses me off about this thing is that they use the Black Eyed Friggin' Peas to hip-hop it up.


If it was Wycleff, I'd be down with it. Dre can sample all the Dylan he wants. If Snoop wanted to do his own version of "Subterranean Homesick Blues" I would love it. But the Black Eyed Peas do not qualify. When you are responsible for the crime against humanity that is "Lady Humps", (Please do not click on that. Whatever you do, do not click on that link!) you forfeit the right to share a stage with Bob Dylan.

Well this one is just weird. "Love Sick" is a fantastic song. And no one loves a good underwear ad more than this guy. Although I have always been confused by the wings. Is it a common fantasy to want to nail an angel? But there is a strange dichotomy between a nicely jiggly rack of boobs popping out of the top of a bra inter cut with Bob's pencil thin mustache. Look, I love nacho cheese and I love ice cream. But I don't want nacho cheese poured over my ice cream.

There is no sarcasm with this clip. It is pure beauty. Think of it as a pallet cleanser. It is taken from the film "I'm Not There". This is Heath Ledger playing a character based on aspects of Dylan. It's a great film for Dylan fans. There could never be a "Walk the Line" kind of straight forward bio-pic of Bob. This is the only way his life could be told on film. Fragments of half truth told in a jumbled order to create a mosaic of perfect accuracy. There may be a female nipple slipped into a few of these shots. Fair warning. But I got it off Youtube, so I blame the smut on them. This is a perfect adaptation of the song "I Want You". The eagerness and the fearlessness of new love is often depicted in songs and movies. But this clip gets it right. "It is I who am ready. Ready to listen. Never tired. Never sad. Never guilty."

So there you go. Quite frankly, I don't really care if his music grabs you the way it grabs me. I gave up on long time ago on trying to get everyone I know to love Dylan. He either does it for you or he doesn't. But it is definitely worth any time and effort you decide to invest in getting to know his music.


Gregg said...

Thank you for really introducing me to Bob Dylan back in 2001 Brian. I just got Highway 51 Revisited on Vinyl, it's never sounded so beautiful!

amanda said...


What do you call a guy with no arms and no legs floating in Lake Minnetonka? .......


Thank you Thank you I'll be here all day.

Anyway, I applaud the effort. After years of trying to appreciate Bob the way you do I gave up. I have nothing against him and I recognize his greatness, but there are only a handful of songs I can listen to. But I understand your dilemma, it's the same way I feel about the Grateful Dead.

That's why music is so fun. I mean I can absolutely believe that if someone things country music is the greatest thing to grace this planet we will not be friends (There may be a few exceptions but this rule generally holds out). And I can love Sun Kil Moon, and no one else even knows who that band is and the fact they have made an acoustic album of all Modest Mouse songs and an all acoustic album of AC/DC songs.

So there you two cents.

BusterBluth52 said...

Pete, (Is it Pete or Amanda?) how can a Minnesotan such as yourself not have an immediate affection for your state's own Robert Zimmerman?

I agree with you that though the effect of great music is pretty universal, which kinds of music resonate with which people can be pretty random. I feel the same way about The Dead as you feel about Bob. They are truly great, I understand why people love them, but outside of "American Beauty" they just don't do it for me. I'm the same way with Pearl Jam.

That's why, outside of an occasional blog post, I don't really try to proselytize Dylan's music anymore.

Whatever blows your hair back.

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