00
עדכונים

מנוי במייל

קבלת עדכונים על רשומות חדשות ישירות לתיבת האמייל
יש להזין אימייל תקין על מנת להרשם לעדכונים
ברגעים אלו נשלח אליך אימייל לאישור/ביטול ההרשמה
*שים/י לב, מרגע עשית מנוי, כותב/ת הבלוג יוכל לראות את כתובת האמייל שלך ברשימת העוקבים.
X

פ.י.מ.פ.

Analyzing Bowie: Song for Bob Dylan

<-previous

`Song for Bob Dylan` is, obviously, Bowie`s cunning reply to Dylan`s own `Song to Woody`, which was the very first self-penned song he has ever recorded, back in 1961. In it, Dylan is addressing Woody Guthrie, the old folk troubadour who dedicated his life to going on the road to lift the spirits of the downtrodden and oppressed everywhere in America and encourage them to group together and stand up for their rights. "Hey, hey Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song / `Bout a funny ol` world that`s a-comin` along / Seems sick an` it`s hungry, it`s tired an` it`s torn / It looks like it`s a-dyin` an` it`s hardly been born." As we can see, the song isn`t really about Woody, but about the world we live in, a world that can and should be much better, and Dylan is lauding Guthrie and other folk singers as people who are trying to make a change. He is also vowing to try and follow their footsteps, and become part of the folk tradition. The record is not considered among Dylan`s finest, but it set the stage for the next decade, in which he paved his own road and became the hero that others aspired to follow. Now, at the beginning of a new decade, Bowie is repeating the trick, setting the stage for himself. But `Song for Bob Dylan`, as we shall see, is not as simple and straightforward as `Song to Woody`.

The difference between the two records highlights the difference between pop and folk. What is "folk music"? Simply put, it is traditional songs without a designated author, passed on through the ages. But in nineteen-thirties America, it became more than that – it became an ideology. In the age of the depression, when it seemed like capitalism had failed, socialists found in folk music an alternative that they described as manifesting the true spirit of the working class. While pop records were perceived by the folkies as music made by the capitalist industry in order to condition the minds of the workers to accept their inferior position, folk songs were seen as music that emerges straight out of the life and toil of the workers themselves, an authentic expression of their struggle against the world. Also, while pop music was individualistic in nature, a folk song was the collective effort of many writers over the ages, and was therefore seen as representing the collective spirit of the everyman, the basis on which the future universal society will stand. The folk ideology revolved around two main projects: the first was to unearth folk songs, and spread them throughout the land; the second was to write songs that retained folk sensibilities, while propagating a socialist ideology that called the workers to unionize and fight. Woody Guthrie was the quintessential folk hero, both a gifted writer of new songs and a great interpreter of traditional songs, famous for not trying to make money out of his talents but using them to go around and galvanize the workers into action, sometimes under serious danger. The folkies believed they are going to change the world.

By the fifties, however, things have improved considerably for the common people, and the folk movement lost its power, finding itself on the run from the jaws of McCarthyism. But McCarthy was brought down in 1954, and a folk revival was on the way, finding new causes to focus on. This coincided with the rise of rock`n`roll and youth culture, and so rock`n`roll and folk became rivals trying to win the hearts of the young generation, both playing a big part in the upheaval of the next decade. And in the midst of that rivalry stood Bob Dylan, whose compass teetered between these two opposite poles, and whose ingenious maneuvering between them made him the skipper of youth culture in the sixties. But Hunky Dory is infused with the feeling that youth culture has lost its way and needs to find a new direction. It is therefore only natural that Bowie would turn to Dylan, and seek new enlightenment.

Oh, hear this Robert Zimmerman
I wrote a song for you
About a strange young man called Dylan
With a voice like sand and glue

It was in 1960 that Robert Zimmerman, a fresh faced kid from Minnesota, arrived at the big apple and became part of the folk music scene in Greenwich Village. His story was typical for his generation: in 1955 he was taken over by rock`n`roll and wanted to be like Little Richard, but by the end of the decade, when rock`n`roll was tamed by the industry and taken over by maudlin teen idols, he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic and became part of the "folk boom" of the early sixties. But the fact that he changed his name to Bob Dylan, after the poet Dylan Thomas, shows that he still had a pop sensibility and a knack for poetry more abstract than that favored by the folkies. In 1961 came his eponymous first album, in which only `Song to Woody` is an original composition, and which stands out for the unusual delivery, with a voice that did not sound like anything that was previously considered a "singing voice". Some likened it to “a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire”, but for others it was the definitive folk voice, the personification of the folk credo that every man should be allowed to sing. As folk was becoming so popular that it became too close to pop for its hardcore fans, Dylan`s raw vocals symbolized their unwillingness to compromise and be nice. The singer here, celebrating Dylan`s "sand and glue" voice, obviously belonged to that faction.

