Sunday, April 26, 2009

Down on Rue Morgue Avenue

Music fans have for years offered their assessment of the Bob Dylan phenomena: brooding, Rimbaud-like genius of rock, OR overrated, vain opportunist and wheezing musical primitive? As with the knuckles-dichotomy of Love and Hate, there doesn't seem to be a middle ground with Dylan/Zimmerman. I tend to side with the skeptics, like Jack Marx, who claims that Dylan invented "the arrogant, faux-cerebral posturing" typical of many rock stars and celebrities (tho' BD might have taken lessons from Brando). Some Dylan musick--from say late 60s, the Highway 61 Revisited/Blonde on Blonde stuff (the tasty organ riffs, from Al Kooper I believe, and Bloomsfield licks made the sound)-- still packs a bit of a punch, yet I find his voice wearisome, his music simplistic and the faux-cerebral schtick tiresome (then most 60s muzak produces that effect at this stage, including those psycho-delic musical hall jingles of the Beatless).

At some point in the 70s, after he recuperated from his mysterious motorcycle crash (he never entered a hospital), Dylan morphed into a businessman and "celebrity", though the folky 70s sound verges on nauseating really, especially compared to some of the creative music of the time--say Hendrix, Corea, early Steely Dan, the ECM crowd, Bill Evans or Getz's final works, minimalism, Zappa. Peaches in Regalia may sound a bit trite or phreaky now, but the freaks got to have some chops to play it, and other FZ works. Then compared to an interesting Chopin etude played competently, most rock, like Brown shoes, doesn't make it ...

Dylan's a competent tunesmith, a poet of sorts, and he rocks at times, though his best vamps, once he got over the boring Guthrie imitations, were blues variations for most part (From a Buick 6, etc.). His recent music sounds rather traditional as well: country-blues sounds, with a few rock like numbers, biblical hints, a certain social-realist aspect to the writing, with highways, trains, rivers, the lonesome belle, and so forth (more Steinbeck than surrealist, really). Some of his recent musick at times leans towards jazz--like "Bye and Bye," a few others on Love and Theft--- but not much different than the average bar band blasting out Muddy Waters (the jam on High Water not bad--what was up with Chas. Darwin reference?). It's a free country and all---no one forces you to buy a Dylan or Dead CD, or tickets to their hootenanny---yet the infatuation shown by some for Dylanianna seems on the whole misplaced and irrational.

Not approving of Dylan does not mean one thereby sides with the hawks or the squares, and so forth: I imagine Theodore Adorno (not a guru, but had interesting insight on pop muzak) felt the same about Zimmerman's music as he did about Joanie Baez; which is to say, Dylan's hymns uphold conservatism really, regardless of the radical chic, and PC politics. Americans are better off reading Chomsky's thoughts on 'Nam (not necessarily always agreeing) than unravelling Dylan lyrics (or joining the rock bacchanalia as a whole, really). Dylan's move towards Christianity (and recently Judaism, supposedly) should not have surprised us overly much, either (John Lennon was not completely down with Dylan's conversion, and wrote "Serve Yourself" a few months before being murdered).

Other Dylan skeptics,
such as the aforementioned Jack Marx,have pointed out a certain shallowness to Dylan's persona and sound:

"....Dylan pulled off the most prestigious magic trick in modern music's history: he created a persona full of charisma and intelligence both real and affected, then repeatedly disowned it, disappearing into a notional bunker of vagueness before the questions got too tricky, the silence leaving fans gasping for explanations that, beyond some very engaging show-business chutzpah, probably were never there. "Anybody can be specific and obvious," Dylan told Playboy in 1966. "That's always been the easy way. It's not that it's so difficult to be unspecific and less obvious; it's just that there's nothing, absolutely nothing, to be specific and obvious about." How phoney, and yet how true."""

No, Dylan's not completely phony--Positively 4th street rings fairly true, even now. The situation seems more akin to that of the washed-up bullfighter Belmonte in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, who competes against the young gallant Pedro Romero. Senor Belmonte, El Viejo Torero, was great once, as far as bullfighters go, though way past his prime, he appears like an old clown when in the ring. El Viejo Dylan may have been great, as far as troubadours go (and Zimmy hisself said he wrote "just songs"). Now, past his prime, he's entered the Belmonte zone.

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