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Smackdown: Bob Dylan

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Bob Dylan's new album, Together Through Life, is the latest chapter in a critically acclaimed comeback that began in 1997. In another Soundcheck Smackdown, we debate Dylan's career revival, his legacy, and this latest release. Joining us are Joe Levy, editor of Maxim magazine and former editor of Blender and Rolling Stone magazines; and Bill Wyman, editor of blog Hitsville, and the former arts editor of NPR and


Joe Levy and Bill Wyman

Comments [35]

Ted from Brooklyn

"Oh Mercy." Produced by Daniel Lanois in the lately 80's is a great record. But the part of the genius of Dylan is he doesn't try to out do himself or make a big statement with every record, he just puts out the songs he has with the best musicians he can find and let the chips fall where they may. By golly sometimes he stumbles on something great.

Sep. 13 2009 11:30 AM
Jeffrey Slott from East Elmhurst

Back in my high school and college days, I basically worshiped Dylan. But now I find it extremely difficult to even listen to his mid-60s output; his voice and his atrocious harmonic playing have now become too irritating for me, though I still enjoy his earlier folkier albums.
His voice now sounds worse (if that's conceivable). It's totally shot, like listening to steel wool being rubbed against a worn-out rug. Dylan's major virtue has always been his lyrics but because of his current voice plus the fact that he mumbles more than he sings makes trying to understand his words not worth the effort. The band playing behind him sounds they're playing their instruments with mallets. Dylan's songs tend not to be complex in a structural sense; the lack of dynamics in the performances here make for a very tedious listening experience.
And yes, many of Dylan's "classics" consisted of melodies he took from older folk songs but at least they were melodies, and not very familiar ones at that. To blatantly cop phrases from the famous Muddy Waters shows simple laziness more than it does re-invention.

May. 02 2009 11:23 AM
Jeff from Birmingham, AL

Oh, and, by the way - It is my mother-in-law whose hometown is hell.

Apr. 29 2009 02:45 AM
Jeff from Birmingham, AL

Without a doubt, Dylan is the long lost love child of William Shakespeare and Mozart, and he got the best qualities of both. (I think Beethoven and Dylan Thomas may have slipped in there when no one was looking.)

The new album is GOOD, but more in a Godfather Part III good. But for Hwy 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, Saved, Slow Train Coming, and Modern Times, it would be HUGE. Unfortunately, Dylan has to hit it to the space station each time or he is panned by the critics. That is a tribute to this man, actually.

I am glad that Dylan does not look back and rest on his "considerable" accomplishments. (Didn't Noah say, "hey, looks like rain.") He could have retired peacefully, rich, and with some really cool stories to tell the grandkids. (Sorry Jakob, you're really good, and make great music, but no one compares to dad, that should make you both proud and humble. You have tons going for you.)

"Old" Dylan? "Young" Dylan? I own them all. Though I'm quite a bit younger than him, he has aged with me perfectly, almost too perfectly. Love his "old" stuff, which seems fresh even today, and his "new" stuff, which is even fresher. I just see a man who has traveled the same paths as me. This man is a genius. Musically, lyrically, any other "ally" you can name. The 20th and 21st century will remember Albert Einstein and Bob Dylan. And maybe some of them other guys whose names have escaped me.

Apr. 29 2009 02:06 AM
Jodi from malibu, ca

dylan is a wormbag. the record is rererehash! he needs to collaborate with someone fresh, relevant, and prolific for example jack white.

good work, john!

Apr. 28 2009 03:20 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

O.K., everybody's gone, so this is maybe just for the record:

I have all of the "No Direction Home" video, all of the "Don't Look Back" video, and the Murray Lerner video, and, Olivia's Traveling Wilburys video.

The Dylan of the Wilburys' period is nothing like the Dylan in any of the other stuff. With the Wilburys, he is almost a happy-go-lucky fellow, sort of sloppy college prep, even at one point wearing what looks like a Princeton boater.

So, the question was a serious question.


