Bob Dylan has said himself that he cant get anywhere near the lyrics of songs such as 'Masters of war' and seems to recognize them almost as coming from another person.When I was 16 and heard his music for the first time I was hooked,what he does now seems to pale into insignifance.Shouldn't we remember his great years and forget this watered down version?He would never have made it on the stuff he has produced over the last 15/20 years.Bob Dylan's great songs had poetry,vision and often humour.I cant hear that now, in any sense,and prefer to imagine the new songs dont exist
Dylan did say in that interview that he doesn't think he can write as well, but "can do other things." He said he can play guitar better.
I consider Dylan my favorite musical artist of all time, but, honestly, his recent work doesn't do much for me. I like a lot of the stuff he did during the eighties though. As mentioned in another post, "Brownsville Girl" is an amazing song. "Every Grain of Sand" is one of my favorites, as is "When He Returns."
It doesn't bother me that I'm not turned on by the newer recordings. I have listened to "Blood on the Tracks" more times than I could possibly count, and I still enjoy it. His classic recordings will always sustain me. I think it's in the nature of Bob's art to kind of burn out anyway. I don't imagine him as a pure craftsman, like, say, Guy Clark. His music was always dependent on a certain depth of emotion and experience that I think is hard to sustain over 40 years.
This is a topic very near and dear to my heart, because I am a long-time Dylan fan as well as a songwriter strongly influenced by the man over the years.
I think the question is kind of loaded. Every artist in every field of endeavor has had periods of his life when his output was greater or lesser, and when it was received by either a wider or narrower audience. To me, it's really a question of relevance. Is what the artist is producing relevant to anyone other than himself, and to what degree?
A song like Masters of War will have a universal relevance for as long as Mankind builds weapons and certain people profit from war. It was written in a way, unlike the other more topical songs of its era -- such as the kind Pete Seeger or Phil Ochs might have written -- that keeps it evergreen. It does this by not mentioning specifics of the times, but rather by speaking to the universal truths of the human condition.
Dylan's personal interest in poetry, which condenses meaning by employing symbols and metaphors, paved the way for his ability to capture such universal relevance in so many of his early songs, be they social commentaries or love ballads.
He has continued to shift continually over time. His immediate post-accident period was very stark and deceptively simple. Listen to Nashville Skyline and consider how he managed to capture the mood of early country writers like Bob Wills and Hank Williams. Listen to his Blood on the Tracks period and you'll see he shifted again by then, using writing in very much the same way an impressionist painter uses canvas and oils.
The last 10 -15 years, he's almost come full circle to being the old veteran writer who's work reflects the wisdom of time passing. I personally prefer Modern Times over Time Out of Mind. Note they both mention time. Dylan is much more in the stream of consciousness now. He's stringing together a flow of images. Thunder on the Mountain is a great example of this, and to me, it's among the best he's put out in a long, long time, as is Working Man Blues from the same album.
To sum up, I don't think it matters whether he could still write Masters of War, or A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall, Just Like a Woman, or If You See Her Say Hello. What matters is that the arc of his career in continuing. Dylan's already done so much, he's at the point that it's hard not to repeat himself a bit. But as long as he's still doing what he's doing with flair and a perspective unique to someone with his wealth of life experience, his music will remain relevant to me, and I'm sure to many, many others.
I thought 'Oh Mercy' was great , a very underrated Dylan album. I guess you chose wether you take the 'journey' with an artist or just stop at the periods you like, but you can't keep trading the same ground , and we all change with age , in listening and writing ........
There is nothing wrong with your opinion, but I don't think you are going to find too many Dylan fans to agree with you, Rob. The nice thing is that you CAN pretend his newer songs don't exist, just listen to what you want and ignore the rest. If what you are saying is that you wish he'd do stuff now that you like as well as you like his old stuff, well, there is a saying that applies that talks about holding out two hands, one for wishes that come true and one for bulls*%t and seeing which one fills up quicker! (just a joke).
Time Out of Mind, to me, is a masterpiece and easily as good as Highway 61, Blood On The Tracks, and Infidels. Dylan may never hit one out of the park again like I think he's done so many times before, but he is undoubtedly in rarified space when it comes to being a long-standing brilliant force in modern popular music. I mean how many more masterpieces can reasonably be expected from the guy? I'm astounded at how many he's already done, at least one in every decade he's been recording, in my opinion, with maybe the 2000's as an exception.
When you talk about him being less poetic now than in the past, well that depends on how you define and characterize poetry, which is all opinion, too. I'd say that the line "last night I danced with a stranger, she just reminded me that you were the one" is beautifully poetic, telling a story and expressing complicated emotions in just a few simple words, elegant and concise. Sounds like good poetry to me. And the thing about lyrics is that they combine with music to evoke a mood, tell a story and express an experience/feelings and don't have to stand on their own. I'd say that there are Dylan songs (lyrics+music) in the past 15 years that are as good as anything he's ever done, but my opinion is not riding on just the lyrics by themselves. For some people lyrics are more important than music, for other music takes priority over lyrics and some judge their quality only in combination with one another.
Bob Dylan's never been a happy person but he's getting better. He's part of us. I'm glad that he's still alive and lucid. I like "No Direction Home" with Mike Bloomfield and "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight "....stuff like that. But "Mississippi" is good too so I guess I like it all. When I have a choice I'll listen to artists like Guy Clark. "Homeless" is a tough one but with Guy it's not coming from an unhappy, bitter place.
I am 34 years old. The first Bob Dylan album I bought was Time Out of Mind in 1997. That remains my favorite album of his, and I have no doubt that many of the Baby Boomers who worshipped Dylan in the 60s would pick the first album they bought as their favorite. My point: It's impossible to remove nostalgia from our opinions on this matter. The real test will come when we are all dead...what will future generations think of him then? How will "Red River Shore" stack up against "Chimes of Freedom" if they're heard side by side for the very first time?
