Saturday, May 24, 2008

Lay Across My Big Brass Bed

After watching I'm Not There last weekend, Todd Haynes' joyous and playfully clever ode to the many lives of Bob Dylan, I've been, not surprisingly, on a bit of a Dylan kick this past week. I have roughly half of his catalog from the early 60's up through 1974's Blood On The Tracks, so I've been throwing myself and Abby a bit of a Dylanathon, or at least Dylan seemed to be on in the background while Abby and I raced around the house earlier this week.

It took me a long time to get around to actually paying any attention to Dylan. Certainly I was aware of his iconic status growing up, but I always thought of Dylan as a guy who wrote some decent songs that were at their best when covered by others (i.e., The Byrds Mr. Tambourine Man). I was wary. Dylan was such a seemingly ossified 60's touchstone, hallowed Baby Boomer ground. There was no man, just a tired, overly-trodden myth. There was that. And I feared his body of work. I worried that if I fell for Dylan's music and the tantalizing myths and associations that have sprouted up around it, then I'd , as comes inevitably to any music junkie, feel compelled to go about seeking out and listening to all his albums and reading up on the body of Dylan literature. Blood On The Tracks was Dylan's 15th studio album. I suppose I have or have heard roughly 10 of those first 15. I've only read one book about Dylan, and that was his own.

My brother Randy forwarded along a copy of a Dylan mix a friend had made for him not long after we moved back to Chicago back in the winter of 2004. I was ready for it, or at least to listen to Dylan with an open mind. My old friend Dave Walulik and I, back when we were both attending Ohio State, went through a bit of an old-time music kick, checking out old Woody Guthrie and old Smithsonian Folkways CD's from the mighty main branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library. Dave owned a copy of Dylan's Nashville Skyline and would put it on from time to time around this same time. It fit in nicely with field recordings, union songs and Appalachian social music we were listening to at the time. I remember being shocked to hear how different Dylan's voice was on the album-- he sings with an almost Kermit the Frog like crooning sweetness unlike his infamous nasal sneer. My favorite cut is still the album's lead track, a new version of Girl From the North Country where Dylan shares vocals with Johnny Cash. The whole album is wonderful though, a mellow country-rock album, one of the first of that genre, coming just a year after the Byrds' own Gram Parsons helmed country-rock classic, Sweetheart of the Rodeo, and just as good.

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