Bob Dylan is one of those untouchables. His artistic peaks are so far above mere mortals that his "failures" are considered part of the necessary process to reach his dizzying heights. If he misfires with an album, it's forgiven because he eventually bounces back with something only he could've written. What's a little "Wiggle Wiggle" between friends?
His new album Together Through Life is already receiving some pretty good reviews--and while some of that is surely part of the accumulated good will that five decades of musical service will bring a man, it's also a testament that he's re-found much of the musical footing that eluded him through certain periods. We'll politely call them "the '80s."
Loving the man's music and every crazy antic as much as I do, I find his disasters to be equally important. Anyone can list his monumental achievements. That "Like A Rolling Stone" sure was a good one, doncha think? Enjoying his weirdness is the key to enjoying the man
Here are ten Dylan moments that would surely sink a lesser artist.
10) Talkin' Bear Mountain, Talkin' World World III, Talkin' Anything: Early Dylan finds the young man occasionally searching for his voice and finding Woody Guthrie instead. Sure, he wrote "Blowin' In The Wind" and "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" and plenty of unbelievably great tunes, but he also got caught up in that "Talkin'" mode of his folk forefathers and that stuff is pure Ambien without the amnesiac gambling. For those of you who think listening to Dylan sing is a painful experience, I dare you to listen when he's just talking.
9) Renaldo And Clara: I know you have to see the four-hour version to really "get it." What is this--a Peter Bogdanovich documentary on Tom Petty? Fact, Dylan is not a filmmaker. He's got lots of ideas and ambitions but Fellini he is not. Sure, Renaldo And Clara has become a time capsule piece, but I have yet to meet anyone who's sat through the entire film--straight. And in real-time. Fast-forwarding doesn't count.
8) Self-Portrait: I'm actually quite fond of this album, but it is truly lousy. The live tracks from The Isle Of Wight sound practically inspired next to "All The Tired Horses" and "Wigwam," tracks necessary strictly to make this a double album. It sounds like Dylan trying to find a way to alienate his entire audience in one fell swoop. For that, it is a true success. The playing is stock. The singing is without effort and the overall sound is like lite-FM. And those are the good points. I think he even hums in spots.
7) Tarantula: His biography Chronicles proves Dylan is a credible author. The years of experience have taught him well. But this conglomeration of "Deep Thoughts" is what you might expect from a guy very high on speed or marijuana locked in a hotel room with a deadline looming over him. Rock lyrics may sometimes be poetry, but poetry isn't always poetry. Sometimes it's just crap.
6) At Budokan: I've bought a ton of bad albums over the years and this one is near the top of the pile. I can handle his insistence on screaming the end of every line of every song on Before The Flood but these professional recordings from Japan, following in the tradition of Cheap Trick and Neil Diamond, to prove he had a following in Asia make his catalog sound like he planned it for a Vegas Revue or knew there would one day be a Branson, Missouri to potentially call home if all else failed.
5) Saved: I know a few esteemed critics who swear they like this album. I'm not picking on it for its "Born Again" statements. I'm picking on it because it's like playing a game of "Where's Dylan?" He's so lost in the hokey arrangements that not even a remix of this album could probably save it. Street Legal on the other hand was actually saved with a CD remix. How ironic is that?
4) Live Aid: Millions of people watching. Bob Dylan, the legend, invites both a senior member of the Rolling Stones--Keith Richards--and a junior partner--Ron Wood--to join him on stage. Apparently, the rules were no rehearsing and "must be drunk." Then it was onto a surefire crowd pleaser like the "Ballad Of Hollis Brown" that Wood didn't have to feel too bad about not knowing, since neither did anyone else! And then Bob follows with "When The Ship Comes In," yet another super hit that makes you wonder why the audience didn't just try burning the stadium down for fun.
3) Hearts Of Fire and his acting career in general: Again, Dylan is not a filmmaker and he's not much of an actor either. Unless you consider his mumbling to be a strategic underacting technique that Lee Strasberg never thought of. For Hearts Of Fire he even plays a washed up rocker who had one hit--"The Usual"--that wasn't even written by Dylan, but by John Hiatt! Bob wasn't inspired enough to write his own "hit" for the movie? He had to farm it out! Way to coast, Bobby!
2) "Masters Of War" performance at the Grammy Awards: His bizarre acceptance speech where he thanked no one was brilliant in its weirdness. His decision to play "Masters Of War" at a time of the Gulf Invasion was his way of staying on top of things. The way he performed it, as if it was one long run-on sentence with no real point made for great watercooler chatter and leads us to what's become a Bob Dylan tradition for all his loyal concertgoers and number one on this countdown...
1) Playing "Name That Tune" at just about any show he performs: I will always respect the man for doing what he does. If he wants to rewrite the words and the melodies to his own songs, who am I to question it? They're his, after all. But it sure does lead to plenty of odd moments when you're standing in a crowd and Bob and his band have been playing something for over three minutes and no one's actually sure what song it is. Could it be "Joey"? Could it be "Masters Of War"? Could it be "Like A Rolling Stone"? Let's take a poll and find out. Turns out it's "Changing Of The Guard"? Shake that 8-ball one more time and check again.
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