Monday, September 07, 2009

Christmas album

Thanks to Matthew Zuckerman:

Chris Walker writes: 'I've been an ardent Dylan fan for many years, but I'm afraid this kind of showbiz bullcrap is the final straw. I ain't gonna sing Dylan's praises no more: the greatest creative artist of the 20thC has finally left me behind: so long, Bob.'

Amazing... Even the Judas-crying hecklers of the mid-1960s gave the music a listen before they started to boo. Nowadays, it seems we are so strait-jacketed in our thinking that the music itself is a mere signifier for whatever we wish to believe.

Over the years Dylan has enraged various people by:

Playing rock & roll at a high school dance
Singing with a less-than-angelic voice
Insulting the audience at a Tom Paine awards ceremony
Turning away from writing songs with overt political content
Playing rock & roll again
Playing country music
Playing all kinds of pop and schmaltz on Self Portrait
Making a long and hard-to-follow movie
Playing evangelical music
Speaking up for American farmers during a concert to raise money for
starving Africans
Changing the arrangements to his songs so they don't sound like they do on the records
Allowing a Canadian bank to use one of his songs
Advertising ladies underwear
Advertising a gas guzzling Cadillac
Selling a deluxe version of Tell Tale Signs at a ludicrously high price
Using and adapting melodies and lyrics from a wide range of sources
Recording a Christmas album

This list is off the top of my head and far from complete. Did he have good reasons for doing all of these things? No doubt they seemed good enough to him.

Personally, I am not sure that Live Aid was the place to speak up for relatively well off American farmers; I feel the Cadillac ad was in poor taste (I know the company sponsored his radio show, but that doesn't justify it); and charging £100 for the 3CD set of Tell Tale Signs seems inexcusable.

Should any of this affect my appreciation of one of the greatest artists of our age? Well, we all have our limits. If he were arrested as a child molester, for example, I might well find it hard to separate the fact from my enjoyment of his art.

But a Christmas album? I think I can handle that. I have heard Christmas songs recorded by Otis Redding, Aretha Franklin, Al Green, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and many other great singers, and while those recordings rank low on their artistic achievements, they have not lessened my love or regard for their work.

And I imagine Bob would be delighted to see the bile he has stirred up.