His words of truthful vengeance
They could pin us to the floor
Brought a few more people on
And put the fear in a whole lot more

In 1963, Dylan emerged as the most important songwriter of the folk revival. The two albums he released that year – The Freewheelin` and The Times They are A-Changin` – combined reworking of old folk themes with an up-to-date commentary on the state of America, and sharpened the folk message. Dylan poses himself as someone who walks the land and therefore knows what "the people" really want, which is to live in peace and integrity, and points fingers at those who deny them of it: the plutocrats, the war-mongers, the racists, and those who pretend to speak in the name of God. Most powerful are his apocalyptic visions, in which he tells us what will happen if those people continue to run our lives. Basically, he is just reiterating the old slogans of the folk movement, albeit in a more seditious manner, but he does add something new: he designates the youth as representing the new harmonic world which will supplant the bad world the adults have created. And that message thrilled a big part of the young generation, amongst them, as we can see, the protagonist of this record.

You gave your heart to every bedsit room
At least a picture on my wall
And you sat behind a million pair of eyes
And told them how they saw

In the second verse, the irony in the record begins to come through. We realize that Bowie is once again assuming a character, this time of a Dylan fan who is not exactly a credit to his idol. Dylan`s words were supposed to set us free, but here we find that this fan`s reaction to him is nothing but idolatry, and he basically expects Dylan to tell him how to think. Dylan preached equality, but this fan understands equality as a state where everyone thinks the same, according to what one person tells them. The collective spirit of folk is here depicted as herd mentality.

Dylan must have felt something similar, because his next album, Another Side of Bob Dylan from 1964, moved from the polemics of the previous two albums into a more private space, dealing mainly with troubled relationships. Many folkies wrote it off as a phase he was going through, but a closer listening revealed that he was going through a real transformation. The key track is `My Back Pages`, in which he mocks his previous stance, describing it as just another dogmatic and prejudiced ideology like the ones he was condemning, and attacks his former self as just another self-righteous preacher who pretended to know the one and only truth. But every verse ends with "Ah, but I was so much older then / I`m younger than that, now", thus breaking away from the old and stale folk ideology and creating himself anew. Once you get that, some of the other tracks reveal themselves to be more than they seem, and the troubled man-woman relationships turn out to be allegories for his relationship with his fans. "I ain`t lookin` to block you up / Shock or knock or lock you up / Analyze you, categorize you / Finalize you or advertise you" he sings in the opening track, rejecting the mantle of identity-definer for the young generation, "All I really wanna do / Is baby, be friends with you." Obviously, Dylan encountered many fans who treated him just like this person in Bowie`s record, and wanted them to start thinking for themselves instead of following him blindly. But the closing track manifests his disillusionment with his fans. “Go away from my window / leave at your own chosen speed / I’m not the one you want, babe / I’m not the one you need” he intones, “You say you’re looking for someone / Who’s never weak but always strong / To protect you and defend you / Whether you are right or wrong / Someone to open each and every door… / But it ain’t me, babe / No, no, no, it ain’t me, babe / It ain’t me you’re looking for, babe.

This switch came with a change in his writing style, which became a lot more abstract, drawing from Beatnik poetry, refusing to spoon-feed the listener. But Dylan needed more than that – he needed a new sound to fit his assertion that he was "younger than that, now". He didn`t have to look far. His "no, no, no" to his fans coincided with his infatuation with a band that said "Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!", and was unavoidable during that year, the year of the British invasion. Most folk fans, of course, regarded the Beatles as abhorrent, delegates of the fake and superficial world of pop; but Dylan heard in them the revival of the rebellious and ecstatic power of early rock`n`roll. His next album, Bringing it All Back Home from 1965, blends his old acoustic folk balladeer sound with the electric mayhem of rock`n`roll and with his new poetic surrealism, to create a new kind of musical experience. The final words on the album dramatize his break from his former self, and his goodbye to his old fans: "Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you / Forget the dead you`ve left, they will not follow you / The vagabond who`s rapping at your door / Is standing in the clothes that you once wore / Strike another match, go start anew / And it`s all over now, Baby Blue."

And this new direction did indeed alienate a lot of his old fans, who kept on standing in the clothes that he once wore and accused him of selling out. But in their place came hordes of new fans. That "other match" that he struck started a new fire, a fusion between folk and rock`n`roll that was to change the face of popular music. Until then, rock`n`roll sneered at the politics of folk and was focused on the politics of having fun. But Dylan`s new sound enabled the folk and rock`n`roll kids to mingle and form a new consciousness, which saw rock`n`roll as the vehicle to change the world and turn it into the just place that folk envisioned and the fun place that rock`n`roll envisioned. And, once again, they regarded Dylan as their leader.

