Wednesday 19 July 2023

'One can, I think, safely say...'

 Although I am not by any means as ardent a Dylan worshipper as, say, Bryan Appleyard, I have for some while been getting almost daily Dylan-related items in my Facebook feed (also, for much less reason, Rolling Stones stuff). Usually the Dylan material is mildly interesting, if overlong, but yesterday came a splendidly pithy quotation from Mary Travers, of Peter, Paul and Mary fame: 
'One can, I think, safely say that the world fell in love with Bob Dylan's words before they fell in love with his voice.' 
Nicely put. One rarely comes across such delicately phrased, nuanced utterances in the music world – and what she says is very true. I remember the first time I heard the Dylan voice – on the radio, singing 'Blowin' in the Wind' – and even I, a broad-minded lad, was shocked by the sound. Nothing like it had been heard anywhere near the pop charts or mainstream radio, and even though I loved what I was hearing, it took me a while to get used to that raw, whiney, unmusical voice. I soon realised, however, that it was essential to the Dylan magic, as was apparent from the cover versions that were springing up everywhere: the more mellifluous the voice, the less effective the song. That voice, that guitar style and that wonderfully expressive harmonica playing – all belonged together and worked together magically to bring those songs fully to life. That is why Dylan's lyrics in isolation, on the page, are thin stuff compared to the fully realised song – and why it is ridiculous to call Dylan a poet, and supremely ridiculous to have given him the Nobel Prize for literature. He has been the supreme singer-songwriter of his generation, by a country mile – isn't that enough? 

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