My Music Lexicon: D is for Dylan (and The Doors)

D? Dylan of course. It’s really hard to imagine anyone with an interest in music and a serious side to their personality hitting their teens in the mid-sixties who wouldn’t go for Bob Dylan as a major influence. I’m certanly no exception.

I was never an enthusiast for the traditional folk music that Billy Connolly once described (I paraphrase) as ‘men with shaggy hair and a finger in their ear, singing about dead sailors’; nor for any of the ‘traditional’ ballads so memorably sent up by Kenneth Williams’ persona ‘Rambling Sid Rumpole’. However, generically, ‘folk’ music offered something to a growing lad that chart-driven ‘pop’ simpy wasn’t geared for.

That’s no criticism of pop music, but many people were looking for something a little more profound and – dare one say it? – relevant. And not only relevant but questioning – if not downright contemptuous of – the values and attitudes of the older generation. Who wouldn’t buy into: “Something is happening and you don’t know what it is/Do you, Mr Jones?’

At a guess, my first acquaintance with Bob Dylan came from radio airplay of his first UK charting single, ‘The Times They Are A’Changin’. That was in March 1965 and pressed all the right buttons in terms of having something to say. I listened to his early albums and certainly admired the mix of political comment and protest (“Masters of War’) on the one hand and some very sweet love songs (‘Love Minus Zero/No Limit’) on the other.

I bought everything by Dylan up to and including ‘New Morning’ in 1970 and, looking back now at the track lists (the actual vinyl discs are long gone), there’s something that I’d categorise as ‘essential’ on every one of them.

Thereafter, I have to confess that I haven’t been a completist or anything like it. As a consequence, I’ve certainly missed out on some diamonds, but even the most ardent Dylanologist would surely admit that there’s some dross as well. I saw Dylan at the old Wembley Arena in London back in the late eighties, but about all I can remember is his bizarre hairstyle of the time and his particularly strangulated voice. It wasn’t great.

It’s clearly impossible to find just one song from a career – now well into its sixth decade – which encapsulates what Dylan brought specifically to my party. However, as this whole ‘Lexicon’ exercise is intended to be a personal odyssey, I finally decided on a song that brings together all the elements that resonated with me at my most formative period. Plus it’s a tour de force of wordplay. No; more than that, it’s poetry.

Does Bob Dylan deserve the Nobel Prize for Literature? You bet he does.

Honourable Mention

The Doors were probably my first encounter with the American arm of the counterculture that was growing up in the mid-sixties. The singles weren’t that great – ‘Light My Fire’ might have been a bit risqué for the times, and ‘Hello I Love You Won’t `You Tell Me Your Name?’ would have been sen as downright immoral in some quarters; which, of course, was part of the attraction. Neither would get even close to any all-time top ten for me, though.

However, what did float my boat so far as the Doors were concerned were the long, rambling songs that weren’t just about love. The first time I saw The Doors was on TV, when the BBC showed a performance they gave at The Roundhouse In London. Obviously the concert format was far better suited to their music than singles – or even albums. Jim Morrison exuded charisma like few frontmen before or since.

I saw The Doors at the Isle of Wight in 1970, only a few weeks before his untimely death – which, having witnessed the bloated shambling wreck that his debauchery had turned him into by then, didn’t really come as too much of a shock. Far better to remember him this way, a mere two years earlier.

And the song? “When The Music’s Over’: At a time when my interest in music was growing and deepening almost exponentially ‘Music is your only friend/until the end’ struck a chord with me. Not to mention the peerless bellowing of the iconic line:

‘We want the world and we want it…NOW’

 

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