Friday, April 27, 2012

Why I like (what I like of) Bob Dylan

News just came out that Bob Dyan will receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom - The Nation's highest civilian honor, along with Shimon Peres, Toni Morrison, John Glenn, Madeline Albright and eight others.  it's quite an honor, and Bob's musical longevity and influence are certainly deserving of such an honor.

I really, thoroughly enjoy a portion of Bob Dylan's catalogue, so I thought I'd write how I "discovered" Bob Dylan, and about why I think I like what I like of Bob Dylan.  I've known about Bob since I was about 12 because I read that The Beatles were anxious to meet him and that were jealous that his audiences were silent while he performed so they could listen to his every word, while The Beatles couldn't even hear themselves from all the screaming.  At that point I guess I made a mental note that I should seek out his recordings, but it would take another couple of years.

At about 14 years of age, I checked out Bringing It All Back Home and Another Side of Bob Dylan from the local library.  Since I've always been more drawn to sparser musical arrangments, I liked Another Side a little better, but what called my attention more than anything at first were the liner notes to Bringing It All Back Home.  I realized then that this guy was a serious wordsmith and became a fan.  As a 14-year old who was learning English, listening to Bob's tunes and trying to learn and make sense of the lyrics was a frustrating and rewarding experience at the same time!  No one in my family could stand his voice and repetiveness, and my dad would ask me why was Bob angry and who he was scolding!  :)

When I was about 16, I had a job, and a little money to spend.  Near the bus stop near my work, there was a used bookstore called Recycle Bookstore, and in addition to used books, they sold used records.  I would go there after work to browse books, read a little and check out the records.  I bought the Greatest Hits album and loved it!  Shortly afterwards, I got the second Greatest Hits double LP, and loved it as well!

As an aside, I should say that most of the records I got as a teen, I got from Recycle Bookstore and cost between $1 and $3.  My parents still think that I must have spent a fortune there, but I actually didn't!

Anyway, I then saw the Before The Flood live double LP Bob did with The Band.  I was a much bigger fan of live recordings back then, so I bought it and was looking very much forward to be amazed by his live renditions.  Well, I didn't really like it that much.  I enjoyed his acoustic tunes more than the others, but overall, I was somewhat disappointed with that album.  At least I had my greatest hits albums, and the tapes I'd made with the albums I checked out from the library.  I never really got The Band, but that's another story.

Shortly after that, The Traveling Wilburys came out and enjoyed their recordings very much.  I subsequently got Blonde on Blonde and Highway 61 Revisited.  I also got a tape of the album Infidels (for free), but couldn't get into it for some reason at that time (maybe it's time to revisit it!).  Whenever I listened to Bob, I always ended up going to the Greatest Hits and his early acoustic stuff.

Fast forward to many, many years later.  In 2010, it was announced that an 8-CD mono recordings box set would come out.  When I found out, my interest was rekindled.  The box had his first eight albums in mono (self-titled through John Wesley Harding).  I was happy that the box set definitely included the albums I liked and was familiar with.  I got the CD version that came with a live bonus disc that had some songs from a 1963 concert!  Right up my alley!  The biggest revelation for me was listening to The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan complete for the first time.  I was mesmerized, particularly by the first half.  I listened to the self-titled album and John Wesley Harding for the first time as well.  The fact that the set came with a complimetary download of the whole thing in MP3, made it even easier to listen to this on the go!  Freewheelin' is one of my favorite albums ever!

I also managed to get a few other CDs with live tunes from the early '60s, AND in one fell swoop, I got (very cheaply I should add!) all the Bootleg Series volumes.  Now, as of now, for the Bootleg Series, the only ones I've really listened to are the concerts from 1964 and 1966.  I'm hoping to listen to the rest and hopefully enjoy other eras of Bob's long musical history at some point in the future.

To wrap things up, I was really wondering why I like the early acoustic stuff so much.  Maybe it's because Dylan was not much older than I was when he wrote those songs and I could relate to them to an extent?  Also, maybe it was because his lyrics were a big part in my development as I learned the English language, and also because of my affinity, as I mentioned before, to sparser musical arrangments (it can't get much more sparse than guitar, vocals and harmonica).

Yay! Zimmie!

What do you think?  Do you like/dislike Bob Dylan's music?  What do you like/dislike about his music?  What other albums of his do you recommend?  What do you think are highlights from The Bootleg Series?

See you next time!