Reflections on recent events, plus the occasional fact
free rant unfiltered by rational argument.
All good friendships come to an end. Mine with Bob Dylan has had a bumpy ride. I've excused many things he's done. We tend to treat any new work with sympathy because of his past achievements. Let us give the master the benefit of doubt. Unfortunately, this position cannot stand with his latest series of albums. We’ve now entered old man karaoke territory.
The early protest stuff defined a generation by giving voice to discontent. His words captured, then shaped the mood of the 1960s. Whilst his singing was at times off the mark, the same could not be said of his poetry.
His songs made the connection with what people felt - fears and desires. The poet created a moving and unusual song-scape that embodied dreams, ideals and questioned the meaning of life. Shaping the zeitgeist was no mean achievement for a scrawny nasal kid with a guitar.
Although he asserts he never sought to be a protest leader, and he rarely turned up at demonstrations, that was the role thrust upon him. Then he lost his way. He'd come under the influence of a Christian cult, who’d sought to exploit his fame to their ends. By the 1980s his relentless sermons drove away many. He was booed on stage, something he didn't take kindly to. We shouldn't be surprised as Dylan had always had an undercurrent of religion in his work.
That's not to say that Dylan wasn't a willing convert. On the contrary, the collapse of his marriage made him vulnerable, open to exploring redemption. At a low point in his life, he embraced Jesus, only to confound later by worshiping as a Jew. This confusion spread to his music.
The high watermark for me was 'Blood on the Tracks'. This 1975 album is Dylan confessional as his marriage fragments. Although he disingenuously denies this, contradicting his own son. Jacob Dylan described the album as a 'conversation between my parents'. Getting a mixed reaction from the critics, it later became recognised as some of his best work.
The preaching that manifested itself in 'Saved' - a 1980 album- marked a low point. It coincided with the rumbling aftermath of his first marriage. At Earls Court, London, in 1981, his preaching proved too much. After three religious songs, an audience member snapped. A bottle hurled on stage struck Dylan’s guitar. He’d poisoned the well of public affection as word of his evangelical stance spread.
With 'Modern Times' in 2006, Dylan emerged from the fugue. All his fine gifts were back on display. He followed this with the pleasing 2012 ‘Tempest’. Lyrically back on form, he laid down a series of well-received tracks.
Then in 2015, we get 'Shadows in the Night' - a Frank Sinatra tribute album. The critics loved it. I'm not so sure. 'Fallen Angels' followed in 2016. Dylan is now functioning in the past, as he delivers covers of classics such as 'That old black magic'. Yes, we are now firmly in the land of the old guy singalong. Granted, he can hold a tune but brings nothing new to this genre except a touch of barefaced cheek. Again, the critics were less skeptical.
Now, either Bob is taking the piss or enjoying himself. Or maybe both. I guess the guy can do what he likes at the age of 75. Standing in the pantheon of greats, should we not indulge him for sustaining his verve for some long. And, perchance, the old trickster is having laugh at our expense.
Walter De Havilland is one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Hong Kong Police.