I got into a Bob Dylan wormhole last night

And let me tell ya, I can't figure this guy out!


Scanning his tour dates on his website, it appears that the average cost of a Bob D. ticket in 2015 is around $75. Did you see this video I posted late last night? It's gobbledygook followed by a crowd of Europeans half-heartedly singing the chorus of "Like a Rolling Stone" because Dylan pretty much literally can't. Rinse, wash, repeat. I sort of understand the concept of seeing a legacy act/trainwreck (I went to KISS/Def Leppard last summer) but at what cost?

I'm actually a little surprised I don't find this grizzled version of Dylan more intriguing. Two underground artists I love––R. Stevie Moore and Daniel Johnstone––have had major voice changes with age and my interest has only increased. But for whatever reason, I cannot (read: will not) afford Mr. Dylan the same benefit.

I got into the Bob Dylan YouTube wormhole looking for source material for a music video for my song "Times Have Changed." When you search for "Times Have Changed" on YouTube, you get various versions of Dylan's "Things Have Changed." Times, things... same difference, I guess.

For a long time, Dylan topped my personal list of the three 'most classicest' of the classic rock gods whom I've never really enjoyed listening to. Bruce and U2 are the others. Of the three acts, only U2 has cemented themselves in the 'yeah, I definitely don't like this' category. I just can't seem to quit Bob and Bruce. They are enigmas to me. Their off-the-chart popularity does not at all jive with how I perceive the quality of their product^.

To better explain my point, allow me to mention a few bands that have the exact opposite effect: Sparks, Big Star, Mission of Burma^, John Cale, etc etc.

Something happened in 2012 which forever altered my state of being. The world didn't collapse onto itself in a storm of sin and hellfire and Bob Dylan released my most favorite song of his, "Duquesne Whistle^." It was this moment which made me reconsider Dylan's entire career.

(Part of my fondness for the song "Duquesne Whistle" is directly related to the word Duquesne. First off, it's just a lovely word and, secondly, it always reminds me of Pittsburgh's Duquesne Incline, "an inclined plane railroad, or funicular, located near the South Side neighborhood and scaling Mt. Washington." I always assumed that the song was, in part, about this sweet-ass mountain trolley, but perhaps not?
Listen to that Duquesne whistle blowing
Blowing like it’s gonna sweep my world away
I’m gonna stop at Carbondale, keep on going
That Duquesne train gonna ride me night and day

There is a place called Duquesne and Carbondale in Pennsylvania (PA), but the problem is that Dylan speaks of a ‘Duquesne train’ but these two towns appear not to have a train station. There is however a place called Carbondale in the south of Illinois which does have a train station. Carbondale is on the "City of New Orleans" train route which also passes through and stops in a town called DU QUOIN, IL, which is just north of Carbondale. This also raises a question. Dylan spells ‘Duquesne’ instead of ‘Du Quoin’ which is what one might expect here. But there appears to be no Duquesne in the state of Illinois. Although a press report in the New York Times of November 1921 reported from Duquesne (IL) that a train was hit by lightning just south of Pinckneyville, we found no evidence that there is Duquesne in Illinois and certainly not a Duquesne where there is a train station. Therefore, the question why Dylan chose to spell ‘Duquesne’ instead of Du Quoin is still open. Some resolve this issue by stating that ‘Duquesne’’ in Pennsylvania is meant here. The song is supposed to deal with the “Duquesne Works” steel mill, home to “Dorothy Six”, the largest blast furnace in the world. The Works, located in the Pennsylvania steel town of Duquesne, was once part of the Carnegie Steel Company. Dylan seems to have been inspired for this song by an article, “Business & Finance: Whistle”, TIME Magazine (Monday, June 26, 1933):– “Pennsylvania steel town, twelve miles up the Monongahela River from Pittsburgh. For two years its 21,000 inhabitants watched the tires die in the blast furnaces one by one. Then for two more years the furnaces were cold. Duquesne called it Depression. One day last week, Duquesne whistles shrieked, Duquesne bells clanged...” -Kees de Graaf
Wow. Major props to Mr. Kees de Graaf for that analysis (go check out his website). The thought that maybe the song's biggest direct influence was a 1933 TIME article is too perfect words. Let's just leave "Duquesne Whistle" at that and get back to the broad, faux-intelligent analysis, OK?)

Bob Dylan had just ripped a harmonica solo to a rousing ovation as he closed out a show in Flensburg, Germany in August of 2014. That's what directly preceded the visual information housed in this animated gif. His expression seems to drift beyond pure boredom here. Is that disgust, perhaps contempt we see in the withered lines of Robert Allen Zimmerman's face? It's cliché to call a human person an enigma, but there's no other word that fits. What is up with this dude?!

In 2004, Dylan published a book called Chronicles, Vol. I, the first of a three-part^ memoir series. Without parsing words, allow me to say that I fucking hated this book. I found it borderline unreadable and, as such, only read ~30% of the thing. But I can't help thinking I should return to it, that the information contained in Bob Dylan's 2010s face and some of his other post-Chronicles artistic decisions have finally swung the pendulum of my perception of Bob Dylan. Perhaps his words, which I once found so tiresome and self-aggrandizing, will read as farce given what I know now?

Bob (who is clearly dying his hair, amirite?) 'made headlines' in February of this year for an acceptance speech he gave for some life-time achievement award. Among some of the easily-quoted gems, he stated "Critics have said that I've made a career out of confounding expectations… I don't even know what that means or who has time for it." (Read the whole thing at Rolling Stone.) Are we really to believe that Bob Dylan, a master wordsmith, doesn't know what that sentiment means? It's not that confusing of an idea! For example, his trilogy of Christian albums in the early 80s could definitely be considered "confounding expectations." Shit, he's considered the most important guy in this book about artists who constantly produce the truly unexpected.

There seems to be no other explanation for Bob Dylan than the concept that 'Bob Dylan' is a rouse. I imagine this wouldn't sit well with hippie-dippies who took his "Let's change the world!" 60s act as mantra. On one hand, maybe it seems that his career has been too weird to possibly be this calculated, but I'd counter that that's the only way possible it could've happened at all.

The first stanza on the first song on Dylan's first album goes like this:
Well, I don't know why I love you like I do
Nobody in the world can get along with you
And that made me think about the time he got picked up by the cops in Long Branch, NJ for wandering around a "predominantly minority neighborhood." I'm not sure why I find this artist so intriguing but it probably has something to do with the fact that literally no one in the universe understands him. I'd pay $75 to hear him mumble. Sure.


Post a Comment