Monday, March 29, 2004

#29) Bob Dylan - Highway 61 Revisited (released in 1965, one of ten CDs of my little sister's that I got her to burn for me a while back. Bob's part of a long line of reputable artists that she got into first and it seems the breadth of her tastes is increasing exponentially. That damn Smith education she's been getting - plus all this year abroad bullsheeit - that's makin' her furget her Penn State roots, gawDAMNIT! As long as she remembers the redneck sucka from Jacksonville, I'll forgive it.)

That voice scared me off for ages, and it wasn't until reading Accidental Revolution Of Rock'n'Roll that I began to appreciate this guy. The biggest stumbling block for a lot of people is the presumption that you're going to be hearing serious WISDOM from the word go, leaving you disappointed when "diplomat" is rhymed with "siamese cat" for no obvious reason. The pleasure principle is abundant in Dylan's best work, but the trick is giving him enough leeway to find it. When playing choice tracks for friends I ask them to expect nothing more than a guy trying to rhyme. Don't assume that every word is carefully lodged in place for some greater purpose - just let the images, bad jokes, musical hooks and insights hit you at face value. Think of him as a dude, an asshole who may or may not be charming (your call), rather than the "voice of a generation." His energy gets killed when you imply he's respectable.

Though I haven't heard a lot of his albums in their entirety (though I've been listening to Biograph a lot lately - it takes a while to put the tracks in chronological order but it's worth it), I'll be surprised if this one isn't always going to be among my favorites. Like any good folkie he's more about asking questions then providing answers, but there's a flippant energy (not unlike the Rolling Stones', har har) behind his queries here that I find unusally gripping and enjoyable. Fitting for a pseudo-populist loudmouth like myself, "Like A Rolling Stone" is among my five favorite songs of all time, it tears down your pretenses while providing enough musical uplift to imply there's a grandeur to whatever mixed-up confusion you're going through. There's none of Bruce Springsteen's self-mythologizing malarkey in the bombast here; not only does Dylan' acknowledge the possiblity that you might get defeated by all this bullshit, he implies you may well deserve to be. He's not providing security or rooting for you, he's just demanding self-awareness in a manner that implies he can take the heat as well as he dishes it out. Like Socrates (according to my childhood copy of The History Of The World, Part One), he makes it clear he's the smartest guy around by not getting hung up about declaring what he actually knows.

There's something absurd about opening the album with "Like A Rolling Stone," but he gets away with it by making the next track, "Tombstone Blues," danceable. Like those other Backstreet Boys, he doesn't care who you are or what you did as long as you love him (plus he's original, sexual and the only one). The basic messages here are that Bob Dylan is a badass (all tracks), you probably aren't ("Ballad Of A Thin Man"), the world is fucked up ("Highway 61 Revisited") and yes, ladies, he's available ("Queen Jane Approximately"). The band's is nice and loose, casually rocking in a fashion that's nigh impossible to imagine folks pulling off today (it's hard for musicians to sound cocky AND unaware that they're being watched). I haven't parsed each track for each line's meaning but since I'm planning to be on this planet for a good long while, I like knowing that some previously unnoticed sentiment or image is waiting for me the next 100 times I throw this on. Enough has connected that I know it will be worth finding out.

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