Upon hearing Dylan’s “Highway 61 Revisited” I had a feeling that Bob Dylan was going to become my new musical obsession. In my teenage years it was the Beatles, then Oasis (unfortunately), then The Smiths (who made up for wasted time) and now it appears to be Bob Dylan.
There’s something about tackling an established artist’s decades-long discography that I find can either propel one to devouring the years of talent and hard work that an artist has put in, or it can be completely off-putting because of the almost insurmountable question: where the hell do you start?
Dylan in the past was such a case for me.I took a day trip to Liverpool when I was around 17. Outside HMV I was lucky enough to find a £20 note on the floor. I went straight inside and blew it all on CDs, one of which was “Blonde on Blonde” which I’d heard at the time was a well-regarded and celebrated album of Dylan’s and I wanted to sink my teeth into this mysterious figure and get to like him.
At the time I didn’t get it. It’s not that I thought it was bad, it’s just that my expectations were too high. His voice was weird, the music too bluesy and the ballads too self-indulgent, or so I thought at the time. “Blonde on Blonde” sat unlistened on my iPod for years (the same iPod I use today), and I moved onto other things. I’m reminded of a Woody Allen interview where he talks about 2001: A Space Odyssey, which he said he saw when it came out. Allen said he didn’t like it at first and it took him a number of years to come to love and appreciate the film because he wasn’t at the same point in his life as the artist-Kubrick-was.
I was very much at the same stage in regards to Dylan: I was not yet mature enough to appreciate where the artist was coming from. His sixties records often contain themes of alienation and separateness from wider society, which at 17 were questions I had not begun to ask of myself, I was more interested in playing Xbox and half-assuredly talking to girls.
However, during this past year at University studying for my Masters, I stumbled across “The Ballad of a Thin Man” on a recommended playlist on Spotify. I loved how Dylan laughed at the expense of the narrow-minded bores in society. Mr Jones is a straight-laced journalist, he’s well read, he’s well known, but he’s just a damn square. Dylan was referring to the highly educated journalists who appeared to know shockingly little about popular culture in the 1960s, and I feel the same disconnect with the older generation nowadays and even with popular culture. I don’t like the politicians, I don’t like the careers out there, I don’t like most people’s attitude to life, I don’t like conformity for the sake of one’s own comfort and I certainly don’t like this feeling of perpetual hopelessness at my own accomplishments in my safe and boring little white male privileged lifestyle. Any 20 something who doesn’t feel the same way needs to open their damn eyes.
With”Highway 61″ I was amazed at the superb wordsmith that Dylan appeared to be. Songs like “Tombstone Blues” seemed to contain seemingly endless poetic beauty and possess irrelevant, surreal characters and situations that someone seemed to speak to me about my own life. One month I bought practically all of Dylan’s sixties albums, loaded them onto my iPod. “Bring it all back home” is my favourite, containing some of the best lyrics I’ve honestly ever heard committed to music, here are some to conclude this post with:
“20 years of schoolin’ and they put you on the day shift..”
“Advertising signs that con you
Into thinking you’re the one
That can do what’s never been done
That can win what’s never been won
Meantime life outside goes on all around you”
“I try my best, to be just like I am, but everybody wants you, to be just like them”
“I jumped right in line and said I hope that I’m not late, when I realised I hadn’t eaten for five days straight”
“While one who sings with his tongue on fire
Gargles in the rat race choir
Bent out of shape from society’s pliers
Cares not to come up any higher
But rather get you down in the hole that he’s in”