Sunday, September 25, 2005

Give me a Break Slate

While Slate magazine wonders why we focus on Dylan in the 1960s and leave out the rest of Dylan's carreer, they seem incapable of acknowledging the simple fact that Dylan was by far at his best in the 1960s, from about 1963 until about 1970 Bob Dylan produced some of the greatest songs ever written, and after that he kind of faded out. Perhaps we focus on Dylan's work in the 1960s over the others not because we are anctious to romanticize the 1960s, but rather because Dylan's writing was so damn amazing at that time.
To be fair, Scorsese's not alone. Most recent Dylan material has focused exclusively on the 1960s. Sony has released albums of classic concerts, including the 1966 Royal Albert Hall show that's excerpted at length in the film. David Hajdu published Positively 4th Street (2001), a well-regarded history of the Greenwich Village folk scene that perpetuated the idea that Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind" years mattered above all else. Even reviews of Dylan's 2004 memoir, Chronicles, Vol. I, dwelled inordinately on the sections about his coming of age and short-changed one of the most revealing chapters, which explained how he snapped a bout of writer's block to record his 1989 comeback album Oh Mercy. No less incisive a critic than Luc Sante allowed wistfulness to overwhelm critical acumen on the subject of Dylan when he asserted in the New York Review of Books that between roughly 1972 and 1997, Dylan "lost or at least misplaced parts of his power and inspiration."

Something is happening here. To be sure, few Dylanologists would deny that, except for Blood on the Tracks (1975), Dylan created his very best music between 1965 (the year of Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited) and 1967 (when he issued John Wesley Harding and recorded The Basement Tapes). Nonetheless, despite subsequent droughts and misfires, Dylan has since turned out some brilliant albums—from Desire in the 1970s to Infidels and Oh Mercy at either end of the 1980s to Time Out of Mind a few years ago—that approach his greatest work and surpass much of the folkie stuff that still draws so much giddy attention. So, why have we been so quick to ignore the bulk of his career?

Admittadly there is that brief moment of acknowledgement that Dylan was at his best from 1965-1967, but nonetheless Greenberg seems to draw some kind of equality between early gems of Dylan's such as "The Times they are a Changin'" and "Another Side of Bob Dylan", both in 1964, and later albums such as "Blood on the Tracks" or "Infidels" and "Oh Mercy." Get a clue Greenberg, those later albums you mentioned are just flatly not comparable to the earlier albums. By complaining that Dylan's later works don't get the attention they deserve Greenberg downplays the brilliance and influence of Dylan's earlier work.

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