The Dylan Debates Part 1

Okay, there was a whole lot of controversy stirred up among the SongMiners about Bob Dylan's picks for his favorite songwriters.  (You can read who they were down in  Dylan's Faves.  Reader's comments are sprinkled around the Mine. Some people defended different writers on the list. RT thought JimmyBuffet was an okay choice because of his positive outlook on life. Yeah, but we're talking songwriting here.  Joe Hudson lept to Warren Zevon's defense and you'll find that on a separate page below this one.   A lot of people opined that Dylan was just a nutcase, or was putting the interviewer on, or was simply talking off the top of his head...all of which are probably true.  

But SOME people put forth the proposition that Dylan wasn't really such a great songwriter, had NEVER been that great, or had ceased to be great long ago, and why do we even care what he has to say? One Miner (who I deeply respect) wrote that Bob was only noticed because he had been "first".   After the top of my head blew off and my brains exploded and splattered all over the walls and ceiling and then flew back into my skull, I determined that as SongMine foreman I had to step in and express my umbrage. 

I hadn't featured Dylan on the SongMine before because I thought it was...obvious. Dylan is just in such a different place, so many miles above and beyond the average singer songwriter that it was trite to talk about him.  Better to discuss the tremendously gifted ones who were closer to mere mortals (or at least mere demigods.)  But now I see that I have to actually state the obvious:  Bob Dylan's place in the pantheon & his body of work towers over anybody else's in the field; he is a total original as a writer, a singer, even a guitar and harmonica player. Name pretty much any TYPE of song, and Dylan has written and performed either a classic in that genre or a mind-blowing, paradigm-shifting, paradigm-creating piece.  

And he also has produced mass quantities of greatness.  He didn't just write one or two "protest" songs, he wrote a score of anthems that defined an entire socio-political era. ("Blowin In The Wind", "Masters of War", "Times They Are A-Changin'" "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall", "With God On Our Side", "When The Ship Comes In" "Only A Pawn In their Game" "Lonesome Death of Hattie Carrol", "Chimes of Freedom"...Do I have to go on?) He didn't just write "Like A Rolling Stone" and peel the paint off the walls of folk rock, he wrote "Maggie's Farm", "Subterranean Homesick Blues" "All Along The Watchtower", "Just Like A Woman"...He didn't just write one or two great tin pan alley or country romantic type tunes, he wrote a dozen--"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight", "Lay Lady Lay", "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"...He didn't just write a few funny songs, a few mystical poetic songs, a few defining folk songs, he has written hundreds.  

And he keeps on keepin' on.  The other canard I want to attack here is the idea that Dylan just kind of "stopped trying" somewhere back around Nashville Skyline.  The fact is that he keeps writing, keeps churning out interesting-to-excellent material.  All right, it isn't all thunderbolts from heaven, like in his early days.  And yeah he drives us nuts by abandoning his wonderful tunes in concert and half the time we don't know what song he's singing. (Although I have been to two Dylan concerts in recent years and they are among the best I've ever seen...of anybody.) But I contend that each new Dylan album has at least one or two really good songs on it. I bet the same will be true of his latest, Through Life Together, that just came out.  Here is just one examples of later period Dylan that I think is powerful and up to his standards.  From "Oh Mercy"  "The Man In The Long Black Coat." I'd be interested in hearing your favorite latter day Dylan songs.

Copyright ©1989 Special Rider Music

Crickets are chirpin', the water is high,
There's a soft cotton dress on the line hangin' dry,
Window wide open, African trees
Bent over backwards from a hurricane breeze.
Not a word of goodbye, note even a note,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.

Somebody seen him hanging around
At the old dance hall on the outskirts of town,
He looked into her eyes when she stopped to ask
If he wanted to dance, he had a face like a mask.
Somebody said from the Bible he'd quote
There was dust on the man
In the long black coat.

Preacher was a talkin' there's a sermon he gave,
He said every man's conscience is vile and depraved,
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it's you who must keep it satisfied.
It ain't easy to swallow, it sticks in the throat,
She gave her heart to the man
In the long black coat.

There are no mistakes in life some people say
It is true sometimes you can see it that way.
Bridge: But people don't live or die, people just float.
She went with the man
In the long black coat.

There's smoke on the water, it's been there since June,
Tree trunks uprooted, 'neath the high crescent moon
Feel the pulse and vibration and the rumbling force
Somebody is out there beating the dead horse.
She never said nothing there was nothing she wrote,
She gone with the man
In the long black coat.

My friendly handyman Mike Simon's favorite from Late Dylan song is "Trust Yourself" from Empire Burlesque. Send in your faves from, say after 1985, and I'll find a way to post them.