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*Author’s note: A few years back I attempted this concept, but with little success. The idea was relatively simple, to listen to each of Bob Dylan’s albums in chronological order (as they were released), reflect, and then write about the whole experience. Truthfully, I am not going to stray far from the original idea, except instead writing about an entire album each week, I will only be writing about one (or maybe two) key tracks from the albums. After the introspection I will then turn to this blog and talk about what I learn from the music each week. I hope you enjoy what follows, and I will try my best not to keep it too Dylan-centric.

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#1 “Song to Woody” off his first album Bob Dylan (1962)

***

My story and His

 

“I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down”

I discovered Bob Dylan during my junior year at Hoover High school in North Canton, Ohio. It happened in my English class with a standard assignment to read a biography from the library, write a two-page report, and then give a short one minute speech about our subject. Simple stuff really, and had I been any kind of average student, I should have been able to complete the requirements with ease. But per usual I took the easy way out. I had picked up a short Dylan biography from the public library, but when it came to the night before the due date of the project, I ended up just reading the back cover of the book and a short two paragraph summary on his life from the 1970’s encyclopedia in my house. My (barely) page and half paper and subsequent awful 35 second presentation was filled with about 20% fact and 80 % fabrication. Surprisingly enough my teacher saw right through it.

 

Turns out my teacher was a bit of Dylan fanatic himself, and therefore my lack-luster efforts not only insulted him as a teacher but on a much more personal level, as a Dylan fan. I was forced to not only redo the essay, but I also had to present my findings once again to my peers, thus illustrating how much of a liar I had been. So this time I actually did the assignment right, I picked up the actual biography of the man and I read it from cover to cover. I also decided to give his music a chance as well, and at the Quonset Hut (a local record store) I bought the cassette of “The Times They Are A-Changin.” To say that moment changed my life would be a slight understatement.

 

Up until the moment that I discovered Bob Dylan, my musical world really only consisted of two major components: the oldies radio station of northeastern Ohio and Led Zeppelin. The oldies music was thanks to my dad, who still to this day has an uncanny ability to remember the names of almost all the one-hit wonders between 1955 and 1965 (especially if it was an old soul song.) Zeppelin on the other hand came from a mixture of friends and teenage angst, all in the hopes that our loud Rock N’ Roll music would represent the soundtrack to our rebellious ways. I am fairly certain that all of suburban America in the mid 90’s followed this same design, unless of course you feel under the pressure of grunge music. Anyway, I listened to so much Led Zeppelin in high school that I can still tell you almost anything about their music. For example did you know that ‘Achilles Last Stand’ is the 1st song on the album Presence, and that the song ‘Houses of the Holy’ does not actually appear of the album with the same name, but is actually the 4th track disc one on Physical Graffiti. I did not even have to look that stuff up! Bob Dylan thankfully came along and saved me from a musical path that would have eventually landed me in the world of heavy metal, the appropriately named “butt-rock,” or perhaps even the scarier world of “progressive rock.”

 

“I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Hear paupers and peasants and princes and kings”

            Dylan’s music offered up a new world to me, one filled with lyrics that made me think and visual imagery that painted a new portrait of the world that I lived in. His voice was something new to me as well. Although most people I knew found it rough and unharmonious, I heard something raw and captivating. His music was minimal, torn down to its simplest roots. All that truly mattered was what was being said, and maybe more importantly what you yourself took away from the song.

 

***

“Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny old world that’s comin’ along”

 Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in January of 1961, and he only had one mission to fulfill. He simply wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. To make a long story short (read his autobiography Chronicles to get a better picture of his life in the East Village in 1961), Bob Dylan quickly made a name for himself as an up and coming folk musician.

            He ended up meeting the right people, which one day landed him in a studio meeting with Columbia Records A&R Director, John Hammond. His covers of standard folk songs were good (copies of what everyone else was doing at the time), but his original songs absolutely knocked them out. It is reported that he played “Blowing in the Wind,” and that by the end of the 1st verse, Columbia was ready to sign him. He was Columbia Records first folk artist, and for his first album they wanted him to follow his folk roots and record a set of standard covers, such as “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Bob also recorded one original song in that session, a tribute to his hero and inspiration called, “Song to Woody.” Whether he ever performed it for Woody himself when Dylan would go and visit him at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital is unknown. But what is important about this is that Dylan got a chance to honor someone who was important to him. Like so many of his songs, Dylan says that this one was something he “had to write.” And I for one am glad that he did.

 

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***

Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know

All the things I’m sayin’ and many times more

I’m singin every song but I can’t sing enough

‘Cause there’s not many men done the things that you done

 

My final thoughts over this song, and Bob Dylan’s first album are nothing grandiose or life changing. I see Bob Dylan in the same light that he looked at Woody Guthrie, as an inspirational figure. Bob Dylan has taught me a great amount throughout the past 15 years of my life, both through his music and through his own personal highs and lows. Just like all of us, he is not a perfect human being. In my opinion, he is a humble artist who has done well with the gifts that God gave him, in particular writing lyrics that go deep within our souls and help us make sense of the world. I probably will not ever write a song myself as a tribute to Bob Dylan, but perhaps this series is my way of saying thanks.

Thanks for reading.

NEXT WEEK: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

 

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New Music Mondays

Occasionally I will offer up some new music (or at least music you may not have heard of yet) to you, my fellow readers, and I tend to do it on Mondays. So here is my newest obsession.


From Sufjan Stevens’s newest album The Age of Adz (pronounced odds), this is the track that most resembles his music of yester-year. Don’t get me wrong however, I am a huge fan of the “new” sound he creates throughout the rest of album as well. Sufjan’s talent for creating symphonic music through strings, choir voices, and a multitude of instruments always blows me away. But like I said before, “Now That I’m Older” is just one of many songs from this new album that I have been listening to on constant rotation. I hope you enjoy as much as I am!

It’s different now I think
I wasn’t older yet
I wasn’t wise, I guess

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