Tuesday, January 24, 2006

What's in a Name?

So obviously I had to name this weblog. Not an easy task. It should be unique, clever and a symbol of my identity in some vague manner. For this blog I’ve chosen a term that I picked up years ago while reading an interview with Bob Dylan, easily my favorite songwriter and a genius, in my opinion. In the early years Dylan was notorious for conducting ludicrous, sometimes insolent interviews and press conferences (mostly in response to inane questions from reporters). Check out this Q&A from a 1965 press conference, published in Disc Weekly:

Q: Can you tell me when and where you were born?
Dylan: No, you can go and find out. There’s many biographies and you can go look to that. You find out from other papers.

Q: I’d rather hear it from you.
D: I’m not going to tell you.

Q: You must obviously make a lot of money these days.
D: I spend it all. I have six Cadillacs. I have four houses. I have a plantation in Georgia. Oh, and I’m also working on a rocket. A little rocket. Not a big rocket. Not the kind of rocket they have at Cape Canaveral. I don’t know about those kinds of rockets.

Q: When did you start making records?
D: I started making records in 1947, that was my first recording. A race record, I made it down South. Actually, the first record I made was in 1935. John Hammond came and recorded me. Discovered me in 1935, sitting on a farm. The man who discovered Benny Goodman saw me down the street. [Dylan was born in 1941].

Of course, Dylan was a little stressed out on tour in the UK in 1965. Ad-libbing nonsense was easier than keeping up a fictitious life story, as he enjoyed doing in previous years. Dylan had people believing he was a drifter and carnie from Gallup, New Mexico among other things. As time went on the interviews were few and far between, but the answers much more thoughtful. In 1978 Dylan gave a lengthy interview in Playboy. In it, great answers from Dylan:

PLAYBOY: As far as your music was concerned, was there a moment when you made a conscious decision to work with an electric band?
DYLAN: Well, it had to get there. It had to go that way for me. Because that's where I started and eventually it just got back to that. I couldn't go on being the lone folkie out there, you know, strumming Blowin' in the Wind for three hours every night. I hear my songs as part of the music, the musical background.

PLAYBOY: When you hear your songs in your mind, it's not just you strumming alone, you mean?
DYLAN: Well, no, it is to begin with. But then I always hear other instruments, how they should sound. The closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album. It's that thin, that wild mercury sound. It's metallic and bright gold, with whatever that conjures up. That's my particular sound. I haven't been able to succeed in getting it all the time. Mostly, I've been driving at a combination of guitar, harmonica and organ, but now I find myself going into territory that has more percussion in it and rhythms of the soul.

PLAYBOY: Was that wild mercury sound in I Want You?
DYLAN: Yeah, it was in I Want You. It was in a lot of that stuff. It was in the album before that, too.

PLAYBOY: Highway 61 Revisited?
DYLAN: Yeah. Also in Bringing It All Back Home. That's the sound I've always heard. Later on, the songs got more defined, but it didn't necessarily bring more power to them. The sound was whatever happened to be available at the time. I have to get back to the sound, to the sound that will bring it all through me. [It may be in the Street Legal album that he made in ‘78, but the production was so weak we may never know].

So here’s a guy that’s shaped and reshaped 20th century music a few times explaining what he hears in his mind, and the term just totally clicked with me. Untamed and silvery? An unrestrained, poisonous element? Works for me.

This is the first of many Dylan related posts on this blog.

For a great collection of writing on Dylan, check out The Bob Dylan Companion: Four Decades of Commentary, Edited By Carl Benson.

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