Friday, November 16, 2012

Music T Friday: Musicality

Robert Allen Zimmerman was born a Gemini in 1941. Before he turned 25, he had already been credited with "radically altering the parameters of popular music". Drawing on politics, philosophy, and literary sources, his music melded and redefined musical genres from rock to folk to jazz. Since 1962, his legal name has been Bob Dylan.

Last month, I saw Dylan perform live in Vancouver and was reminded that innovation and change are strange and novel beasts, especially in music. Dylan's catalogue of songs is incredibly diverse and constantly evolving in sound and style. His songs have enormous popular appeal but more so when covered by artists with more mainstream appeal. Like his one-time tagline stated,"Nobody Sings Dylan like Dylan."

As I watched people leaving the concert early, I wondered if some of them had only ever heard Dylan through the filter of a cover artist. Granted, Dylan today is a completely different songster from 1960s or even 1980s Dylan. People's voices continue to change, usually deepening, as they age. Just ask Dennis Quaid or Leonard Cohen or Kathleen Turner. But Dylan's never been tuneful in the Peter, Paul and Mary sense of musicality. So why would you buy a ticket to a show for someone who has chosen to change and grow their songs beyond the point of recording? I know that many people in the audience that night were disappointed by their experience but, for me, it was more about how I felt being there than what I heard coming from the stage. Hard to describe it more clearly than that and harder to explain it to those who don't already get it.

To bid you all a fantastic weekend, I'm embedding the credits to the 20079 movie Watchmen where they eschewed any number of cover versions of The Times They are A-Changin for the original Dylan version. This soundtrack, by the way, is one of my favourites - I know most of the songs by heart - but on Oct 12th, Dylan was halfway through Track 3 before I realized that that's what he was playing. Beating the odds, I'm sure I heard the lyrics "There's a battle outside / And it is ragin' / It'll soon shake your windows / And rattle your walls" clearly in my inner ear for a brief moment. Otherwise, it was utterly unrecognizable. For realz.