Posts Tagged ‘Elvis Presley’

Monday Medley

What we read in our government-less dystopia…

 

Bob Dylan in America: Out of Many, One

“I’ll know my song well before I start singing”—Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan is a plagiarist. Did you know that? Just ask Mokoto Rich, who pointed out that the lyrics from Dylan’s 2006 album, Modern Times, strongly resembled the poetry of Confederate poet laureate Henry Timrod.

Bob Dylan is a fake. Did you know that? Just ask Joni Mitchell, who recently told the Los Angeles Times that, “Everything about Bob is a deception.”

Bob Dylan is a poet, a genius, and one of the greatest artists in American history. Did you know that? Just ask Sean Wilentz, whose recent book, Bob Dylan in America, attempts to properly place Dylan in the lineage of American artists, from Allen Ginsberg to Walt Whitman, from Aaron Copland to Blind Willie McTell.

Wilentz is, by his own admission, a fan, so there is an unmistakable affection for Dylan throughout the book. When Wilentz discusses the accusations of plagiarism, for example, there’s no hint of condemnation. Similarly, Wilentz writes first-person accounts of concerts with the admiration and awe of a member of the “spellbound” audience.

But Wilentz is also a historian (and a rather renowned one at that), so Bob Dylan in America is not the gushing ode to Robert Zimmerman that so many Dylan books quickly become. Instead, Wilentz uses Dylan as a springboard to investigate the annals of American artistic history, tracing Dylan’s influences and inspiration back to their roots. As a result, Bob Dylan in America is about America as much as it is about Bob Dylan. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #87: You’re No Good

“You’re No Good” has the distinction of being the first track on the first album of the greatest musician of the last century. But it’s kind of a worthless distinction. Despite its placement, “You’re No Good” was probably not the first Bob Dylan song that most Dylan fans heard. His first album sold only modestly, as was typically the case with folk acts, and Dylan would not become a musical sensation until his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. Even most loyal folk music fans from New York had probably seen Dylan, who had been performing in Greenwich Village for a few months before the release of the first album, in concert already, and few of the songs on his first album were mainstays of his live performance. Continue reading

Ranking Bob Dylan Songs, #95: Talkin’ New York

Greil Marcus once remarked that it is somewhat surprising that none of the puppet masters who got their hands on Elvis Presley ever tried to fabricate or glamorize his upbringing, the way some teen idols did in those days. The simple explanation for this, according to Marcus, is that no embellishment could have improved on the real thing. The story of a poor kid from Memphis who worked as a truck driver and turned into a rock star really couldn’t be improved upon.

Well, I feel like the same thing is true about Dylan. A kid from the Midwest drops out of college to go visit his idol—Woody Guthrie—who’s dying in a hospital. He starts performing in Greenwich Village and, by the time he’s 23 years old, he’s become the biggest folk music star in the world. You can make that stuff up, but it would sound like a cliché. Continue reading