Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Thanks Bob, I guess

I just finished reading Bob Dylan's autobiography for the second time. I don't mean to dwell, but I feel a little abandoned by him. I know, I know, he said over and over again that he wasn't the voice of any generation, and he never wanted to be followed.

But how could you write "These Times They are a-Changing" and not know that you were going to start a movement? He wrote these things, and we got hooked, and pulled out on us. It's like we had all these intimate moments together and now Bob is saying, "Oh, I didn't even know you were there..."

So the book really freaked me out. But he did contribute something to my life through this book: new music. I write down every reference to an artist in the book and I've been downloading some pretty good stuff. Here's my top 5:

1. "Rosie." The song is about a woman named Caroline, so don't ask why it's called Rosie. I've listened to this on a loop all week. Dylan, in the book, was talking about being inspired by field hollers. So I've been youtubing chain gang songs from the Mississippi State Penitentiary and got stuck on this one. That guy's voice should made him a mint, but no one even knows who he is.

2. "Ludlow Massacre." Can't get enough Woody Guthrie. If you thought you'd heard every massacre folk song, there's always another one around the corner! One thing bugged me in Dylan's book about Woody. He went on and on about how he moved to New York to be close to Woody Guthrie and to find him and learn from him. And the book skips and he's visiting Guthrie in the hospital. How did you find him? How did you meet him? What was it like meeting the man who you worshiped for so many years? We'll never know.

3. "White House Blues." I got stuck on Charlie Poole and his North Carolina Ramblers lately. I was supposed to be making a good pace through Bob Dylan's list of influences, but I spent a long time listening to and reading about Charlie Poole. He had a special picking style because he broke his thumb catching a baseball without a glove. He payed for his banjo with revenue from a moonshine still and worked most of his life in a textile mill. If that ain't an American folk hero, I don't know what is.

4. "Years Ago." Jimmie Rodgers is the yodeling god. I don't know how he does it. Especially on this track. He would die two days later, but you'd never know it listening to his yodel. When he was diagnosed with tuberculosis he went to New York City to record for his last three weeks. This is one of the few tracks he recorded solo. Sitting, because by this time, he could no longer walk. He died at 35, I just found out. Crazy. It seems like he had decades of music in him. But, I guess that's the way it is. Hank Williams died at 29. Buddy Holly 24. It's like these guys have too much in them to last a whole lifetime. No one could be that great forever.

5. "If I had my Way." Supposedly this is a Blind Willie Johnson song, although Reverend Gry Davis is performing it here. Whatever. They were both blind and both reverends, so it's all in the family I guess. I like all the closeups in this video of they way he picks the guitar. I don't get it at all, but then again, I don't play the guitar. Maybe Rick Bierman can explain it to me.

And, for the record, Bob. You were wrong on two things. "Sometime after that, the song 'Joe Hill' was written. As far as protest songs go, I had heard a few... they were all better than this one... Protest songs are difficult to write without making them come off as preachy and one-dimensional. You have to show people a side of themselves they didn't know existed. 'Joe Hill' doesn't even come close..." he wrote in his book. I don't know, Bob. You'd have to be pretty cold (or a Republican from Wisconsin) not to get chills when someone sings the line in "Joe Hill," "Those who they forgot to kill went on to organize." It's not preachy. It's ballsy.

And the second thing, Bob. Johnny Rivers' version of "Memphis" is not better than the Chuck Berry original. You can just forget about that. Chuck Berry's version makes you want to cry. Anything else is just pop.

Anyway, that's all I got on Bob Dylan. I'll leave him alone now. Apparently that's what he wanted all along.