But Dylan`s next move took him away from this direction. The single `Like a Rolling Stone` broke the mold of a pop record, turning it into art that doesn`t have to obey external rules but is driven by its own inner force. The lyrics are a nasty gloat at a prim high-society chick who lost all her fortune and now has to learn to live on the street with the people she once patronized. But as his voice soars gleefully into the chorus, you realize that she is actually better off, now that she`s free of all the former conventions that bound her. The record becomes Dylan`s own liberation, his final break from the collective consciousness of folk, an assertion of his individual freedom to go wherever he wants and keep changing by his own rules and remain a rolling stone that gathers no moss. From here on, his music would become elastic, and his lyrics almost undecipherable. Which, of course, didn`t go down well with some of the fans…

Then we lost your train of thought
The paintings are all your own
While troubles are rising
We`d rather be scared
Together than alone

The singer rejects the message of `Like a Rolling Stone` – he would rather remain within the warm confines of a collective consciousness. But Dylan did not yet escape the clutches of this type of fans. Many of them kept on clinging to his lyrics, believing that their vagueness holds clandestine secrets, the key to the salvation he promised in his earlier records. This was the mentality that pervaded the counter-culture of the late sixties, the belief that throwing the mind into psychedelic loops would set it free to see the truth and that this truth should then be imparted to the rest of the world. Once again, then, Dylan`s music was annexed by a dogmatic consciousness, and his reaction was to merge his rock style with traditional country music, creating a sound that went completely against the revolutionary spirit of the time. While the counter-culture believed it was carrying out his message, Dylan snubbed the counter-culture altogether, refusing to play along with its expectations. By the end of the decade, it became obvious that Dylan wasn`t on board with the revolution.

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman
Though I don`t suppose we`ll meet
Ask your good friend Dylan
If he`d gaze a while down the old street
Tell him we`ve lost his poems
So they`re writing on the walls
Give us back our unity
Give us back our family
You`re every nation`s refugee
Don`t leave us with their sanity

`Song for Bob Dylan`, we now realize, is another one of Bowie`s critical attacks on the counter-culture. As we`ve seen in previous records, he does share some of the counter-culture`s sentiments: when the singer here says "don`t leave us with their sanity" (that is, with the kind of boring normality that society defines as "sane"), we know he speaks out of Bowie`s mouth. But his expectation from Dylan to show us the way is obviously criticized. This fan behaves like he knows who Dylan "really is" (which is probably why he addresses him by his real name, acting like they`re old buddies, and even tries to imitate his style), and urges him to "return to himself". He is a slave to a dogmatic revolutionary ideology, and has the gall to demand of Dylan to pay his dues to it as well. Bowie, on the other hand, would rather follow Dylan into the land of the unknown.  

Ah, here she comes
Here she comes
Here she comes again
The same old painted lady
From the brow of a superbrain
She`ll scratch this world to pieces
As she comes on like a friend
But a couple of songs
From your old scrapbook
Could send her home again

The "painted lady" is one of Dylan`s abstract songs, who are so dressed up in fancy words that they`re hard to figure out. Opening yourself up to these songs, letting them "scratch your world to pieces", can transform you, free you from your old prejudices and inhibitions and set you free to create yourself anew. But this fan wants exactly the opposite: he wants songs that will assure his current identity, and he`s afraid of songs that attack it. He remains close-minded, stuck in his corner, and cannot be free.

But the chorus also points to an alternative. As we know, Bowie believed he had the potential to be a Nietzschean Superman, and was looking for a way to fulfill this potential. Defining Dylan as a "superbrain" hints that Dylan is a possible model for a Superman existence. The picture he paints here reminds us of Athena, the goddess of war, who was born by jumping out of the brow of Zeus, the god king. If he wants to be a Superman, Bowie will have to write songs that declare war on our world and scratch it to pieces, forcing us to redefine ourselves; and through writing these songs, to keep on changing, and be like a rolling stone. This is what Bowie took from Dylan, and this is what he was about to offer the world.

For all their differences, then, `Song for Bob Dylan` does do what `Song to Woody` does: it distills a message from the music of its hero, and sets its author down that path. `Song to Woody` is simple and straightforward, and speaks in universal terms. `Song for Bob Dylan` is ironic and individualistic, and leaves it to us to dig for its message. But they both belong to artists who were defining themselves through addressing their hero, and who were about to make the coming decade their own.

Performed live by Ziggy and the Spiders in 1972:

Dylan`s `Song to Woody`:

<-next

אין לקדם פוסט זה

הוספת תגובה

נשארו 150 תוים
נשארו 1500 תוים

תגובה אחת

© כל הזכויות לתוכן המופיע בדף זה שייכות ל אלדינסיין אלא אם צויין אחרת