MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)
Posted on February 3, 2016
MAYBE, I’D RISK IT ALL (Some Thoughts On Bob Dylan)
by: bill mallonee
(This is a brief essay serving as liner notes on the release of a new album of mine called “New York State of Mind”)
I wrote these songs recently with the grandest city of them all in mind, and that of course is New York City. Songwriter’s are drawn to the places that inspire. Places that offer solace. Places that offer diversity, even incongruity. And sometimes, because cities can be so harsh, they serve to throw such things as love & beauty & acts of kindness you find there into sharper relief. I saw it on the road quite often.
And, as a songwriter, I can never think about the City of Cities without thinking of Bob Dylan.
There will never be another, you know?
Dylan. The most golden of our national treasures.
Not that he needs them or that they do any good, but I find myself praying for Dylan.
I’m not even sure why.
Words fail. They fall impotent to the dusty ground when trying to describe the impact of Dylan on modern music…
I feel that way about even attempting to name the impact on my own spirit as a songwriter.
We all walk in his shadow.
Greenwich Village 1961.
Here we are 55 years later.
Why has he been the guiding star for so many of us?
That ever “moving target?” That pop culture icon of immense proportions; that infuriating, seemingly feckless artist, who played for no crowd or trend, and never “adjusted” his art to please a critic nor ever kissed their feet?
There is quite likely, given the magnitude of his work and personality, no one who could ever that question exhaustively.
I can only answer for myself:
He made rock & roll smart. Intelligent. Lyrically transcendent.
It called to deeper truths.
He was the first to discern and then promulgate through rock & roll the basic truth of life: That behind all the world’s issues, even in it’s most obvious manifestations of power, war, greed and betrayals (and even deeper within every individual) that there is a void filled only by something larger, something spiritual.
His “predecessors” look more like the Hebrew prophets he no doubt read from as a young man.
But, he was also crafty in his tact.
Flash your card, but never completely show it
Tip your hat, but never shake hands.
He’s spent his whole life infuriating & confusing every group, or sect, or trend that wanted to “own” him.
I absolutely love that about Bob Dylan.
That and the fact that he rarely, if at all, ever spoke in code.
His art is filled with a sobriety and substance that is generous, direct immediate.
He delivered the goods with dignity and a touch of humor.
Again, just like the Hebrew prophets.
The young man shows up in to New York town in Jan. of 1961. He visits Woody Guthrie, the greatest American troubadour of conscience who is dying of Huntington’s disease at Greystone State Park hospital.
Dylan meets Ramblin’ Jack Elliot, too. In February ’61 he blows into Greenwich Village. Sleeping here, sleeping there, bumming gigs and food, and hitting open mics. His sound and approach subtly began to change. He “finds his voice.”
And he senses his audience. Very important for any performer.
Gradually, he transforms himself into a different kind of “folkie.”
He soaks up everything bookish thing he can read the back cover of, digests it, references it, internalizes it, integrates it and radiates it in this new music. Rnter John Hammond and Columbia records. Enter manager-shark Albert Grossman.
The vineyard is fresh. The earth, the nation itself, is warm with possibilities.
The fruit just beginning to show. All is pregnant with expectancy.
The sun is just rising…It’s a new world.
And it’s learning how to listen for the first time.
…and Bob Dylan is there, poised and ready.
He "upped-the-ante" for rock & roll; set the cross-bar higher. I'm not sure it's ever been touched since then, really. If Kerouac taught exploded words, feelings & images on the page, Bob Dylan did the some over the air-waves of America.
Even then? There was no straight, consistent line to stardom, even less when it came to discerning his popularity. He played a few songs for the voter registrators, crooned a few more for the peace-freaks and then moved on; he got the hell out of Woodstock when the hippies showed up for the fest.
Dug on Jesus for a few records…and then distanced himself from what he perceived as a narrow, shallow, even apostate Church…
Retreating back into solitude & mystery.
Ever the prophet. Ever “cat & mouse.”
None of it. None of the getting from “A” to “B” and then moving through the paces of these 50 past years could have been easy.
His is a well that seemingly never runs dry…
There will never be another.
Maybe that’s why I pray for him…
That’s just a little bit of a window into this record.
No, i’ve never met him.
But, there’s hardly a time when i don’t pick up a guitar and think:
“This is what Bob gave us all the “right” to do and how to do it.”
There are those who have to play by the rules and those who make them. Bob Dylan made the rules…and makes them still.
The man is a remarkable human, Giant and Genius in a genre that boasts very few of those.
New York City.
It was Dylan’s “nursery;” His “proving ground.”
The City that more than any other embraced his genius and his art…and still does…
The art he made, the way he delivered it, the boundaries he broke to say what he wanted to say the way he wanted to say it…
Every one of us singer-songwriters owe him their life in some way.
No. I’ve never met him and he’s likely never heard of me.
I’d like to speak with him, of course.
It would all be stumbling and stammering on my part.
And, sure, he’s heard it all before.
But, perhaps he’d be benevolent and surrender a minute of his time.
And what I’d want to say is this:
Thank you so very much for your songs; for your journey, for who you are.
It couldn’t have been easy, i’m sure…
But, it has all meant so very, very much to me…
And “Thank You” for giving me “permission” to do what I do.”
And then maybe, if no one was within earshot, I’d risk it all.
I’d smile and say: “Hey, man, I pray for you.”
And maybe, he’d return the smile.
And I’d hope he'd understand…
New York State of Mind/Feb. 2016
released February 3, 2016
Bill Mallonee: acoustic & electric guitars, voice, harmonica, drums, bass, lap steel, resonator guitar, organ.
Muriah Rose: acoustic & electric piano, organ, voice
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