Yet another important album.

I don’t know what I think about Bob Dylan. That may not seem unusual to an outsider, but it’s a great deal more unnerving than that to me. For year upon year, I hung upon Dylan’s every word, mumble and grunt. I bought all the official albums, I collected literally around 1,000 bootleg concerts, I bought books, subscribed to magazines, and generally spent way more time than any sane person would thinking about, talking about, listening to, playing the music of, or writing about, Bob Dylan.

Somewhere along the line, it became a very disillusioning process. There’s a lot of genius in Bob Dylan, but there’s a lot of bullshit too. Those lyrics are elliptical, elusive and brilliant, but sometimes, I don’t think a large percentage of them mean anything. And while Bob Dylan, when he is on his game, is wonderful, he has spent the last several years stumbling further and further into incurable old-manhood. Many of the same things that I loved Bob Dylan for, I now find Bob Dylan rather disingenous, and maybe even a little bit dispicable for.

But “Highway 61” is still a great album. Of course, he opened the record with “Like a Rolling Stone”, which is such a natural fit, it’s now slightly more obvious than Genesis opening the Bible. He closed the record with “Desolation Row”, which might be the most ambitious song anyone ever wrote. Sometimes it might try a little too hard, but there is some sort of prolific genius in there, along with some elegant flamenco-sounding guitar riffs.

In between, the songs, while a bit lesser, are still not the least disappointing. “From a Buick Six” is the only one of these Dylan didn’t return to again and again in the live setting, and frankly, it’s a shame he lost its chugging rhythm and hipster edge. “Ballad of a Thin Man” is just the sort of seething venom that every young person can tap into. “Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues” plods along mysteriously and invites and teases its audience into trying to figure out exactly what is happening here.

“Highway 61” is Dylan at the top of his game. “Bringing It All Back Home” is a little more simple, and “Blonde on Blonde” is a bit more self-indulgent, but it never really gets any better than “Highway 61”.

On the day when a 17 year old version of myself went off to college, I packed a boombox in my passenger seat (my car’s stereo had only a tape deck). “Highway 61” was the album I listened to over and over that day. It matched my mood perfectly. Ultimately, it’s an invitation into a new and different world. Not necessarily a better world, frankly a much stranger one, sometimes paranoid, sometimes jumbled, but always alive and adventurous. And it’s a world anybody with a CD player and a copy of “Highway 61” can still find.



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3 Responses to “Yet another important album.”

  1. Ricky Says:

    Oh, those lyrics mean something Joe. I mean, well, they may not but they’re the lyrical embodiment of the Guy Who Knows Something. If Dylan had died when he was about 26, he’d be Buddy Holly, James Dean, and John Lennon combined. Sure, he’s gotten a little stale (well, quite stale) in his 60s. But I think we should forgive him that. And, importantly he DID release arguably the best album of this decade. And of the last decade for that matter. Hell, TOOM and LAT are a stalwart career by any conventional standard. That he somehow choked them out at 56 and 60 is rather remarkable.

    HWY 61, in some ways, is really a perfect album. He could have recorded fart noises for the last 40 years (and, granted, that may have been a wiser option for him the mid-to-late 80s) and he’s still matched by only the Beatles. Take Dylan 63-66 and that’s an unreal career. Dylan 74-76 is another one. Dylan 97-01 is yet a third. Combine the other stuff together and it’s a lot more uneven but there are treasures there too. I will say that the whole “aura of mystery, too cool for everyone” persona works better when your 25 than 65. He could stand to cut out the BS posturing a little, which is probably part of your current disenchantment with me. That and his useless live performances these days.

    Still, he’s the best.

  2. Ricky Says:

    I meant your current disenchantment with HIM. Your current disenchantment with me, if you have any, is probably attributable to me being an asshole.

  3. eljoe1235 Says:

    Epic Freudian slip there.


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