Monday, May 17, 2010

Dylan on a Monday

The past two Sundays have been travel days for me, so no new Dylan posts. Yesterday, I was driving back from Toronto in my boss Dodge Caravan rental hoping that no one would recognize me. I felt a little like Clark Griswold.

On the upside, it had a sirius satellite radio and I stumbled across the Theme Time radio show by none other than Bob Dylan. I knew of the show, but not having a sirius radio, had never heard it. Dylan has produced 100 episodes to great reviews, though it appears Theme Time's run is over.

I heard two episodes, and they were great. The first episode featured songs, stories, quips, and non-sequitors around the theme "fruit." He told fruit stories and played songs about fruit. Everything from Strawberry Fields Forever to The Banana Boat Song. Some of the tracks were obscure, other well-known. Dylan told the back story on many of the songs. And he had a running gag through the show on which fruit was #1; bananas according to Dylan. The second show featured songs about roads, avenues, lanes, boulevards, etc. It featured everything from Dylan reading Scripture after the song "Straight Street," to telling stories about route 66, to playing Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams.

It was funny and witty and interesting. And you could tell Dylan was having great fun doing it. Dylan's narration is not conversational. It's poetry or schtick or whimsy or something. It's definitely performance. He's in a rhythm. The phrasing is as important as the words. This is different than his conversational tone in interviews, for instance. This is the same voice that lines out the phrase, "how does it feel?"

The place where I laughed the hardest was when Dylan volunteered his voice for a car's navigation system, and he gave an example of what that would sound like. Can you imagine having Dylan tell you when to turn right.

So, this is performance art for Dylan. This is different that VH1's story teller series where we get up close with the performers. Still, even in this performance, you come away with a greater sense of what Dylan is about. The different medium reveals another edge to his creativity, and you get a different sense about how his mind works, how things come together for him. The little allusions he drops along the way, the kind of details he's interested in, the kind of songs he knows about--all of it provides a thick enough backdrop that meanings and resonances become more clear with respect to his other work. This despite the fact that Dylan never intentionally gives us much of himself directly.

Those of you who follow me around a bit know that I'm fully invested in this notion of understanding. How do we come to understand one another and the world around us? Thick description. Understanding does not come only through science given over totally to critical methodologies. Understanding comes through use, through layers of experience, through the fruitfulness of prior assumptions, and through the encounter with new horizons.

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