The whole point of free speech is not to make ideas exempt from criticism but to expose them to it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Things Have Changed (Dylan 1999)

Bob Dylan went for a walk in New Jersey, was reported for looking suspicious and was accosted by cops. He had no ID, but claimed to be Bob Dylan, of whom the cops had no clue. All ended well when the deskperson at his hotel vouched for him.

The comparison with the Henry Gates and the the White House suds summit was inevitable. I happened to catch Limbaugh's take on it (don't ask why I was listening to that geek). Rush thought it was notable that Dylan was polite and did not foment a riot.

I thought it was notable that two guys who did not recognize the name of the most celebrated songwriter of the 20th century are allowed to play with guns.
People are crazy and times are strange
I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range
I used to care, but things have changed

This place ain't doing me any good
I'm in the wrong town, I should be in Hollywood
Just for a second there I thought I saw something move
Gonna take dancing lessons do the jitterbug rag
Ain't no shortcuts, gonna dress in drag
Only a fool in here would think he's got anything to prove


Michael Sanborn said...

Okay, I'm going to dive into this one just to stir things up. I'm going to challenge your assignment of the 20th Century's most celebrated singer-songwriter.

My friend Hank Harris once told me that songwriting is just "bad poetry set to music, unless you're talking about Bob Dylan or Van Morrison."

I think you could reasonably call Bob Dylan among the most influential songwriters of the century. But even he will admit others have sung his songs better than he can. And many many did.

"Celebrated" to me implies that there is an acceptance among critics and the public, and the public never really "celebrated" Dylan as a singer songwriter.

He's charted only six Top 20 hits in his five-decade singing career:
1965: Like A Rolling Stone #2
1965: Positively 4th Street #7
1966: Rainy Day Women #2
1966: I Want You #20
1969: Lay Lady Lay #7
1973: Knockin' on Heaven's Door #12

Many many others have done better from a singing (sales) standpoint.

But, from a singer-songwriter perspective...get ready for a mass regurgitation...Neil Diamond has him seriously whipped in the "celebrated" category. The difference may be in critical acclaim, although Diamond is an either love him or hate him performer. So too in many respects, is Dylan.

1966: Cherry Cherry #6
1966: I Got The Feelin' #16
1967: You Got To Me #18
1967: Girl, You'll Be A Woman Soon #10
1967: Thank The Lord For The Night Time #13
1969: Sweet Caroline #4
1969: Holly Holy #6
1970: Cracklin' Rosie #1
1970: He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother #20
1971: I Am...I Said #4
1972: Song Sung Blue #1
1972: Play Me #11
1972: Walk On Water #17
1974: Longfellow Serenade #5
1977: Desiree #16
1978: You Don't Bring Me Flowers #1
1979: Forever in Blue Jeans #20
1979: September Morn #17
1980: Love On The Rocks #2
1981: Hello Again #6
1981: America #8
1981: Yesterday's Songs #11
1982: Heartlight #5

Of course, in reality, it all comes down to the poetry part. And, of course some snooty self-proclaimed music intellectuals (myself included) think we know the "art" of music better than others...meaning those who purchase the music.

I suspect my friend Bob considers Dylan the most celebrated singer-songwriter of the 20th century because he was in many ways the "voice" of the Sixties' Vietnam War protest movement. His songs were certainly "artier" than Diamond's, although even he has had his arty moments...enough to make him the third most successful AC recording artist in history – after Barbara Streisand and Elton John.

And, by the way, those two cops wouldn't have known who Diamond was either. And, I'm not comforted by anyone under 30 carrying a gun at work in the U.S...

Bill Fleming said...

I am so totally staying out of this one. Carry on boys.

denature said...

I have to buy a single to celebrate someone? In addition to more critical acclaim including more grammys, songs/albums honored by grammy or rock&roll halls of fame, a survey of public polls done on this question will mostly find Dylan in the number one spot and Diamond not listed.

Les said...

Just cannot keep myself out of this one, but after writing and rewriting my thoughts, I better only say, they are both Stars to be acclaimed. Dylan's music has always been near my guitar. My gen Y kids would be more of Dylan than Neil D. Now my wife wants Heaven's Door played at her funeral after being enamored over pop star, Neil Diamond! Can you blame her for either?

Michael Sanborn said...


I don't disagree that Dylan is celebrated. Bob's assertion that he was the MOST celebrated of the 20th century, I thought, was a bit much.

My use of Diamond was to demonstrate that one could be celebrated (even more celebrated than Dylan) without being particularly deep or well-respected among one's peers or the critics.

I was nitpicking my friend Bob's choice of words. I'd not have argued had he said Dylan was the most influential singer songwriter of the 20th Century. But "celebrated" implies popularity among the general public I think. And Dylan, while he enjoys popularity among his peers, critics and a headier crowd of consumers, he was never all that popular generally.

You're also correct about the peer-given awards like the Grammys and the Hall of Fame. I doubt Diamond was ever nominated to the Hall of Fame. And, he received a deserved Grammy for best Movie Sound Score for Jonathan Livingston Seagull, which out-grossed the movie.

Nothing prior to, or after that album, deserved much critcal acclaim.

Bill Fleming said...

"which out-grossed the movie."

Mike, did you mean "grossed out..."

(...ok ok , sorry Les. I'm not a big Neil Diamond fan.)

betty76 said...

i think you're wrong about the definition of "celebrated". selling a lot of albums and appealing to a broad swath of people seems to me to be a better definition of the terms "accepted" or "broad appeal" or even "safe".

i am reminded of my favorite george carlin quote, which i use quite often:

"think of how stupid the average person is. then realize that half of 'em are even stupider than that".

the backstreet boys, hootie & the blowfish, britney spears, and the spice girls have all sold more albums than neil diamond.

i think "celebrated" is not something you calculate with numbers. bob dylan had a huge, immeasurable influence on culture and music. just because he didn't appeal to george carlin's "average" person, doesn't mean he didn't pave the way for many artists with more broad appeal (like neil diamond). he said things neil would never say. he did things neil would never do. it wasn't about selling albums it was about pushing boundaries.

in that respect, i agree with bob. bob dylan is the most "celebrated" singer-songwriter of the 20th century.

Les said...

A few thoughts from Dylan:
If I wasn't Bob Dylan, I'd probably think that Bob Dylan has a lot of answers myself."

"I've never written a political song. Songs can't save the world. I've gone through all that."

And the big quote:
"Well, my daddy, he didn't leave me much, you know he was a very simple man, but what he did tell me was this, he did say, 'Son,' he said, he said, 'you know it's possible to become so defiled in this world that your own father and mother will abandon you, and if that happens, God will always believe in your ability to mend your ways." -his acceptance speech for a lifetime achievement award at the Grammys in 1991

In a world where we think value and ratings define who we are, I just can't help but believe that Dylan would again say, "But, shit, I didn't write them for that reason. That's never been my scene."

Michael Sanborn said...

I think Les nailed it. Bear in mind kind folks, I never said Diamond was BETTER than Dylan. I used Diamond as an extreme example.

Taunia Adams said...

Who is Morrison, Dylan, Diamond, etc?

Were they beatles? I heard of them once.