Sunday, December 6, 2009

Dylan on a Sunday

Detroit's public radio station has a great Saturday show that features rock and roll. Much of it is devoted to local music, a rich tradition in this area. But they also play other songs, maybe songs off the beaten path, but great songs nonetheless. Yesterday I was listening in the car while doing errands when a Dylan Song, Political World, came on. It's not one on the top of my list, and after listening I wondered why, because it's a great song.

I have never pretended to be a Dylan expert. I have always marked the late, late turn in Dylan with 1997's Time Out of Mind, for which he won a Grammy. It was my turning point with Dylan. It was the taste that fully opened the Dylan palate for me. The album was produced by the legendary producer, Daniel Lanois. And Dylan writes at length in his autobiography, Chronicles, vol 1, about the tumultuous time they had making that album.

What I wasn't aware of, or had forgotten, was that Lanois also produced Oh Mercy (1989), from which the song Political World comes. So, I guess I'll be spending some iTunes money soon. In reading up on Oh Mercy, many see this as the turning point cd, opening up a new direction and sound for Dylan.

Dylan credits the change in sound direction to a new guitar technique he developed on the road. Whatever the source, the change is pretty dramatic. This is not to say that Dylan's latest cd's sound the same. They don't. Time Out of Mind is dark and bluesy. Modern Times and Love and Theft swing and venture sometimes into the sweet and sentimental. Together Through Life, Dylan's latest, features a Tex-Mex flavor. But all of them roll, I don't know how else to describe it. One bar rolls into the next. It's like a big 8 rolling on even pavement. No hoots or jags. No bridges needed. And when I saw Dylan in concert, his performance of the classics bear this same feel. And it feels like an improvement.

But I digress.

What's interesting to me is the nature of collaboration. Dylan and Lanois have not teamed up since Time Out of Mind, but there's little question that the combustible collaboration produced something significant. There may be teams that have produced something significant because of a common vision, temperment, etc., but often it is the case that the "new thing" comes through ordeal.

Now, there must be something more than putting people together who hate each other to produce something new and exciting. I've been in collaborative situations where different approaches end up in sabotage and disaster. I know large church staffs that have plenty of conflict, but no significant collaboration. One thing that strikes me about Lanois and Dylan was that they found each other at the top of their games. Their reputations were made and established and would not be ultimately damaged by a bad album. They had a risk margin. More, secure in their reputations, perhaps neither personalized the conflict.

This to me is the key. I am convinced that most of the time a few things have to get broken for something significant to arise. That does not come without a little anxiety. It is often the margin for risk measured in the capacity of individuals to not personalize conflict that makes the difference.

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