Wednesday, October 13, 2010

album of the day: Bringing It All Back Home

My favorite "early" Dylan album includes several well-known songs - "Maggie's Farm," "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue," "Mr. Tambourine Man," and "Subterranean Homesick Blues" being among Dylan's best-known. These songs were very influential, as well. "Mr. Tambourine Man" was famously and popularly covered by the Byrds, who sang one inconsequential verse of it. "Maggie's Farm" and "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue" indirectly affected untold thousands of folk singer-songwriters' socially-conscious efforts.

But the most influential, and most copied, I would argue, is "Subterranean Homesick Blues" - the fast-paced story song made into the famous film of Dylan in the alleyway dropping cuecards on the pavement, literally dropping names/concepts from the song. That film, which tons of people have seen, analyzed (yes, that's Allen Ginsburg; no, it doesn't mean anything), and copied, makes the song seem to be a catalog song - which it clearly isn't - and has led to at least 4 more-or-less satirical mimicries that I know of. First was the obscure Simon and Garfunkel bit, "A Simple Desultory Philippic (or, How I Was Robert McNamara'd Into Submission)," which satirizes the entire genre of folk-rock, which evidently Mr. Simon did not believe his own music was part of. Simon did, however, establish the parameters of the "Subterranean"- style Dylan knockoff with his vague logic and name-dropping - picking up the vibe of the film, rather than the actual song lyric. Second is R.E.M.'s "It's The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," the logic of which is less clear and which drops fewer names, less coherently. Third is Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire," which is still less logical, drops more names even less coherently, and is the least satirical of the direct ripoffs. Finally, there's the Weird Al Yankovic parody, "Bob," written entirely in palindromes, and complete with parody film.

I think we wanna cover the original "Subterranean Homesick Blues," because it's actually kinda good. That'd be the second cover we'd do from this one album, though, and that rather arbitrarily strikes me as one too many. Lauren also wants to cover "Mr. Tambourine Man," all 290,117 verses of it.

My favorite single track on the album is "She Belongs To Me," a rather ambiguous ode to a woman who the singer might love, might be under the power of, or might really be suspicious of, depending on how you read it. In any case, it's a spooky portrait of a spooky woman, who apparently "paints the daytime black." The song really hit me when I was 18 and suddenly found myself in a very heavy relationship with a 30-year old woman who, in a certain respect, had everything she needed, who was an artist, and who did not look back. It was the first time I felt like I was having the kind of experience that people like Bob Dylan wrote songs about - the first time I felt that the authentic voice of experience of loss, confusion, and heartache could be one I would ever speak with.

I also have serious affection for "Gates of Eden," a pessimistic paean, and the bleak (and, depending on my mood, irritatingly narcissistic) "It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)." But there's also the ridiculous "On The Road Again" and "Bob's 115th Dream."

Earlier I wrote that Blood On The Tracks would be my Exhibit A in the case for Dylan's greatness as a songwriter. I must have been crazy, because this is clearly the stronger album for overall lyrical cleverness, range of themes, and critical perception and bite.

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