Every Record I Own - Day 345-352: Bob Dylan The Original Mono Recordings (s/t, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A-Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan, Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding)
I knew Bob Dylan’s songs before I’d ever heard his voice. I knew The Byrds’ covers of “Mr. Tambourine Man” and Peter Paul & Mary’s “Blowin’ in the Wind” from my parents’ AM radio habit, and when I finally investigated the source for these songs, I was startled to discover that these raw, naked renditions were even more potent than their more popular interpretations. There was a sadness and desperation in those lyrics that got lost in the three-part harmonies and studio sheen adopted by other artists.
The deeper you dig into Dylan, the trickier the context gets. This was a guy raised on The Beats and post-modernism. There was some undeniable honesty in his first-person narratives, but there was also a healthy dose of role-playing, either as armor against torrents of criticism or as an attempt at broadening his art to encompass a kind of theater in his public life. Dylan wasn’t afraid to confront colleagues (”Positively 4th Street”), peers (”Like A Rolling Stone”), old flames (”Ballad in Plain D”), or the establishment (where does one even start? “Masters of War”?). And he was surely smart enough to know that all that finger-pointing was eventually going to come back to him, so he began to play a character. And through that myth-building, he was able to evolve from an activist folkie into this surrealist-poet rockstar. The fact that this metamorphosis preceded the turbulent end of the ‘60s hints that Dylan’s personal development helped serve as a road map for an entire generation grappling with a loss of youthful innocence.
I doubt my parents had all that in mind when they bought me this boxset for Christmas years ago, but it seemed a fitting gift considering Dylan had been a moral and creative compass for me in my twenties, and these albums from his turbulent and transformative years served as a road map through my own tumultuous entry into adulthood.