Friday, May 8, 2020

HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED

Of course there had to be a Dylan record on a list of albums that had a high impact in the manner I put my straight shoulder to the wheel, and its this one, HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED. This is less a music collection than a weapon, a dual- edged shiv that brought everything that songwriter was interested in--Burroughsesque nightmares, the plaintive flatness of rural folk traditions, a carnivalization of the inane and crucifying obligations we've bought into to rationalize lives based on a religion comprised solely on the idea of debt. It was a glorious anarchy as well, a chamber of blues, boogie, electric guitars , guitars and drums thrashing forward without penance with a momentum that ripped the seams of whatever structure these songs had to begin with. Dylan is nasal, braying, mewling, nasty in his vocalizing, which is to say that he's pissed, a combination of gotcha!, dead-to-rights broadsides against what is false and based on distraction deception and deceit and outright school yard finger pointing, an aggrieved creep ranting at others about how unfair he's been treated. 

This is a fantastic combination, folkie Dylan backed by an electric band getting the tracks done fast, taking little time for finessing the brew. It's worth mentioning that while blues guitar genius Mike Bloomfield was on the session (with Al Kooper as well, late of the Blues Project and later to found Blood Sweat and Tears), Dylan, jerk/punk/asshole/speed freak he was, told Bloomfield that he didn't want "any of that B.B.King shit..." Or words to that effect. The disc is full of rawboned, ethereal masterpieces like JUST LIKE TOM THUMB'S BLUES, FROM A BUICK SIX, BALLAD OF A THIN MAN, QUEEN JANE APPROXIMATELY, and his epic Masterwork DESOLATION ROW, which may be the most convincing evocation of Dante's 9 Circles of Hell. One can enthuse, elaborate, abstract from and wax philosophical upon these keen nihilistic odes, but it will have to suffice to remark that I consider this record one of the albums that needed to exist for the birth of punk rock to take place, along with the KICK OUT THE JAMS by the MC5, and the first albums by the Stooges and Velvet Underground. . 

Everyone seems to start and end at different places, tempos are ragged, sometimes tentative, the pace is bludgeoning, the instruments are often out of tune, and its all glorious,brilliant Dylan in the middle of it all, snarling, burning through his genius and abusing his muse for the greater glory of what would become a definitive record. It is raw and spiky and gives you a perspective that says that there is no proof because there is no pudding.You'd be right, I suppose , in linking Dylan's early cynicism about the motives of people and the institutions they represent to his dalliance of brimstone Christianity. It does seem a natural progression, although I've expanded my view on is SLOW TRAIN COMING album and would equate it closer to the fatalistic Christianity of Flannery O'Connor, a writer who was obsessed with the vision of Christ, the afterlife, as a strange way of thinking that you've cut the spiritual requirements to sit at God's right or left hand,which ever comes first. Her's was a body of thinking about Christianity that was too weird and personal to be of any use to any to anyone except those readers of American Southern fiction who marveled at the writer's skill at imagining the worst while dealing, even in submerged form, on matters of Belief.Her measure of Christian love was a love of Christ himself, not so much for the fellow man. 

What had been pure in intention, spreading a gospel of love and service to others--to be genuinely 'Christ like"--had been perverted and become ritual, fetish and an excuse to gather material riches and oppress others in the name of silent God and savior. O'Conner was cynical, and her stories in many ways reveal how characters sacrifice their best interests and the good of others in pursuit of that goal. Wise Blood had a preacher who very much made me think of a young, venomous preacher who founded a Church that had no God. God is a brand-name and the institution is the thing itself, its real purpose being only to perpetuate its own existence. She is closer to Dylan's finger wagging than most of us care to think about. Dylan's Christianity is likewise too weird to be of any use to any evangelist who might to cite him as a saved celebrity. His view was apocalyptic and I think no less nihilist than when he was a mad lad surrealising the universe with his skill at saying profound sounding things that no one honestly understood. But for HIGHWAY 61 REVISITED, it's more profitable , nay, more enjoyable to take this on its own terms and it's own era-defined conditions of composition and again get wowed by the spiked punch of insight, insult, revelation, resentment, love , rage, the general rampage of impulses he contained with the simple guitar chords he had in his armory. The wonder of the album is that unlike so many discs by great artists at the time, including, this one hasn't aged.

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BARRY ALFONSO: I sniff off-the-cuff nihilism, crank-'n'-reds know-nothingism and wink-twitch name-dropping glibness, though it IS better to drop T.S. Eliot's name than, say, Stevie Nicks's.You can trace our current era of Trumpean meanness right back to the unbridled rudeness and insensitivity of "Like A Rolling Stone." That song is arguable the first pop hit featuring a man insulting, belittling, shaming and humiliating a woman in front of the world. Fast-forward 51 years to Trump's behavior towards Megan Kelly at the first GOP debate and look at the naked lunch dangling at the end of the populist FORK.I disagree that O'Connor was cynical -- she believed than man was fallen and helpless and blind as the bats of Jehoshaphat -- but there was the possibility of redemption. She wanted to shock people into realizing their utter need. Dylan has spent most of his career looking for a stick to beat people over the head with, whether it is poor Mr. Jones (who isn't "with it") or unbelievers during his Jesus phase. O'Connor used dark satire to point out truths about humanity -- I don't hear ANY truths about humanity in Dylan's three Christian albums except that you are all going to burn in Hell unless you submit immediately. I would say O'Connor was profound. Dylan? He was a sour, nearly burned-out rock star who needed a new nozzle for his bile. Dylan wanted the applause of the crowd so he could piss on it, causing his sopping-wet fans to worship Bob the Bard all the more. A dump truck for an overloaded head and a cold, cold heart. I can see Reed now, wringing out his own neck like a dishrag wrapped around an old biddy's broom handle...


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