Tuesday, September 27, 2005

When words were important

Did you catch part one of No Direction Home, Martin Scorsese's documentary on Bob Dylan? It's terrific, so make sure you catch part two tonight on your local PBS station. I was struck by several things while watching the retrospective:
  1. Words. Words (lyrics, if you must) were important back then, and they conveyed all sorts of messages, though Dylan says of his own songs that a lot of the "message" was unintended on his part. But Dylan's songs aren't the only ones showcased here, and much of that particular genre of 1950s and 60s music did have specific meaning - whether about love, or war, or geography, or politics. They are poetry. At the risk of sounding like an old fogey, it's been a long time since the words of a song held any sort of prominence. Today - with few exceptions - words only act as a sort of percussion to support the music (or lack of it).
  2. Much is made of Dylan's distinctive voice, but that voice makes you listen to the words/meaning. No prettified voice to distract you from what's being said. I think that nasal, sing-songy voice helps push the message (non-message?).
  3. What a rich source of musical talent was singing the truth during that time! Odetta, Pete Seegar, Joan Baez, The Staple Singers, The Weavers, plus many, many others, and the documentary knits these folks into the Dylan story beautifully. As gifted as Dylan was, he was definitely standing on the shoulders of these artists and story-tellers.

Looking forward to seeing the second half of the story tonight. Read some of the reviews here and here and here.

No comments: