Ballad of a Thin Man

The Globe has a little pop culture piece on bands or singers they feel are over-rated. I actually agree with most of these picks with a few exceptions. It’s no secret that I hate The Beatles, including Paul and John’s solo stuff, and there is nothing they recorded that I haven’t heard including that awful stuff with Yoko. I can barely tolerate Bruce Springsteen. I am hot and cold on Radiohead, with High and Dry being on my favorite songs list but I don’t listen to any of their newer stuff. Led Zeppelin is also on this list but I do like Zeppelin and not just as a cultural requirement. One of the things I love about Zeppelin is none of their songs remind me of any particular time, place or person. They are just songs that I enjoy for their own sound and nothing more. If I can’t listen to Misty Mountain Hop at a truly deafening volume I feel very put-out.

Then we come to Bob Dylan. I can’t listen to Dylan. The man’s voice is akin to nails on a chalkboard. My parents each had their own very distinctive tastes in music. As I have mentioned before, there is a more than impressive collection of records under the Thomas roof. My mother was an enormous Roy Orbison fan and also listened to The Beatles, Janis & Big Brother, Hendrix, and a large array of pop, folk, UK bands including a few obscure odds and ends. My father has a more blues-based taste with a large Motown collection, Otis Redding, Jackie Wilson, and an ever-growing collection of some much older blues singers that half the world has never heard of. Also ever the Elvis fan, with a preference for Gospel Elvis and Comeback Elvis, but not Height-of-His-Career Elvis.

There were a few ‘real’ hippie-folk/socio-political albums in the house, perhaps a little Joan Baez or Joni Mitchell but they were never played. If I may speak for him (and here I will), my Democrat father was of the experience that suburban hippies went off to college while the urban regular guy got drafted or was working for a living. Neither one of them ever listened to Bob Dylan.

(Something calls to mind a few readers that may think the last paragraph contains an ‘anti-hippie’ statement. I am then reminded that those people considered themselves ‘Beatniks’, so we’re good. snap-snap-snap)

However, I feel a bit conflicted about my dislike for him. He is a poet. Not a lyricist but a true poet that exists in an atmosphere above the commercial jingles that often qualify as radio play. I am not familiar with every single thing he has ever written and I’m sure that there may be one or two pieces of fluff in the mix. It is not Dylan’s voice but his lyrics that give me an undisputed respect for the man. Hendrix and his eternally supreme version of All Along the Watchtower. Personal favorites are The Sundays rendition of Wild Horses and Edie Brickell’s A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, even if the quality is questioned by the masses. Damn the masses!

Would any of these aforementioned songs receive a glance for a potential re-recording if Dylan hadn’t sung them first? I don’t believe he would get the same play or recognition now as he received then, being truly a man of his time. Perhaps he would now be a great songwriter but it would be missing a crucial element. I believe there is some spirit in that grating voice that defines the soul of the song which cannot be separated.

Like tires on gravel or not, Dylan’s pen, voice and tempo set the stage for anyone who thought they could sing it better. I feel his recordings wouldn’t contain the true essence of the song if he hadn’t sung it first for his acts to follow. I can’t listen to Dylan. But I’m glad somebody did.

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2 Responses to Ballad of a Thin Man

  1. Dan says:

    I discovered recently to my great shock and unease that I like a Radiohead song.

  2. Chris says:

    “Wild Horses” is actually a Rolling Stones song.

    As far as Dylan covers go, I’m partial to Bryan Ferry’s version of “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall,” but it’s definitely an acquired taste.