Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Thoughts On Bob Dylan

Let me begin by saying that I have not heard Together Through Life. I did stream the first single, Beyond Here Lies Nothin', and although it is-- typical of '00s Bob Dylan-- yet another 12 bar blues, it sounds awesome.

I've been reading some of the reviews, which are by-and-large positive, but they also tend to describe the record along the lines of "light", "breezy", and "impersonal." While that sounds like it adds up to something fun, it also illuminates what I believe is a valid criticism of most of Dylan's work:

That would be that Dylan shows so little of his true self in most of his songs. He is so gifted when it comes to inventing characters and telling their stories, but sometimes I think he uses that as a mask/crutch to avoid exposing his true psyche to the public.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. I don't think that I, placed in his shoes, could really become a heart-on-sleeve balladeer who shares a little bit of my soul with each public release. I completely understand Bob Dylan's emotional reticence in that regard.

But what strikes me is that Dylan's '60s contemporaries who remain relevant in 2009-- and the two names that spring to mind first are Neil Young and Joni Mitchell-- have built careers around songs that really do expose their beliefs and emotions. Each of the three have faced peaks and valleys in their careers-- most notable in that all 3 sucked ass for nearly all of the '80s.

But think about Bob Dylan specifically, and his career trajectory. He began as a protest singer. Politics and social justice formed the first shield between him and his public. He even affected his voice (you can hear him singing in pure form on Nashville Skyline) both to distinguish himself from other folk singers, but also (I'd argue) to keep the real Bob Dylan a little removed from what the public saw.

On Another Side of Bob Dylan, we saw... well, just that. Songs like "My Back Pages" revealed the man's psyche (at least a little piece of it) and the public and critical response was tremendous. But just as quickly, Dylan started building new veneers to protect his inner self from his listening audience. Humor helped in this regard. "Maggie's Farm" and "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" are great songs, highly entertaining, and ultimately tell you nothing about the man singing them. Perhaps parts of the lyrics are true; perhaps no part of them is. We don't know, and admittedly, the mystery therein is a huge part of Bob Dylan's appeal.

As Dylan plugged in, he started using his swagger and star persona as his shield. Songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues", "Like a Rolling Stone," and "Ballad of a Thin Man" taught the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed how to be rock stars (even if Bowie would later lash out at Dylan), but they didn't show us anything we could prove was a reflection of the man singing them.

I can't go through every era in Bob Dylan's career-- he's released 46 albums for crying out loud-- but consider the other things he's hidden his true self behind: genre (Nashville Skyline), storytelling (John Wesley Harding), Christianity (Slow Train Coming) and olde tyme cowboy blues (past decade).

Interestingly enough, the albums where Dylan has let down his guard-- Blood on the Tracks, Desire, Time Out of Mind-- have been some of the best received of his career. But even those are only partly confessional. While Blood on the Tracks has "If You See Her, Say Hello," it also has the yarn-spinning of "Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts." While Desire has "Sara", it also has tall tales like "Isis" and a return to politics on "Hurricane." Modern Times, for what it's worth, was pretty "confessional" by Dylan standards. And you know what? I'd credit that, in part, for the tremendous reception it received.

So am I somehow suggesting Bob Dylan is inferior to more heart-on-sleeve '60s survivors like Neil Young and Joni Mitchell? Hell no! I love every non-personal twist Bob Dylan has taken over his 46 albums. (Well I don't know about the Christian stuff, but honestly I haven't heard much of it.)

More than anything, I guess I'm remarking on the unusual circumstance of a folk-based singer thriving through 5 decades with so little of his true personal self revealed. I wouldn't change it for the world-- I'm not one to try to "improve" a 98% perfect product. Really this is just my observation and, hopefully, a discussion starter.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Attention New York Kittybrains

A quick detour from the musical arts to the theatrical ones.

I highly encourage you to go see this production of "Joe Turner's Come and Gone" by August Wilson. I got to see it out here in CA over Thanksgiving (different production) and was really blown away by the play. This got a great review, so if you can afford the ticket, go see it.

