All I know is that I’m thrilled by your kiss,
I don’t know any more than this.
Po’ boy, pickin’ up sticks,
Build you a house out of mortar and bricks.
'Dylan can't sing.'
90% of the Western population
'That boy's got a voice. Maybe he won't make it with his writing, but he can sing it. He can really sing it.'
...Have a look at the Guthrie quotation at the top again:
He can really sing it.
It. Not just 'sing', but 'sing it'.
That little extra word turns this short statement from the dying hobo-poet into the most precise description of Dylan's art. Because to sing is not only about music, but, as Plato knew, and Josquin, and Monteverdi, and Dylan, it's about words too. It's about what you sing, what you project, what you express.
It is a commonplace among musicians to claim to be influenced by Dylan, but apart from a general desire to write meaningful lyrics, it is often difficult to see more precisely how this influence really comes through. And by taking only the style of writing, they miss half of the equation -- perhaps the most important part, for a singer, anyway. What makes Dylan so special, I believe, is not only his ability to shape words according to the 'disposition of the soul', but also to let this disposition come to expression, through the words, in a style which is shaped precisely to fit this expression. As with Monteverdi, this style will go beyond the requirements of the beautiful, of criteria of melodiousness, because Dylan's art is founded in a perfect symbiosis between lyrics and singing style.
And just as personal and individual as the perception that is expressed is the style: the symbiosis between lyrics and style includes the singer himself, in an identification between singer and song, so that when Dylan sings, we not only hear the song, we hear Dylan. This is most immediately evident in songs like 'Sara', where the singer is almost physically present in the song, but fundamentally it is just as true about 'Blowin' in the Wind', and just as irrelevant a perspective on a song like 'I Wanna Hold Your Hand'. What we hear is one individual's perspective on the world, and since it presumably is the same world we ourselves relate to, as we tear up grass somewhere else along the same train line, this perspective is potentially of vital importance -- far more so than some divine principle, long forgotten and well hidden in the kind of beauty that will, inevitably, only turn to rust.
This is precisely the point that Toby Richards-Carpenter made in his article in the previous issue of 'Judas!', where he compared Dylan with Paul McCartney: 'Bob Dylan owns his songs. The songs are his tools and he will use them as he likes. Paul McCartney, on the other hand, is the tool that 'Hey Jude' uses in order to get heard.
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