The Passion of the Weiss

Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick. But most of the time, I don't rhyme.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Old Testament: Bringing It All Back Home

It's kind of ridiculous that in the year plus that I've been blogging, no words have been spilled about Bob Dylan, other than to slag Modern Times via haiku. And in truth, my displeasure for Bobby D's latest album had more to do with the stark contrast between Modern Times and Time Out of Mind, let alone that of his latest work and his classic 60s records. Yet in spite of his late career mundanity, in my opinion, there remain only two logical choices for best singer/songwriter of all-time: Bob Dylan or Neil Young. Granted, picking between those two is like analyzing whether you'd rather sleep with Jessica Alba or Charlize Theron. But...if I had to pick a grizzled vestige of the 60's to bring it all back home with, I'd unequivocally choose Bob Dylan. I think that came out wrong.

When most critics talk Dylan Best-Of's, conversation typically veers towards one of three albums: Highway 61 Revisted, Blonde on Blonde or Blood on the Tracks. Yet while all three of those records are undeniably masterful, my personal favorite of Dylan's is 1965's "Bringing it All Back Home." Marking Dylan's first official attempt to go electric on wax, Bringing it All Back home is split into two distinct halves: side A devoted to rollicking head-spinning burners, with the acoustic side B devoted to gorgeous poetic dirges.

At times a furious hail-storm of anger and rage directed at society ("It's Alright Ma, I'm Only Bleeding," "Maggie's Farm" "Subterranean Homesick Blues"), at times wistful love-lorn laments ("Love Minus Zero/No Limit," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue), at times wildly surrealist folk-ballads (Bob Dylan's 115th Dream,") Bringing It All Back home is the most taut encapsulation of Dylan's talents. Just 11 tracks and 46 minutes of the most damning song-writing ever unleashed.
I Got a Head Full of Ideas Driving Me Insane

The first half of the record is doubtlessly outstanding, but it's its second half with its unvarnished brilliance that makes this my favorite album of all time. Indeed, you'd be hard to find a better sequence in the history of music than the last four tracks: "Mr. Tambourine Man," "Gates of Eden," "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding) and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue." Four songs that even now, over 40 years after their release, radiate like bright obsidian, hanging like dauting obstacles to future songwriters who somehow must vaguely understand that they'll never write anything that good. Words can't describe the way "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding), a seven and a half minute philippic against life, death, politics, capitalism, conformity and every point in between, winnowing its way through your soul, as Dylan recycles everyday thoughts and spits them out in a staccato bullets

On Bringing It All Back Home, Dylan basically invents what it means to be a great modern song-writer, scribing phrases capable of evoking myriad emotions in each listener, each cryptic turn able to be interpreted in a thousand different ways. (Of course, there are some tragic downsides to this,namely Incubus) Inspired by visionary poets like Arthur Rimbaud and Allen Ginsberg, Dylan writes lines that don't make little literal sense yet seem divinely ordained, with a brilliant method to their madness.

Inevitably, a whole lot of people reading this are already major Dylan fans, so in some respect I'm preaching to the choir. But if by chance oldies radio has left you with the mistaken notion that Bob Dylan is all oldies station staples like "Blowin' In the Wind," and "The Times Are-A-Changin," this record should change your mind. And if nothing else it won't awkwardly name-check Alicia Keys in its first two minutes.

MP3: Bob Dylan-"It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" (sendspace, left click)

Bonus: "Subterranean Homesick Blues" video (ft. Allen Ginsberg)


At 2:41 PM, Blogger Mo Diggs said...

True but "Desolation Row" is his best closer ever. Maybe his best work.

At 3:13 PM, Blogger Passion of the Weiss said...

I can't argue with that logic.

At 5:05 PM, Blogger amphimacer said...

Even the butler, he's got something to prove. . . .

How are you going to choose between these albums, really? I love "Desolation Row" too, but I only sang it once in a coffee house, because the audience won't wait through a ten-minute number unless you are Bob Dylan.

In fact, of the last three albums, I think only the one song ("Mississippi") is first class Dylan, but third class Dylan is better than 90% of everybody else, right?

My wife's favourite is "Blood on the Tracks" and I guess I'd go for "Highway 61 Revisited" although I love "On the Road Again" and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" from BIABH. Ultimately, the body of work is astonishingly good, and consistently interesting, now spanning over 40 years, which is a remarkable feat in itself. How many songwriters have had solid 40-year careers, never mind producing songs that have practically become folk songs (Blowin' in the Wind), generational anthems (Ballad of a Thin Man/The Times They Are A-changin'/With God on Our Side), and just plain artistic masterpieces (you name it -- you get about 120 good choices)?

Like the man said: Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? I hope there's more. Modern Times is not so good, but it doesn't sound like a swan song to me.

At 5:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said... album, by anyone, of all time

At 10:14 PM, Blogger 911 said...

Save your E-jabs....I have never listened to Bob Dylan heard of him yes...listen no...I'm downloading the links I'll get back with you on him...

At 5:16 AM, Blogger editor said...

So far I've only had the time for my first listen to Modern Times. It's been about 30 years since I had Dylan's latest album and not sat down and listened for a couple of hours.

Thanks for reminding I still need to do that.


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