It’s not just the voice like a ferret being skinned alive with a potato peeler. It’s mostly that, but not exclusively. It’s the fact that all of his best known songs – none of which are particularly memorable unless massively over-played – were vastly improved by other musicians covering them.
It’s that he was the cheesiest Travelling Wilbury against some seriously stiff competition. It’s that he’s a supposed genius intellectual who’s nonetheless dumb and gullible enough to become a born again Christian. It’s because the faked rendition of him doing Rebecca Black’s ‘Friday’ wasn’t a quarter as funny as it should’ve been.
It’s that he’s not done anything of major artistic value for thirty-five years yet still every other girlfriend – the ones who, uniformly, don’t like much modern music besides Bright Eyes – wants to play me endless reams of ditchwater-dull, painfully worthy and mostly tuneless album tracks determined to ‘convert’ me because they can’t understand that I just don’t ‘get’ Bob Dylan.
But mostly it’s the voice. That drowning mongoose, nails down a blackboard, clown’s horn with pneumonia, chainsaw nailed to a rollercoaster, foxes having sex, fuck awful voice.
I mean, what’s Bob Dylan actually done? According to Wikipedia, he “revolutionised perceptions of the limits of popular music”. How? “With the six-minute single ‘Like A Rollin’ Stone”. So he basically wittered on two minutes longer than anybody wanted or needed in 1965, then? And what was his most innovative musical watershed?
He ‘went electric’ in 1966, apparently. So he started playing an instrument everyone else had been playing for twenty years, then stopped pretty soon afterwards, and that changed the world, did it? And that itself differs from Vampire Weekend ‘discovering’ Auto-Tune on their last album how?
Because folk musicians were supposed to be somehow ‘pure’, ‘real’, untainted by modern technology, just like it’d been for centuries, and Uncle Bob was being in some way ‘rebellious’? Like the ‘pure’ and ‘real’ Noel Gallagher was ‘rebellious’ by working with the modern, techno Chemical Brothers?
Come on, The Beatles released ‘Revolver’ in 1966 – Dylan going electric was only ground-breaking if you were the most blinkered, boring, closed-minded, inertia-loving white bread folk idiot. And let’s face it, it’s only considered legendary because one bloke in Manchester got pissed off about it. One bloke in Manchester. Which means it’s approximately 500,000 times less legendary than Brother.
So is it the lyrics? ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ and ‘The Times They Are A-Changing’ were anthems of the anti-war and US civil rights movements in the early 60s so surely they should be just as timely in this war-ravaged era. I mean, the times they certainly are a-changing in the Middle East right now, and the “cannon balls” sure are flying over Iraq. Yet they’re lyrics so drenched in obtuse, ambiguous and dated metaphors that the bear as much relevance to the 21st Century as ‘The Best Of Vera Lynn’.
Instead they read like cryptic crossword clues, further barriers to entry into the ‘enlightened’ Dylan cult. Surely one main reason Dylan gets so many more Dad Mag covers than singers who’ve trodden similar thematic ground – Springsteen, Weller, Billy Bragg even – is because he offers a frisson of intellectual and poetic worthiness, superiority even. As an Elvis Costello fan I can understand the appeal but Old Bob, unfortunately, says nothing to me about my life.
So it must be the tunes, of which there are admittedly some decent ones. ‘All Along The Watchtower’ I’ll give you, as long as Hendrix is singing it. ‘Mr Tambourine Man’’s not bad, as long as it’s the Byrds version. ‘Lay Lady Lay’ and ‘It’s All Over Now Baby Blue’ are quite pleasant, and ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ is interesting, for a sped-up blues song. Indeed, virtually every ‘classic’ Dylan track I’ve heard is essentially rooted in traditionalism – be it folk, country, blues or soul – and resides some leagues distant from Innovation Island.
I’m sure the Dylanites commenting below will reel off lengthy lists of tracks they’ll insist are timeless works of unadulterated genius. Dutifully I’ll go listen to them, and they’ll all be a bit boring. I’ve been doing it all my life, just to be in with a chance of getting laid. So happy birthday Bob, thanks for Bright Eyes but, y‘know what, I’m quite happy not to ‘get’ you. Dylan fans are crap shags anyway.