Boogiemporium: Bob Dylan’s Third and Fourth Records

As some of you know, I’m using 2011 as the year to fully venture through the works of Mr. Robert Zimmerman…the one and only Bob Dylan. One new album a week. 52 weeks within the year. It’s already proven to be a brutal practice. On Sunday, I began working through the authorized bootleg of his historical 1964 concert at the Philharmonic Hall (five stars at Amazon). Talk about a shameless exhibit of artist idolatry. He has the audience under his measly little thumb. He freaking farts and they applause. Everything he says in between songs is somehow witty and introspective. It’s like a Presidential address. You just wish the crowd would sit down and shut up. It’d be a good record to play some sort of drinking game with because of the recurrent applause and unnecessary laughter. And, to top it off, it sounds as if Bob’s under the influence of some hallucinogenic drug of some sort. Snorting, giggling, mumbling. He’s more than half in the bag and the audience is like, “He’s a genius. He’s the most important prophet of our time.” People were so naive back then. Of course, then you watch deep cable these days and they’re still stupid. Geez, some industries are designed around the premise that people are suckas. Without a sucka, some business models wouldn’t be possible. I digress.

Since I’ll be listening to Bobby Dylan during an extremely important year in Ellison’s life and she’ll likely know him as “Uncle Bob” by the time this is all said and done, let’s melt these last two studio records down to an infant’s level of listenability. Could it be that the babble of Bobby is good for Ellison’s development? Or is a poison, a toxin like second-hand smoke? A silent killer of brain cells and a stumper for intellect?

The Times They are A-Changin’ I felt to be the most unlistenable piece of garbage I’ve come across in the Bob Dylan arsenal so far. And I don’t mean that in the Blake-Collier “Everyone Else Likes It, But I Will Publicly Denounce It To Surprise Everyone” sense. It’s poo poo. It really is.

My frustration with this record is that, essentially, it’s just the afterbirth of a great record, Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. That’s the first problem this record has. Just because it contains the title track “The Times They are A-Changin'” (which is, undoubtedly, a part of the Dylan canon) doesn’t mean the whole record has some sort of incredible and monumental significance. It just doesn’t. Bob Dylan is largely incoherent and absent through the entire record. The songs are slow, sluggish and seem to go on forever. From the seven-minute and well-intended “With God on Our Side” to the aptly titled “Restless Farewell,” there’s hardly anything on this album that I could listen to for more than three minutes at a time. It’s the musical equivalent of getting flogged with the business of a dog leash for forty-five minutes. And, because I’m a glutton for punishment, I did it for an entire week.

Oddly, though, the ability of this record to bury Ellison into a deep mid-morning slumber, is undeniable. Three times in the morning, I played this for her before switching over to NPR and she rocked to sleep only moments into it…echoing my boredom with this album. So at least it has that going for it. But otherwise, it’s completely unlistenable and unenjoyable. I loathe this record with a passion and fury unknown to the modern world. My opinion may change. But it was like that girl that you dated for a week and then, after finding out she chews with her mouth open, chews off her toenails and listens to Megadeth, you’re searching for the exit door as quick as possible. This album had all the promise. Everyone adores it. I even had a poster of the cover art when I was in college. Little did I know how bad the album actually was.

That brings us to the slightly redemptive Another Side of Bob Dylan. Definitely a better record, but that’s not saying much. He could’ve made a better record by sticking to one plan…record it while sober. Still haunted by some excruciatingly long songs like “Chimes of Freedom” (7:11) and “Ballad in Plain D” (8:17) which is essentially just a long apology to his (now) ex-girlfriend for a physical altercation between Dylan and her sister (the white trash comes out), it doesn’t possess the same slumber-inducing qualities of it’s older brother.

Marked by many lyrical failures and shortcomings, “I Shall Be Free No. 10” would be the climax of crap. It’s like being a pinball in the head of Bob Dylan on LSD. His erratic lyricism is enough to tire and frustrate even the most intent listener. Try reading this garbage.

I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everybody’s brother and son
I ain’t different than anyone
It ain’t no use a-talking to me
It’s just the same as talking to you.

I was shadow-boxing earlier in the day
I figured I was ready for Cassius Clay
I said “Fee, fie, fo, fum, Cassius Clay, here I come
26, 27, 28, 29, I’m gonna make your face look just like mine
Five, four, three, two, one, Cassius Clay you’d better run
99, 100, 101, 102, your ma won’t even recognize you
14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, gonna knock him clean right out of his spleen.”

Well, I don’t know, but I’ve been told
The streets in heaven are lined with gold
I ask you how things could get much worse
If the Russians happen to get up there first.
Wowee’ pretty scary!

Now, I’m liberal, but to a degree
I want ev’rybody to be free
But if you think that I’ll let Barry Goldwater
Move in next door and marry my daughter
You must think I’m crazy!
I wouldn’t let him do it for all the farms in Cuba.

Well, I set my monkey on the log
And ordered him to do the Dog
He wagged his tail and shook his head
And he went and did the Cat instead
He’s a weird monkey, very funky.

I sat with my high-heeled sneakers on
Waiting to play tennis in the noonday sun
I had my white shorts rolled up past my waist
And my wig-hat was falling in my face
But they wouldn’t let me on the tennis court.

I gotta woman, she’s so mean
She sticks my boots in the washing machine
Sticks me with buckshot when I’m nude
Puts bubblegum in my food
She’s funny, wants my money, calls me “honey.”

Now I gotta friend who spends his life
Stabbing my picture with a bowie-knife
Dreams of strangling me with a scarf
When my name comes up he pretends to barf.
I’ve got a million friends!

Now they asked me to read a poem
At the sorority sister’s home
I got knocked down and my head was swimmin’
I wound up with the Dean of Women
Yippee! I’m a poet, and I know it.
Hope I don’t blow it.

I’m gonna grow my hair down to my feet so strange
So I look like a walking mountain range
And I’m gonna ride into Omaha on a horse
Out to the country club and the golf course.
Carry the New York Times, shoot a few holes, blow their minds.

Now you’re probably wondering by now
Just what this song is all about
What’s probably got you baffled more
Is what this thing here is for.
It’s nothing
It’s something I learned over in England.

After reading that, you just wanna go back to bed and sleep. Imagine listening to that crap. In fact, take a shot at it.

I’m not entirely convinced that listening to Dylan around your kiddo is a bad thing…especially at this age. She’s young enough that, in addition to the capabilities of boring her to absolute snores, it could have it’s benefits of language development. There’s one thing about Bob Dylan, dude has a mastery of language. I would question the arrangement of his words at times (as in “I Shall Be Free No. 10”). Also troubling at times is his use of the harmonica which, most other times I wouldn’t mind it, but it’s like a alarm clock to a sleeping baby. That sound just pierces a baby’s ears and is likely to cause a sleeping baby to stir a bit. And, to this point in Bobby’s career, he uses a guitar and a harmonica primarily. If he’s not singing, he’s blowing into that stupid harp and waking up babies.

Altogether, we’re going to give these two records a combined score of one and a half Dirties. I can’t find it within me to score them any higher. I’m not a sucka like those cats at the Philharmonic Hall. 


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