The Voice of a Generation
Heads up: Bob Dylan is coming to town.
We question the need to even write more – that sentence alone ought to do the trick for the roughly 85% of you who just got ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ stuck in your head at the mere mention of his name. But for the 10% of you who were born yesterday and the remaining 5% who live under a rock, we’ll kindly introduce you.
Bob Dylan is America’s most famous living folk musician. The man is a titan of American music – anything you hear today that includes of elements of rock or folk contains traces of Dylan’s DNA. He’s sold more records than Johnny Cash and Bob Marley combined, has been inducted into pretty much every hall of fame that the music industry has, and is cited as a major influence by John Lennon, Neil Young, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits… you get the picture. Dylan’s early career was a decisive turning point in American music. A serious student of American roots, blues and folk, he inhaled the past and exhaled the future.
The most serious Dylan fans are not just enthusiasts; they’re spiritual devotees. They talk about him in reverential tones, calling him a visionary and a prophet and journeying to his childhood home in Michigan to collect pieces of its shattered windowpanes for their Dylan memorabilia collections. You’re bound to come across some of these types at the show, in which case we recommend that you do not under any circumstances express an opinion about whether Dylan was better before or after his 1965 switch from acoustic to electric guitar. You risk endorsing the wrong Dylan era, and we fear for your safety. By the way, if you’re curious about the cult of Dylan, check out a book that just came out in May 2014 called The Dylanologists: Adventures in the Land of Bob, written by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Kinney.
While he’s got scores of disciples, Dylan’s not without his critics. For one thing, he’s a bit artistically erratic – as critic Rob Collison puts it, “Dylan has had more career makeovers than Joan Rivers has had facelifts.” While some consider his aesthetic changeability to be proof of his enigmatic genius, others say it’s a strategic effort to remain aloof and cryptic. For every time Dylan’s been hailed as the messiah, he’s also been called a charlatan and accused of pulling the wool over the public’s eyes. Now that he’s older, his interview skills aren’t so great (his answers range from lackluster to incoherent), and his detractors are gleefully hailing the end of the Dylan myth.
And then there’s the fact that his voice has gotten a bit hoarse. Some are into it, maintaining that every warble and falter exposes a new layer of meaning. The critic Cristophe Lebolde writes that “Dylan's more recent broken voice enables him to present a world view at the sonic surface of the songs—this voice carries us across the landscape of a broken, fallen world.” That does sound appealing, but maybe you should watch video of a recent concert first to see if you like what you hear. His recent voice also been compared to “a dial-up modem gargling,” “a Muppet coming to grips with its mortality” and “acoustic Norwegian black metal.”
Either way, Bob Dylan is synonymous with American music. People don’t call him the voice of a generation for nothing – his music was the soundtrack to the passionate irreverence of 60s and early 70s counterculture. His songs not only reflected the atmosphere of love and protest that defined the era, they also shaped the American cultural and political landscape in ways that are undeniable and irreversible. Hardcore Dylanologists and curious dabblers alike can see the icon in action at Black Box Istanbul on June 20th.