One of the best pieces of contemporary theater I've had the privilege of seeing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Good god! Could she really be this strapped for cash after Yes Man?!?!

90's Indie Thrift Store Bounty!

As I've long said, the whole "Death of the CD" is great for people who, like me, are stubbornly hanging on out of some neurotic attachment to the medium on which they were raised. Before, people sold CDs used that they didn't like (it was always baffling when you'd see something like Abbey Road in a used shop-- who could listen to that and say, "meh-- I'd rather have three bucks!"). Now, people get rid of entire high quality collections that they've transferred to their hard drive! Score!

I've found that the stoop sale/thrift shop scene is particularly helpful for filling in gaps in my collection of 90s albums, since I spent most of that time checked out from contemporary music (until I got to college). My local thrift shop has a rack of CDs that, while dominated by complete crap, occassionally has some real gems. Evidently someone with taste remarkably similar to our own Drischord's just got rid of a bunch of CDs, because yesterday I picked up the following, all for two bucks each:

-Fugazi - 13 Songs
-Fugazi - Steady Diet of Nothing
-PJ Harvey - To Bring You My Love
-PJ Harvey - Is This Desire?
-Sonic Youth - Dirty
-Camper Van Beethoven - Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart
-Pavement - Westing (By Musket and Sextant)

Considered but left behind (let me know if I've made a huge mistake): Jesus Lizard - Goat; Dinosaur Jr. - Where You Been; Sonic Youth - Experimental Jet Set Trash and No Star.

You can talk all you want about the "warmth of vinyl" or the fact that CDs are a "waste of space" and "totally unnecessary when you can download high quality digital mp3s for cheap from such music vendors as emusic or for free from bittorrent" but (a) 2 bucks per album is cheaper than even the best emusic deal, and (b) unlike, say, Steely Dan or Neil Young, this shit is from the peak of the CD era, and is absolutely made to be heard on little silver discs, Pearl Jam's early-adopter vinyl revival notwithstanding.

Friday, April 10, 2009

New Dirty Projectors single

The band that put out my favorite album of 2007 is about to release their new one. You can get the first single for free here
C'mon, Q. I know they look like filthy hipsters, but give them a chance!

Thursday, April 09, 2009

The Boxmasters put out a new CD!!!!

Guys! Have you guys heard that new Boxmasters that everybody is talking about?? You know, those guys playing a variety of Cosmic American Music that nobody else has been able to touch in like 30 years??

You haven't??

Then Billy Bob Thornton has some words for you, my friends. He is NOT amused, and he will go so far as to generally insult all Canadian music audiences on Canadian radio to get his point across.

This gets more and more unbelievable as it goes along. Take a listen.

Actually, I just discovered you can watch the whole this on YouTube, and it's even more of a fascinating train wreck:

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

Genius Child Drummer

Unfortunately, embedding has been disabled for this video, but for God's sake, watch this 4-year-old TEAR IT UP on the drums to "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Oh. My. God.


Friday, April 03, 2009

On the off chance you were already thinking about it...

The reissue of Pearl Jam's Ten has some pretty decent remixes on it. They've really cleaned it up and they hard panned the guitars opposite each other, so you can actually hear each guitarist individually for the first time.
Also, you can hear how much wah pedal Mike McCready uses. I'll give you a hint: it's a lot of wah pedal.
worth a hear if you're a closet Pearl Jam fan like myself.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Wading in Further...

So after everyone's enthusiastic recommendations during the Best of 2008 days, I finally picked up Bonnie "Prince" Billy's Lay Down in the Light, and it's gorgeous. I can't stop listening to it. So thanks.

It's actually my first Will Oldham purchase. Just hadn't gotten around to it before this. So my question is, where to next? Keep in mind I'm not that interested in particularly tuneless lo-fi mumbly stuff (so I'm probably looking more at B"P"B and not Palace stuff right?). How is the new one?