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And the basic structures of the songs are unshakable. There is never a wrong chord. In the verbal jungle of rock criticism, Dylan is seldom talked about in musical terms. His work is analyzed instead as poetry, punditry, or mystification. The achievement is so large and so confusing that the impulse to ignore all that came after his near death and disappearance in is understandable.
You need only seven disks, instead of forty-three. He has a curious, sub-rosa place in pop culture, seeming to be everywhere and nowhere at once. He is historical enough to be the subject of university seminars, yet he wanders the land playing to beery crowds. So I went searching for whatever might be taking its place. I went to the shows; I listened to the records; I patronized dusty Greenwich Village stores in search of bootlegs; I sought out the Dylanologists who are arguing over his legacy in print.
Strange to say, Dylan himself may explain his songs best, just by singing them.
Concord, California. The crowd is dominated by ex- and neo-hippies from Berkeley, twenty miles to the west. Until a few years ago, when I started listening to Dylan in earnest, I had mentally shelved him as the archetypal radical leftover, reeking of politics and marijuana. He was born in Minnesota.
He went to Greenwich Village. He wrote protest songs. He stopped writing protest songs. He fell off his motorcycle.
He disappeared into a basement. He reappeared and sang country. He got divorced. He converted to Christianity.
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He converted back to something else. The challenge for anyone who thinks Dylan is more than a life-style trendsetter is to define those qualities that have outlasted his boisterous term as the voice of a generation. So far, the informal discipline of Dylanology—founded around , by a creep named A.
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At the moment, there are about a half-dozen luminaries in the field. The Dylan biographer Clinton Heylin lavishes attention on the gospel period and the apocalyptic rants that followed in the eighties. Christopher Ricks, a renowned scholar of Milton, Tennyson, Eliot, and Beckett at Boston University, supplies a formalist reading—of Dylan as a pure poet, who thrives on word choice, rhythm, and structured rhyme. Below the main authorities are the amateur Dylanologists: enthusiasts, cranks, editors of fanzines, caretakers of gigantically detailed Internet sites.
There is no end to their productions. Moreover, the odour of death?groupwithus14alexis.dev3.develag.com
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Despite everything that has been written about Dylan, not a great deal is known about him for certain. Here are three consecutive entries for the year Late April. Dylan attends a concert by Buffy St. Marie at the Bottom Line in New York. May 6. Dylan runs into Phil Ochs in front of the Chelsea Hotel and they decide to go for a drink together. May 7. What happened during the rest of the first week of May? Where was he going when he ran into Phil Ochs?
The accumulated files of Dylanology, despite their gaps, give a rough sense of the personality behind the enigma. He is at odds with the modern world in many ways. Some people said the light bulb was going too far. He was famous before he was twenty-one. The speed of his ascent required some luck, but it was mostly a function of his energy. He skipped heedlessly from one genre to another: folk, blues, country, spirituals.
His early vocal style incorporated pieces of Woody Guthrie, Mississippi John Hurt, Hank Williams, and, not to be forgotten, Johnnie Ray, the flaky fifties crooner who smacked his consonants with unnerving ferocity. In the early sixties, Dylan sought to play rock and roll and electric blues alongside his acoustic material: he had hammered the piano, Little Richard style, in high school, and he longed to resume that kind of noisemaking.
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He was trying frantically to say everything at once. But he soon discovered that you can be famous for only one thing at a time. The record business and the music press wanted a narrower genius. He was gaining notoriety chiefly for his civil-rights and anti-war material, and Columbia advertised him accordingly:. Bob Dylan has walked down many roads. Bob does what a true folk singer is supposed to do—sing about the important ideas and events of the times.
Even so, he played along with the spirit of the marketing: he later claimed that the song had been a general reaction to the dread of the nuclear age, and to the atmosphere of the Cuban missile crisis in particular. Before long, he learned not to talk about his songs at all. How does Dylan keep us interested?
One way is through repetition; another is through changes that occur between the first repetition and the last. And where have you been, my darling young one? The song hangs on a musical trick of suspension: E and A chords seesaw hypnotically as the number of answering phrases increases from five to seven and eventually to twelve.
Coming down the mountain of the song, he starts to sound like a prophet. Greil Marcus describes the tours differently—as a war against dark reactionary forces. Vice is always nearly on an average: The only difference in life worth tracing, is that of manners, and there we have manifestly the advantage of our ancestors. Hypocrisy is said to be the homage that vice pays to virtue,—decorum is the outward expression of that homage; and if this be so, we must acknowledge that vice has latterly grown very humble indeed. There was, however, something splendid, ostentatious, and obtrusive, in the vices of Charles the Second's reign.
At the doors stood on one side the footmen of a fashionable nobleman, with arms concealed under their liveries , surrounding the sedan of a popular actress 1 , whom they were to carry off vi et armis, as she entered it at the end of the play. At the other side waited the glass coach of a woman of fashion, who waited to take Kynaston the Adonis of the day , in his female dress, to the park after the play was over, and exhibit him in all the luxurious splendour of effeminate beauty, heightened by theatrical dress , for which he was so distinguished.
She was carried off in the manner described, by Lord Orrery, who, finding all his solicitations repelled, had recourse to a sham marriage performed by a servant in the habit of a clergyman. Plays being then performed at four o'clock, allowed ample time for the evening drive, and the midnight assignation, when the parties met by torch-light, masked, in St James's park, and verified the title of Wycherly's play, 'Love in a Wood. They had all taken the precaution to send some male relative, on the first night of a new play, to report whether it was fit for persons of 'honour and reputation' to appear at; but in spite of this precaution, at certain passages which occurred about every second sentence they were compelled to spread out their fans, or play with the still cherished love-lock, which Prynne himself had not been able to write down.
The men in the boxes were composed of two distinct classes, the 'men of wit and pleasure about town,' distinguished by their Flanders lace cravats, soiled with snuff, their diamond rings, the pretended gift of a royal mistress, n'importe whether the Duchess of Portsmouth or Nell Gwynne ; their uncombed wigs, whose curls descended to their waists, and the loud and careless tone in which they abused Dryden, Lee, and Otway, and quoted Sedley and Rochester;—the other class were the lovers, the gentle 'squires of dames,' equally conspicuous for their white fringed gloves, their obsequious bows, and their commencing every sentence addressed to a lady, with the profane exclamation of 'Oh Jesu!
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