This week in our Festival News, we covered Bob Dylan‘s latest reflection of our times — through his mouth more than his music. [August 25 -- Dylan on Today's Music: "It Ain't Worth Nothing" -- Guardian].
In Dylan’s interview with Jonathan Lethem in Rolling Stone (gee, wasn’t there some connection with the magazine’s name?), he made some groan with his current view on our times — or at least what we hear:
You do the best you can, you fight that technology in all kinds of ways, but I don’t know anybody who’s made a record that sounds decent in the past twenty years, really. You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them. There’s no definition of nothing, no vocal, no nothing, just like — static. Even these songs probably sounded ten times better in the studio when we recorded ‘em. CDs are small. There’s no stature to it. I remember when that Napster guy came up across, it was like, ‘Everybody’s gettin’ music for free.’ I was like, ‘Well, why not? It ain’t worth nothing anyway.’
Is there just a little bit of mine (LP) is bigger than yours (CD)? Is the man just Blowing in the Wind? Does he just want to be alone with his own music? Or, is this master mentoring the next generation of musicians by demanding that they Quit their Low Down Ways?
Leave aside for moment that his most recent album release (on CD) is entitled Modern Times; or, that he was the one who was roundly jeered when he lost the acoustic folk sound and plugged in for electric rock. Dylan is – as always – on to something.
In all art forms, one way of defining the difference between today’s mediocrity and genuine artistry is in the differences — what work stands apart, expresses something new, appears fresh in a field of commonalities. In dance and theatre, if you see a piece and it is no different from other works’ of today, chances are it is not going to have a lasting affect on the art form, let alone an audience. The same, of course, is true for pop-music: if a song sounds just like any other song, who is going to be listening to it next month, let alone twenty years from now?
Dylan has never been enamored of working in the studio. His career has been defined as much by his transitions as it has been by spontaneity.
The issue he is identifying here is sweet music to all of us who crave the immediacy of a performance; meeting a unique voice/sound; hearing a work of music and knowing the artist because it is unlike any other singer/songwriter.
So, Dylan is not just being a cranky 65 year old. Nor, is he changing his religion, again.
He is singing the words that make us stop and think, just as he has always done.
Now that he has tackled the evils of the studio, what is he going to say about today’s politics?
- Bill Reichblum