Girls’ faces formed the forward path

“Ah, but I was so much older then. I’m younger than that now.” Bob Dylan, My Back Pages

Nobody compares to Bob Dylan. I don’t like everything about him, I don’t like all his albums and I don’t think everybody has to like him, but I still say nobody can compare. I think it can be argued that The Beatles were bigger than Dylan, sure, but I don’t think there’s been an artist in modern music as influential as Dylan. What the Beatles were to music fans I think Dylan was to musicians.

I first realized who Bob Dylan was when I went to see the movie The Hurricane in 1999, during the movie Dylan’s song Hurricane sounded really familiar and I was sure my father had that song on a vinyl record somewhere. My father fished out the album Desire from the basement and I began listening to it over and over again, I loved that song and soon after that I finally began to branch out to some of his other albums.

It’s funny, because even though I’ve become a bit of a Dylan freak since, something which all my girlfriends and friends have had to suffer through (or benefited from, as I like to put it), I’d still say my brother is an even bigger fan than I. We both have our father to thank because he listened to Dylan a lot and we’ve always had his albums lying around the house, but I think we’ve taken the baton since then. Dylan to this day is still the safest bet to play on the stereo whenever we’re all together. Mother, you know we are very sorry.

It’s hard to pick out a specific Dylan memory because there are endless amounts of them, but I think a have a good one for this post, since in a way it serves to back the argument I made before about Dylan being to musicians what The Beatles were to music fans. When I was in my third year of college I went on a 300 mile – 15 day hike by myself. I met a lot of people along the way (a post on a couple of them later…), but mostly I loved hiking by myself and every now taking out my MP3 player lo listen to some music. My favorite song during the trip was Bob Dylan’s My Back Pages, but not just any version…

“A self-ordained professor’s tongue. Too serious to fool”

It was My Back Pages performed live during Bob Dylan’s 30th Anniversary Concert. It tops the original and for me it turned a good Dylan song into one of his bests. This version features George Harrison, Tom Petty, Eric Clapton, Neil Young, Roger McGuinn and Dylan himself. The performance has everything going for it… Eric Clapton breezes through a guitar solo effortlessly, McGuinn shows he was a great vocalist, Tom Petty sings a nice mellow-y verse, Neil Young goes all out during a second guitar solo, George Harrison is solid like always… it’s amazing.

And Dylan? He sings a short verse, but is easily the least memorable of the bunch during the song. That’s something I like about that specific performance and I’m sure he was fine with it too. I’m guessing he thought something along the lines of: I influenced these guys so they could be this good and they’re all here singing a song I brilliantly wrote 28 years ago.

And brilliant it was…

“Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats, too noble to neglect. Deceived me into thinking, I had something to protect”

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You deserve the deepest of cover

“You belong with your love on your arm” Tom Petty, Wildflowers

Yesterday I received some very sad news, an email from my father explaining that my grandfather was really sick. He’d been in and out of the hospital the last couple of weeks and was apparently doing better lately, but since yesterday his condition is getting worse. The doctor didn’t say if it would be weeks or months, but that he is a 90 year old man and things were beginning to add up.

I’d love to be able to see him in a trip back home I have coming up, but I realize I can’t be that selfish. He has spent the last weeks in pain, feeling very tired and going to hospital 2 or 3 times a week, so most of all I want him to be comfortable and enjoy the time he has left. Hopefully I get lucky and I can have both, but if not I definitely want the latter.

“Go away somewhere all bright and new, I have seen no other, who compares with you”

I think in part because I started this blog recently, as soon as I began getting my head around the news I started remembering memories of my grandfather which cheered me up a bit. However, as much as I tried, I couldn’t think of any songs that we both shared in some way or another. All I could think of was the fact that he loved playing Christmas carols, the same ones every year, and I dreaded them… they were awful. So I didn’t want to torture any possible reader, or myself, with any of those. I love my grandfather, I do not love those songs.

Then I thought of a song by Tom Petty, Wildflowers from his second solo album with the same name, and thought that it would suit my grandfather very well. Anybody who has ever met my grandfather knows that among his passions in life are gardening and doing yard work. He has a house in in the outskirts of the city where I’m from and he goes there every Summer. Since I can remember he has put endless amount of time into getting the yard in decent shape, and just as much time trying to get plants to grow in a little orchard in one of the corners of the house.

Yet anybody who has actually ever spent time with my grandfather, at that house, knows very well that nothing edible has ever come out of that orchard and that no matter how much time he (or his loyal soldiers, meaning everyone in the family) put into the yard, it’s always going to be covered in wildflowers. I know I’ll always remember my grandfather saying… get yourself ready because we have some work to do in the yard.

Let’s go at it chief.

“You belong among the wildflowers… you belong somewhere close to me… far away from your trouble and worry… you belong somewhere you feel free.”

We can stop our whoring

“Well, I hope that someday, buddy, we have peace in our lives.”Johnny Cash, I See a Darkness (written by Will Oldham)

When I was 21 I spent a year abroad. There I ended up meeting my first serious girlfriend, whom I dated for years after that and, as I explain in “about this blog”, was a great girl. Nevertheless, my best memories of that year aren’t of her, or the friends I made, it’s about how independent I felt.

That was the year I really learned to live with myself, which is something I think many people never learn. That year I found out that I could never be bored when I’m alone (I can be with others), that I like doing things by myself, and that I don’t mind solitude at all. Obviously with this can only come with great music…

One day a friend and I popped in a store called Saturn which we’d heard had bargain CDs. It was the time of MP3s and pirated music, but neither of us had a computer so all we had were two about-to-be-obsolete Discmans, so we went to check it out. I was able to find about 8-10 albums that year at about 5 euros each (about 7 dollars) all which I thought were bargains given the artist’s names, but there are only 2 which I still remember well: Tom Petty and the Heartbreaker’s Soundtrack to the movie She’s The One and Johnny Cash’s American Recordings III.

I player both of those CDs like there was no tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll dedicate another post to Petty’s soundtrack, but today I want to focus on Cash’s incredible album. I’d been a fan of Johnny Cash’s classic songs from back in the day, but through this album I discovered his American Recordings sessions and I was blown away as to how talented the guy really was. I remember opening the CD and listening to it straight away, loving almost every song. Solitary Man was my favorite song from the album, but there was another which really stuck with me called I See a Darkness, originally written by Will Oldham known better as Bonnie “Prince” Billy.

“Well, you know I have a love, a love for everyone I know.
And you know I have a drive, to live I won’t let go.
But can you see this opposition comes rising up sometimes?
That it’s dreadful imposition, comes blacking in my mind.”

I opened up the booklet that came with the CD and as I opened it I was surprised to see that instead of a booklet it was this large sheet that had been folded up a bunch of times. In it there was a section where Johnny Cash basically explains that since June Carter passed away he was ready to die. For him American Recordings was basically the last project he wanted to finish before dying, but that other than that… he was good. After reading that and hearing the songs again I was amazed. I think somehow my newly found independence, and often voluntary solitude, felt like something Cash must have felt during most of his life if he was open to saying he was prepared to die. Who knows, maybe I’m being pretentious, maybe it’s just a great song, a great album and a great artist.

Well, you’re my friend and can you see, many times we’ve been out drinkin’, many times we’ve shared our thoughts. But did you ever, ever notice, the kind of thoughts I got?”