Saturday, April 18, 2015

I Did It My Way-With Bob Dylan’s Shadows In The Night In Mind





Recently I did a review of Bob Dylan’s latest CD brought out in 2014, Shadows In The Night, a tribute to the king of Tin Pan Alley songwriter fest Frank Sinatra. In that review I noted that such an effort was bound to happen if Dylan lived long enough. Going back to the Great Depression/World War II period that our parents, we the baby-boomers parents slogged through for musical inspiration. Going back to something, some place that when were young and immortal, young and thinking that what we had created would last forever we would have, rightly, dismissed out of hand. And since Dylan has lived long enough, long enough to go back to some bygones roots  here we are talking about something that let us say in 1970 I would have dismissed as impossible, dismissed as the delusional ravings of somebody like my brother who hated almost everything about the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s, had been ready to spill blood it seemed to cut off the heads of anybody who wanted to breathe a new fresh breath not tinged with our parents’ worn out ways of doing business in civil society.

Strange as it may seem to a generation, the generation of ’68, today’s AARP generation, okay, baby-boomers who came of age with the clarion call put forth musically by Bob Dylan and others to dramatically break with the music of our parents’ pasts, the music that got them through the Great Depression and slogging through World War II, he has put out an album featuring the work of Mr. Frank Sinatra the king of that era in many our parents’ households. The music of the Broadway shows, Tin Pan Alley, Cole Porter/Irving Berlin/ the Gershwins/Jerome Kern, have I mssed anybody of important, probably, probably missed some of those Rogers and Hart Broadway show tunes teams, and so on. That proposition though, at least as it pertains to Bob Dylan as an individual, seems less strange if you are not totally mired in the Bob Dylan protest minute of the early 1960s when he, whether he wanted that designation or not, was the “voice of a generation,” catching the new breeze a lot of us felt coming through the land. (In the end he did not want it, did not want to be the voice of a generation, although he liked and wanted to be king of the hill in the music department of that generation, no question. Wanted too to be the king hell troubadour entertaining the world for as long as he drew breathe and he has accomplished that.)

What Dylan has been about for the greater part of his career has been as an entertainer, a guy who sings his songs to the crowd and hopes they share his feelings for his songs. As he is quoted as saying in a recent AARP magazine article connected with the release of his Frank Sinatra tribute what he hoped was that like Frank he sang to, not at, his audience. Just like Frank did when he was in high tide around the 1940s and 1950s. That sensibility is emphatically not what the folk protest music ethos was about but rather about stirring up the troops, stirring up the latter day Gideon’s army to go smite the dragon. Dylan early on came close, then drew back, and it is hard to think of anybody from our generation except maybe Joan Baez and Phil Ochs who wrote and sang to move people from point A to point B in the social struggles of the times.

What Dylan has also been about through it all has been a deep and abiding respect for the American songbook that he began to gather in his mind early on (look on YouTube to a clip from Don’t Look Back where he is up in some European hotel room with Joan Baez and Bob Neuwirth singing Hank Williams ballads or stuff from the Basement tapes where he runs the table on a few earlier genres). In the old days that was looking for roots, roots music from the mountains, the desolate oceans, the slave quarters, along the rivers and Dylan’s hero then was Woody Guthrie. But the American songbook is a “big tent” operation and the Tin Pan Alley that he broke from when he became his own songwriter is an important part of the overall tradition and now he has added his hero Frank Sinatra to his version of the songbook.

I may long for the old protest songs, the songs that stirred my blood to push on with the political struggles of the time like With God On Our Side which pushed me into the ranks of the Quakers, shakers, and little old ladies and men in tennis sneakers in the fight for nuclear disarmament, songs from the album pictured above, you know Blowin’ In The Wind which fit perfectly with the sense that something, something undefinable, something new as in the air in the early 1960s and The Times Are A Changin’ stuff like that, the roots music and not just Woody but Hank (including an incredible version of You Win Again, Tex-Mex (working later with George  Sahms of the Sir George Quintet, the Carters, the odd and unusual like the magic lyric play in Desolation Row, his cover of Charley Patton’s Highwater Rising or his cover of a song Lonnie Johnson made famous, Tomorrow Night, but Dylan has sought to entertain and there is room in his tent for the king of Tin Pan Alley (as Billie Holiday was the queen). Having heard Dylan live and in concert over the past several years with his grating lost voice (for me it was always about the lyrics not the voice although in looking at old tapes from the Newport Folk Festival on YouTube his voice was actually far better then than I would have given him credit for) I do wonder though how much production was needed to get the wrinkles out of that voice to sing as smoothly as the “Chairman of the boards,” to run the pauses and the hushed tones Frank knew how to do to keep his audience in his clutches. What goes around comes around.             

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