Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

Great day with Dylan today. I had a mix going when I ran today and two of the songs were perfect for my increasingly slow running pace: Thunder on the Mountain and Watching the River Flow. They made the last mile a piece of cake. As I cooled down Like a Rolling Stone came on, which has to be in the top ten of great Dylan songs. Hearing that song reminded me of the concert in England in 1966 when they booed his electric performances, including the final song, Like a Rolling Stone. Scorsese's, No Direction Home, has the footage from the Don't Look Back movie that captured that performance. The interviews with the fans afterward are priceless. They call him all kinds of names and accuse him of prostituting himself for commercial gain. One fan accuses him of turning his back on the spirit of the music--music that Dylan himself wrote.

Anyway, it got me thinking again about culture and change and meaning. Dylan's done alright. The people interviewed seem silly now. Dylan was still Dylan after he went electric. This is not to say that they weren't right about the meaning of his music changing. Form is a big part of meaning. Adding a band changed the meaning of the performance. But I know this as well. If Dylan hadn't changed, the meaning of his music would have. An attempt to freeze the form in time would also have changed the meaning of the music. Meaning is a moving thing. Form does convey meaning, but its more complex than that. Form is in relationship to lots of other factors, most of which are constantly in motion.

The original meaning of Dylan's early performances were lost once they were over. They gained and/or lost significance in light of new circumstances, in the ongoing play of life. (This is part of Gadamer's point in Truth and Method). The meaning of those early performances continues to change today with each new Dylan cd, or even with a new Ben Harper or Bruce Springsteen cd. Our field of interpretation is always shifting.

In light of this, it is interesting to listen to Dylan describe himself as a "musical expeditionary." The meaning is always out in front of him, in every new performance (not unlike the notions of gospel I've been working with). For Dylan, the music does not come from the past, but from somewhere new. The river is always moving for Dylan. He's just watching the river flow.


Mark said...

Mark -- I take it that Dylan is one of your favorite musical performers. All I noticed was your reference to Gadamer's "Truth and Method." This is a very fine work, but one that I needed a commentary to work through. He also said, in effect, that an interpreter must be willing to grant the truth claims of the work that they are trying to understand. What is the truth claim that Dylan primary represents for you and is there an album that you might recommend for me to listen to?

Mark Love said...


Thanks for commenting. I do like Dylan a lot. I write about Dylan, however, because he is a particularly fruitful person to reflect with and on, especially as it pertains to issues of meaning.

Any artist that has been in the public eye as lond as Dylan is susceptible to the multiple Dylans theories. Early Dylan, Christian Dylan, later Dylan, etc. And there is certainly something to all of that. But one thing that seems to carry through all of them is an apocalyptic view of the world. We are constantly sowing the seeds of our own destruction. There will be an abrupt accounting. Life is hopelessly fragmented and best expressed in ironies, limit expressions, oxymorons, jarring metaphors. It is farcical, the main characters being jokers and thieves. Through it all, however, the real pain of love lets us know that there is something real out there.

If I were going to start with Dylan, I'd listen to his more recent stuff. Modern Times, Love and Theft, Time Out of Mind.