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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Brought ‘Together Through Life’: Are Dylan’s new album, Obama’s first 100 days true milestones or just grist for the mill?

Talk about me babe, if you must.

Throw out the dirt; pile on the dust.
I'd do the same thing if I could
You know what they say? They say it's all good.

Last week marked important milestones for two figures who factor prominently in this blog.

On Tuesday, Bob Dylan released his 33rd studio album, Together Through Life. Twenty-four hours later, Barack Obama crossed an equally transformative transom— his first 100 days in office.

Obama’s press conference was characterized by a cool, calm detachment emblematic of the man himself.

Stepping to the mike, he urged to press corps to take a deep, reflective breath: “Please be seated. Before we begin tonight, I just want to provide everyone with a few brief updates on some of the challenges we’re dealing with right now.”

Opening his first album in three years with a rollicking rim shot recalling an electrifying time when he was in his prime, any pretense of cool detachment on the the part of Dylan was obliterated by what can best be described as the musical equivalent of hell, fire and brimstone.

“The most important thing we now know about [him] is…that he means to confront that way of life directly and profoundly, to exchange sand for rock if he can. Whether you agree with him or not — whether you think he is too ambitious or just plain wrong — his is as serious and challenging [a figure] as we have had in quite some time.”

It turns out, Time magazine reporter, Joe Klein, was referring to the impassioned political journeyman from Illinois. Of course, he could just as easily have been writing about a traveling minstrel from Minnesota who goes by name of Bob Dylan.

Bar a few well documented missteps, the press has uniformly given Obama high marks. Their assessment of his first 100 days has been no exception. As presidential historian, Doug Brinkley, observed: "Nobody will ever be able to accuse him of being an idle man during his first 100 days. He's clearly showing himself to be a progressive in the tradition of Franklin Roosevelt, John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson, with the moral core of Jimmy Carter."

And while Obama’s legions of champions probably don’t think of the man who led them out of 30 years of political desolation as a gangly gimp with a Boston accent who can’t make up his mind which side of the street to stand on, such a character would be very much at home on the new Dylan album.

It would hard to deny that something very haunting and mysterious is happening in the border town terrain Dylan traverses on his new album. But whether Dylan’s Tex Mex influenced song cycle ends up becoming infectious part of our collective musical DNA, or just another benign addition to the Dylan discography isn’t entirely clear yet. As always is the case with Dylan, the prognosis is never that cut and dry:

Sat, May 2, 2009 © Copyright (c) The London Free Journal
“Well, after nearly 68 years and 33 studio albums, the master still hasn't lost his touch. Together Through Life, like the last trio of releases in his remarkable late-career resurgence, is another layered work of genius that seems straightforward, but inexorably draws you deeper into its web with every listen.”

May 2, 2009 © Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal
By TOM MURRAY, freelance
“Good, but not great. In the end, it feels as though Dylan is in stopgap mode again, releasing a collection of OK to good songs because he feels it's time.”

April 23, 2009 © Copyright (c) Rolling Stone
“Ultimately, Together Through Life is a mixed bag of this decade's Dylan — impulsive, caustic, sentimental, long done with the contrived details of contemporary record-making. That hardened, bleating voice is also perfect for these times: A nation drunk on hope less than six months ago now drowns in red ink and pink slips.”

Of course, you don’t need Rolling Stone to know which way the wind blows. And while nearly everyone who's heard the new Dylan album has an opinion it, in the end Erik Thompson of Culture Bully probably got it right when he wrote: “….reviewing a new record by Bob Dylan is a bit like reviewing the Roman Colosseum (sic); you might not like the way it looks now, but there is no denying the cultural significance of the structure and the history found within. [Dylan] has indeed slayed his share of lions over the years, and that the blood of those battles still colors his music even now.”

A charismatic, youthful president’s first 100 days in office; the release of a hauntingly alluring album that recalls a century of America popular music. Considering the place these men hold in our collective cultural imagination, the dogged determination to put their respective milestones into some sort of perspective was probably, in hindsight, inevitable.

The irony, of course, is that perspective is best achieved looking back. And that's something both have vehemently vowed never to do…

Brick by brick, they tear you down.
A teacup of water is enough to drown.
You oughta know, if they could,
They would whatever goin' down, it's all good.
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Anonymous said...

This album just went straight to No.1 in the British charts.

Goddam Limeys got some taste!

call me ishmael said...


It's narcissism, isn't it, with both of them, a non-stop orgy of self-love, reflected back at them by respective audiences, uncritical, terrified to think they might be wrong ? Just listened to a song from the current tour, in Dublin, and honest to God, a dismal, clunking re-working of Midnight Special, anyone else'd a got booed off the stage.

It's one thing an old blues man treading the boards in his dotage, Howlin wolf, John Lee, Mississippi John, but old blues men didn't have websites, security squads, lawyers, assistants and share portfolios.

I bought "Bob Dylan" the year it was released and the next twenty or so on release day; I was at those historic sixties concerts and I understand the value of Dylan's recorded and concert performances then and intermittently since, yet, even so, I just wish he'd shut up and go away; I've had enough of him. Had enough of Obama the first time I saw him.