Musicians, from top, Sheryl Crow, Crystal Bowersox, and Scott Shriner share their views on Bob Dylan.
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It is safe to say that no musician has been as analyzed, deified, criticized, idolized, poked, prodded, picked at, and pontificated about more than Bob Dylan.
Dozens of books have been written about him, his trash has been picked through, and music critics dating back to the old folk magazines all the way up to some blog that’s going online right now have devoted time, space, and energy to try and suss out all things Bob.
At some point it all becomes kind of ridiculous because Dylan has always very adeptly made an elaborate game of wrapping himself in riddles and obfuscation.
And for a guy who is so seemingly mysterious — as he has noted himself — he’s given a fair number of interviews, performed thousands of live shows like the one he’ll present at the Toledo Zoo Wednesday, and pretty much put himself out there for everyone to try to figure out. Just don’t expect him to help.
He’s prolificc: 35 studio albums since the early ’60s, countless live albums, and his remarkable “Bootleg” series that proves that Bob Dylan throws away better songs that most other artists release.
He’s hard working: he tours constantly, proving that the live stage is the real test for any true musician.
And he’s still brilliant: starting in 1997 with “Time Out Of Mind,” his four most recent albums (not counting the one-off “Christmas In The Heart”) are truly on par with the stu he was doing 40-50 years ago.
So there’s not a heck of a lot more to say about him other than the stale “voice of a generation,” “Christian phase,” “controversial,” “is his voice good or bad” stuff that’s been hashed over ad nauseum.
With all that mind, we’ve asked some musicians with local ties to weigh in on Dylan, given that his artistic shadow is cast so far and so deep that you generally can’t come of age as a songwriter post-1961 and not be heavily influenced by his work.
Here’s what they had to say to the following questions: What does Bob Dylan mean to you? And what do you consider to be the essential Dylan song?:
Grammy winning singer/ songwriter who has played several times with Dylan:
“As a songwriter I would say there are only a few people who you must study if you want to have the most important, most potent references and inspiration, and Dylan is definitely one of them, if not the most important. I think he rises above even being a songwriter or a poet in the fact that he in some ways was kind of metaphysically chosen to give voice to a whole movement and you don’t see that kind of synchronicity with him that you do with other artists.”
What it was like to play with him: “For me it would be like just hitting some tennis balls with John McEnroe. I can’t hold a candle to him, but it certainly ups my game. He’s masterful and he’s generous and he’s also challenging and just unique in every way.”
Essential song: “‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall.’ I can remember an interview with him where he said he liked to approach songwriting where each line could be the first line of a new song, a different song, and that song [‘Hard Rain’] for me, every line is important and has meaning. It’s such a lean song.”
Toledo musician and producer:
“How many singer/songwriters are commonly referred to by just one name? Precious few. Sinatra, Elvis, and Dylan. Are there more? OK, maybe Springsteen.
"Think of the musicians/artists throughout history that have that honor. The ones that come to mind for me:
"Bach, Beethoven, Mozart, etc.
"Coltrane, Bird, Brubeck.
"Van Gogh, Rembrandt, Picasso.
"Kurosawa, Fellini, Hitchcock, Scorsese.
"Bogart, The Duke.
"Shakespeare, Poe, Faulkner, Hemmingway.
"There are probably others. That's what I think of when I think of Dylan. He's in the pantheon. He's in good company, and he gives good company."
Essential song: "Two come to mind, and for whatever reason they're inseparable to me: 'Like A Rolling Stone' and 'Positively 4th Street.' They're both still as powerful today as when I heard them the first time, and they both remain glaring examples of perfect songwriting. I feel that way about dozens of his songs, but those two are truly tattooed on my soul."
Singer/songwriter from Elliston, Ohio, who was the 2010 American Idol runner-up:
"When I think of Dylan, I think of poetry, activism, and folk with a function. Saying his name alone is enough to conjure up the memories of a not-so-distant time, when apathy didn't seem to peek its lazy head into the hearts of our youth. Dylan was not necessarily ahead of his time; he was in the perfect place and time to inspire an entire generation, and many generations to come."
Essential song: The essential Dylan, in my opinion are songs like 'Rainy Day Women,' 'Shelter From The Storm,' 'The Times They Are A-Changin',' 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right,' 'All Along the Watchtower,' 'Blowin' in the Wind,' 'Hurricane,' 'Subterranean Homesick Blues,' 'Like a Rolling Stone,' and so on and on and on and on... You don't just listen to Dylan, you immerse yourself into a rich, emotional, lyrical journey, and for one to feel absolutely nothing from it is simply unimaginable to me."
Former Sylvania musician who is a member of the Psychodots and a producer/recording artist in Cincinnati:
"Inspiration is everywhere. Get to work. Relentlessly. Create, revise, throw out, reconsider, retrieve, start over. Somehow keep track of it all. Don't stop. Retirement is death. The master walks the talk."
Essential song: "I'm very grateful Bob Dylan kept dropping songs like diamonds after the creation of 'Like A Rolling Stone,' but for me it's still the alpha and omega, as compelling to experience today as it was four decades ago. Fascinating lyrics, enigmatic, yet even a kid understands what he's saying: end of discussion.
"I would only point out how the studio musicians rocketed up to the occasion on his version. Mike Bloomfield, told by Dylan that he shouldn't play the bluesy stuff he was comfortable with, pulled sparkling country rabbits out of his hat, and after producer Tom Wilson informed Al Kooper that he wasn't an organ player, the cheeky 21 year-old slid into the studio anyway and recorded one of the Hammond B3's most defining moments in pop music. I've read that the group recorded 15 takes trying to reach the stratosphere, but take number four is the one we all know; perfectly imperfectly perfect.
"Great musicians are magicians. 'Like A Rolling Stone' is a brilliant work of alchemy, sparks flying into space, sorcerers wearing shades mirroring the creator."
Chicago-area singer/songwriter who is Bowersox's husband:
"The first thing I think of as a musician when I think of Mr. Dylan is the word prolific. When was he not writing? If we supposedly spend one-third of our lives sleeping then how did he do anything else? I need so much time to write even the simplest of songs."
Essential song: "As far as the 'essential' Dylan song, it's not a fair question. Pick one Beatles song, go ahead, I dare you to pick just one. That being said, I still have the ones, that for whatever reason, affect me.
"First is 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right' Wherever I am when I hear it, I have to listen to it all the way through. And 'Isis' was the song that made me feel like a singer/songwriter could have something to say in one song and just tell a cool story in another."
Toledo native and bassist for Weezer:
"Absolute songwriting genius. A writer that changed the history of music. A man that is a total mystery and if I ever had the chance to meet this man I would have no clue what to say to him other than: 'Hi, man.'"
Essential song: "I'm going with 'Idiot Wind' -- lyrically, emotionally, and just how heavy is this man. I don't know any writer that can say the things that he does or the way that he does it."
Contact Rod Lockwood at:
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