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New Bob Dylan Album Review by David Gates

April 23, 2009

Following up on the interview with Bob Dylan that appeared on this blog last week, we have a review of Dylan’s new album “Together Through Life”, his 33rd, written by David Gates. (As an aside, Gates is the author of the novel, Preston Falls, the inspiration–if that particular novel could ever be accused of inspiring–for the name of this blog.) Gates, a self-described “Dylan person”, begins the review by describing, accurately I think, the range of effects Dylan has on his fans:

For more than four decades, Bob Dylan’s following has resembled both rapt children behind the Pied Piper and hellhounds on his trail: they can take any new direction in his work as a revelation or a personal affront. During a 1966 concert in Manchester, England, one fan’s devotion to the early recordings with acoustic guitar moved him to shout “Judas!” when confronted with Dylan’s full-on rock band.

Dylan’s lyrics, by turns brilliant and opaque, playfully experimental or full of maudlin nostalgia, often serve as a rorschach test for the listener. And as fans of Bob know, he long ago stopped discussing his opinion of their meaning. This often leads to a visceral discontent among listeners unprepared for Dylan’s latest reinvention or return to the past.

Ultimately, Gates’ review reflects the sometimes inconsistent work of Dylan but, if you’re a fan… a “Dylan person”, the specific achievements of the album are less important than the simple fact of its existence.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. john permalink
    April 23, 2009 3:20 pm

    “but, if you’re a fan… a “Dylan person”, the specific achievements of the album are less important than the simple fact of its existence.”

    Which seems to suggest that “Dylan people” are the worst people to be writing reviews of his work. At least reviews for the unanointed.

    • April 23, 2009 3:46 pm

      It could also suggest that Dylan people know what they like…and they like Dylan. It doesn’t mean they’re blind to his faults; both Gates and my descriptions of Dylan talked about his inconsistencies. It’s just that even mediocre Dylan is worth a listen.

      That’s no different from anyone who has learned over time that they enjoy a particular singer, or author, or wine. Does that mean that if I know, from repeated reading and studying, that I enjoy Russell Banks’ novels, that I’m the worst type of reader to review his work? By that logic, you’d have to argue that amateurs are automatically better than professionals when it comes to reviewing.

      • john permalink
        April 23, 2009 4:34 pm

        you said the specific achievements are less important that the mere fact of the albums existence. That is a distinctly uncritical statement, it the statement of a fan.
        Here is a quote from the review:

        “Like any other Dylan person, I’ve loved many of these changes immediately, come around to most of them and still trust that others will eventually make sense to me. A number of songs, I imagine, will always seem like grievous mistakes. But Dylan has educated my taste to the point where I worry about judging almost any song marginal: is he betraying his own esthetic, or am I betraying him with incomprehension?”

        That is not criticism. That is worship. Gates is prostrating himself on the altar of Dylan. There is nothing wrong with that i guess especially between fellow disciples. Just don’t try to pass it off as meaningful in any substantive way.

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