No doubt Dylan holds an untouchable place in U.S. history and the history of music, so those 60s records will always be remembered. But that isn't the same as saying they're great. Birth of a Nation remains a benchmark in film making, but no one would argue it's actually a great film.
Some of Dylan's protest songs will connect with future generations; like "Blowin' In the Wind," which has a timeless message. Others like "Only a Pawn In Their Game" may not because it is so fixed in time...even if it can be appreicated in a broader sense as an allegory, that doesn't mean it will. If we're lucky, future generations won't be able to personally empathize with the racial dynamics in that particular song .
The avante garde stuff that followed is far more sketchy. Essential to the course of pop music, yes. But is "Absolutely Sweet Marie" really a good song? An honest look, in my opinion, says it's well-produced, middling rambling at best. Even Dylan said a lot of his work from this period was "vomit." You may like it ("it has a good beat and I can dance to it"), but can someone please tell me how we really connect with it on a human level if you're not on drugs?
I would argue that two albums far surpass any of Dylan's 60s work. Every single lyric on Blood on the Tracks (1975) and Time Out of Mind will be immediately accessible to any listener 5,000 years from now. (Okay, maybe not the callouts to Erica Jong and Neil Young, but you get the idea.)
That's because they're about perhaps the two most universal subjects known to man--love and death. The legendary author Cormac McCarthy (Blood Meridian, No Country for Old Men) said he couldn't understand any artist who didn't deal with death. Acid trips, cultural norms and even politics aren't even in the same ballpark.
Maybe the one subject that is--religion. And Dylan's gospel period has gained respect in recent years even though all of the hippies reading this despised him for it at the time. They are simply timeless records, and I am by no means a Christian.
Anyway, I know those same hippies are cursing me as they read this. Fair enough, there's certainly no lack of credibility to the idea that Dylan peaked with Blonde on Blonde. But to ask that question: "Are any of Bob Dylan's new songs worth very much when comparing them to his classical [sic] years?" That's preposterous and ignorant. Of course they are.
I liked the Neil Young joke; the Erica Jong thing, too. Took some of the edge of the otherwise somewhat desperate landscape. Liked Slow Train and a lot of the gospel stuff, too. Also Absolutely Sweet Marie and the railroad gates. Under the Red Sky had some good stuff, too, along with some not so good (okay, wiggle wiggle won't beat out gershwin). But hey...
I disagree. I think the new stuff is not watered down.
Just to take the last album of 'original's for an example to start:
1) "Forgetful Heart" - Beauty and Pain; - "To Ramona" - harp solos
2) "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" - Mystery & Dread - Street Legal "Change my Way of Thinking" - trumpet, sudden into.
3) "It's all Good" - Humour; "Bob Dyland's 115th Dream" - the chuckles, the mean old chuckles.
I am suggesting are valid and worthy these are just a few comparisons between the song craft, and musical techniques that the "Bobby-Boy/that every band 'ls playing" created, and has been creating.
Listening to Time out of Mind when it first came out was, for me, like repeatedly peeling back the layers of Blood on the Tracks until it *was* like blood - and the random lyric would be recalled by a momentary sight, view, or stray emotion. Love and Theft - 'throwing sand on the floor' - has an accessibility and the multiple possibilities that I hear in Blonde on Blonde.
Too, it is hard for me to 'hear' the older stuff with fresh ears. My ears aren't fresh anymore. But Chronicles (Vol. 1) - and all the plagiarim charges (really just source pointing) suggests that he is working at lyrics regularly. Few poets 'come into their own' late in life...Hardy, Yeats?
Picasso stopped being 'relevan't when? When did he do those doves, again? What Matisse did with paper cutouts late in life - do you compare that to the early work and say 'he lost his vision'?
Somebody who can rock up 'Must be Santa' (even with an entirely unacknowledged arrangement) and take the time to carve 'Nettie Moore' and "Workingman's Blues #2" after spilling Gates of Eden does deserve more than one listen.
Besides, he seems to be enjoying himself, and he should be encouraged. He's a boogie-woogie, boogie woogie boogie woogie country boy.
Is it rolling, Bob? /Let it roll.
But don't get me started on the late Stones. Now there is something I'm not missing much. 20? Try 25!
But Bob's new one? Can't wait. It will be interesting, full of poetry, vision. And humour. (I'm working on a home-compilation called 'Laugh with Bob Dylan'...do you know any other performer who has as much laughter on his recordings? A bit like Lennon's whistling. Signature.)
But these are days where not much is funny anymore because 'its all good'. Tell me when you hear someone say "It's all good" you don't think of Bob's ironic take on the phrase. Don't need a weatherman, but it helps to know one when you're traveling.
I have recently re read Chronicles & will refer to the section about recording what became Time Out of Mind....Daniel Lanios asked Bob for songs like ....Masters of War etc. etc...& Bob said simply" I didn't have any of those...I also will refer to his comment to Ed Bradley about songwriting from that period...he said "you can't write those...you try sitting down & write Darkness @ the break of noon shadows even the silver spoon....you can't do it...
That said those older songs hold up really well & much of his later stuff doesn't for me...Time out of Mind, Love & Theft & Modern Times all have some interesting stuff...good (probably his best bands) I like him rewriting Classic Blues...only Bob could get away w/it...pax doug
The New Orleans sessions with Mason Ruffner were for Oh Mercy about 8 years earlier than Time Out Of Mind. Lanois produced both of those records, but Time Out Of Mind was done in Miami.