February 7, 2008
The genesis of early Dylan—at the Skirball
(Page 3 - Previous Page)As for me, there was a time, not so long ago, when I was wondering why it was I was still listening to Dylan -- why buy the latest CD, why go see him in concert?
As I said, I'm a fan but not an uncritical one. I quipped in 2001 that I thought "Love and Theft" was the best album of the year -- if the year were 1937. An artist follows his own path, but there is a contract with his audience that, periodically, requires renewal. I had no problem with Dylan sinking deeper into the American roots catalogue, but his Hoagy Carmichael-type and Texas Swing stylings were not really to my taste. So I thought that perhaps I had come to a "Most likely you go your way, and I'll go mine" moment. God knows there was enough Dylan music I liked to fill my iPod, and, as Dylan has pointed out himself, there are many, many cover versions to listen to (there are quite a few good ones on the Dylan 30th anniversary celebration album -- and there is even an album of reggae covers of Dylan songs I quite enjoy called, "Is it Rolling, Bob?").
Last summer, however, I somewhat reluctantly accompanied friends to see Dylan perform at the Orange County Fair. To my surprise, he spent the evening on electric guitar and piano, standing the whole time (even swaying/dancing at times), driving his way through a set in which his voice got stronger and clearer (well, somewhat clearer) as the evening progressed.
As I watched, a line from "Song to Woody" came to mind: "There are not many men that done the things that you've done." Dylan was up there, playing his songs, some harking back 40 years and more.
There are not a lot of artists like him, doing what he is doing. I felt inspired. I decided there and then that if he keeps his faith with himself, I'll keep faith with myself, and I'll keep listening as long as he keeps playing.
Which brings me back to the Skirball.
"Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966" offers much to enjoy whether you are a hardcore Dylanologist, a rock fan more at home staring at walls in the Hard Rock than in a museum, someone who cares not a whit about Dylan but wants to study the 1960s, or you are (as we might put it on seder night), the child too young to have ever heard of Bob Dylan.
The Skirball's Dylan exhibit sets a context and gives narrative to the emergence of a singular talent who, like his generation, like his nation, were party to dramatically changing times, and who wrote and performed songs that are still being played, by Dylan himself as well as many others, and that will continue to be heard and appreciated as unique and true -- even as their provenance and genesis become the stuff of museum exhibits and history. "Bob Dylan's American Journey, 1956-1966" opens Feb. 8 and continues through June 8 at the Skirball Cultural Center. For more information go to Skirball.org
Tom Teicholz is a film producer in Los Angeles. Everywhere else, he's an author and journalist who has written for The New York Times Sunday Magazine, Interview and The Forward. His column appears every other week.