Apr. 28 2009 02:57 PM
kbinps from park slope

I heard Oscar Brand telling how Dylan used to crash on his living room floor at the same time thst he was stealing brand's songs. Apparently nothing has changed. But you dismiss this plagerism and somehow make it seem like it adds tohis greatness. And it's interesting and appropriate that someone brought up Picasso since he "appropriated" cubism from Braque. What was Picasso's famous line? "Bad artists steal, good artsits pay homage"? Something like that. All you folks have mythologised this guy. Today he seems pretty silly to me. And he loks like an aging drag queen.

Apr. 28 2009 02:46 PM
Tony from Bushwick

John Schaefer, your disingenuous tone of voice does reek of the silent fart of payola... Who pays you? Some sort of anti-creativity lobby? Lincoln Center? It's astounding how your producers let a person with so much contempt for music on the air.

Apr. 28 2009 02:42 PM
James from Brooklyn

Ellen - I'm with you. I think talking about "Dylan of the 60s" is as much talking about the generation that would make a guy like Dylan famous, as the artist himself.

All a musician can want to do when starting out is to make music. He makes it clear in his autobiography that he never wore the generational crown well.

And what's wrong with an artist wanting to collaborate? Why is that a sign that he's lost power somehow? People want the solitary genius, but that's partially a myth.

Apr. 28 2009 02:39 PM
Louis Menashe from Brooklyn, New York

Why doesn't anyone mention the dylan-elephant-in-the-room? -- that his voice is shredded and his articulation mudddy. My wife and I, great Dylan fans, listen and listen and can't make out the lyrics on his last albums. Do critics get promo/advance copies of his releases with words appended?

Lou Menashe

Apr. 28 2009 02:38 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Boy, that speed sure does recall the Wilburys.

Apr. 28 2009 02:38 PM
jeff from brooklyn

I don't really like Bob Dylan. I do think Nashville Skyline is a great album, partly due to Johnny Cash's involvement, but also due to the fact his voice sounds so different. I wish he sang like that more often.

Apr. 28 2009 02:37 PM
david Sax from park slope, brooklyn

Bob is great because he's a chameleon. He's not one bob, he's five bob's, which is what the film "I'm not There" got to the heart of. Like Miles Davis and Neil Young, he reinvents himself just when people are getting comfortable, and so you're always going to have fans who love one Bob more than the others. My dad loves the folk dylan, I love the country rock bob, and maybe there's some Jesus lover out there who loves that whole era. this roots rock Dylan is great, but don't think he's not going to move beyond it. Reggae bob? Classical bob? Hip hop bob?

don't put it past him.

Apr. 28 2009 02:37 PM
G from NYC

Also on 80's Dylan- Oh Mercy 1989 = AMAZING

Apr. 28 2009 02:35 PM
G from NYC

If you don't like newer Dylan, you should (at the very least) ask yourself if maybe something is happening here but you don't know what it is.

Apr. 28 2009 02:31 PM
Ellen diamond

I saw Dylan in the 60's in NYC, totally alone in front of a mike, standing there, small, dark, hat, harmonica, sullen, not looking at the audience.

I remember thinking "what a phoney!" But I knew he was in love with something -- he was like a lover made bold by his love, willing to do stupid things and make a fool of himslf.

That's Dylan: always a little phoney, always an original, full of desire.

WE made him a poetic hero and it helped him and it hindered him. He's had to work his way back to himself.

I agree with your guest about what he wants -- to be part of a tradition. I think he's earned
Ellen in Manhattan

Apr. 28 2009 02:31 PM
Nick from Bronx

I regret that I or my generation only get to experience the true quality of Bob Dylan as figure head for a generation past. Unfortunately he cannot be a voice of a modern generation as younger, newer artists can. Dan Bern, who is criticized for knocking-off that "Dylan Sound" can storytell in a way that Dylan himself has seemed to leave behind... or at least tell stories that still seem fresh and important to our current political climates. I will still smile when Dylan comes on the classic rock station, but I'm not running out to buy a new release anytime soon.

Apr. 28 2009 02:31 PM
james from brooklyn

He wants to be Smokey Robinson

Apr. 28 2009 02:28 PM
john savne from new york, ny

jokerman, from infidels, 1983. i agree, the 80's were probably his weakest years...but that song is fantastic... so even when he was out in the wilderness, he could still pull out the stops now and then...

Apr. 28 2009 02:27 PM
Richard Mitnick from Highland Park, NJ

Do these guys lend any credence to the Dylan of the Wilburys?


