I began this week blaming “Stranger Things 2” for causing my nostalgic flashbacks to the 1980’s, particularly flashbacks of the musical variety. It has given me a reason to ponder which bands and musicians contributed to those important years of mine, from teenage-hood to twenty-something. To finish off this week’s journey for me, I’d be remiss not to mention the man who I “discovered” in that time of my life; or, maybe, more accurately the man who found me during that time of my life, because that is the way it happens with Bob Dylan – You don’t chose his music, it chooses you.
Of course, I know Bob Dylan is not a 1980’s musician (whatever that means). In fact, true to form, it is impossible to pin any kind of label like that on Bob. He’s been making music for public consumption since 1960. His newest albums are still crackling with energy and a drive to create that seemingly will not end until the man dies (if someone like Bob can truly die like the rest of us… I’m sure he has a plan when that day comes).
Many fans and music critics consider the 1980’s to be one of Dylan’s weakest decades. It began with a couple of albums from his Christian period (a greatly ridiculed but even more greatly unappreciated time of his life), carried on through a couple of solid efforts (Infidels stands out for me), through a couple of rotten efforts and finished with the Daniel Lanois produced Oh Mercy which was actually really, really good.
But for me, the Dylan album (or albums) that charted the course for my Dylan fandom for years and years to come (on until today) was the career retrospective called Biograph. The album came out in 1985 and I purchased the original 5-disc release of it. It is funny to consider it a career retrospective now, 32 years and many albums later in Dylan’s ongoing career. It wasn’t so much a greatest hits collection as a compilation of various sides of Bob, that is, each record side was arranged not chronologically but thematically. Songs Dylan had recorded in the ’60’s were alongside newer songs from the ’80’s, for example. It remains an excellent and concise image of this enigmatic artist, whose songwriting ability and lyrical and visual scope is sometimes staggering.
Biograph came out when I was a sophomore in college and it was the very start of my own Dylan phase. By the end of the ’80’s I owned a copy of every Dylan album (and a couple of bootlegs) on vinyl. I remember laying them all out on my living room floor and taking a photo of them. To me then, Dylan opened up my mind to the possibility of all the ways music could function in life – expressions of desire, anger, lust, pain, humor – spiritual cries of doubt and faith – demands for justice and pleas for peace – poetic explorations of beauty, of confusion, of the joy of words. It was the true beginning of my own musical journey, my forever curiosity to discover new sounds and ways of communicating through song.
Because of how his music found me and took ahold, I will always have a special place in my heart and in my own creative soul for Bob. Here is a video of a live performance in 1999 of one of my favorite Dylan tunes, “I Shall Be Released”. Enjoy.