Apr. 28 2009 02:26 PM
John from New York City

One thing I have to agree with is that well self-produced albums are rarer than hen's teeth.

Apr. 28 2009 02:26 PM
Richard Taddei from NYC

I think he should have quit touring after Rolling Thunder!

Apr. 28 2009 02:26 PM
James from Brooklyn

BTW above by "old Dylan" I mean "old man Dylan," ie the guy putting out albums today.

Apr. 28 2009 02:24 PM
Vinny_G from The Upper West Side NYC

sheer idiocy to try to force a choice of "either/or", it's all Dylan and it's All Good, so appropriately the title of a song on his new album.

Apr. 28 2009 02:22 PM
Steven Mark from Manhattan UES

Dylan is undefinable and therefore, everything he's done--the good, bad and the ugly--is noteworthy. His sense of humor is unquestioned, his ability to define the times uncanny and his musical oeurve unmatched. Viva Dylan.

Apr. 28 2009 02:21 PM
Richard from New York City

It's ludicrous to say Dylan hasn't put out a good album since 1975. Infidels, the so-called trio of "Christian" albums are excellent, if not extraordinary.

Let's not forget that Bobby Dylan provided his audience, and the rest of those folks, with a volume of "memoirs". He's been doing a marvelously entertaining radio show - Theme Time Radio Hour, where his humour, his knowledge of music and his freshness come to the fore. Too many of his "fans" have wanted a de-mystified Dylan, and then complain even when they get that.

Certainly, these recent albums are lacking for me in terms of songwriting. I say that meaning they are lacking for Dylan's writing. Okay, I'll take what he has to offer and deal with it.

Far too much to say - the best thing about Bobby is that he doesn't deal in sound-byte mentality, and he doesn't ask his audience if they're feelin' all right.
Exactly, Jon, Black Magic Woman -- and back to the old blues song.

Apr. 28 2009 02:21 PM
Rhea from Queens

I guess it depends on whether you like Grape-Flavored Kool-Aid or Chateauneuf du Pape.

PS, Every mom should learn and sing to their kids the best lullaby ever written - "When the rain is blowin' in your face..." I can actually Bob Dylan singing it to a grandbaby.

Apr. 28 2009 02:20 PM
Jeff Putterman from Queens

I am a serious jazz fan, but I listen to other things as well. I own both most of the old Dylan, and some of his newer things.

That said, when I feel like listening to Dylan, there is nothing that kills me like the Dylan who sang and spewed "Leopard Skin Pill Box Hat."

The new Dylan is a nice old man.

Apr. 28 2009 02:18 PM
G from NYC

Would the people who argue for Dylan of the 60s actually liked Dylan in the 60s?

Apr. 28 2009 02:18 PM
James from Brooklyn

Listening to old Dylan is like listening to music in New Orleans - you're probably not going to hear anything hugely new, or anything in tune with "the moment" (as the media conceives it) - but it's still utterly unique in itself.

Apr. 28 2009 02:18 PM
James from CT

Dylan is cursed by his past. How can anyone match the revolutionary lyricism of records like 'Bringing All Back Home', 'Highway 61' and 'Blonde on Blonde'. These were five star records that started a whole new ball game. Add to the fact they were released in a span of 14 months. Unimaginable today (or most any day).

Apr. 28 2009 02:16 PM
G from NYC

Wyman seems to be able to say alot about Together Through Life, without a specific example from the album.

Apr. 28 2009 02:16 PM
steve m from jersey city

nobody will be forced at gunpoint to buy the new dylan album. if you think he should retire, ignore him. people who get records for free have no business writing reviews. who out there who thinks the last 4 dylan albums stank would be buying his new one? maybe someone should show up at the office of the guy who thinks dylan should knock it off and tell HIM to knock it off. maybe he's written one review too many. critics, jeez. by the way, i have no interest in dylan. never have, never will. i just think discussions like this are pointless.

Apr. 28 2009 02:14 PM
Eric from NYC

Obv the Dylan of the 60s... not even an issue...

Apr. 28 2009 02:11 PM
Ted Frond

A piece on just this topic.

Apr. 28 2009 02:05 PM

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