Bob Dylan: Like a Complete Unknown (Icons of America)
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David Yaffe considers Bob Dylan from 4 perspectives: his complicated relationship to blackness, the underrated influence of his singing style, his fascinating image in films and his controversial songwriting methods that have led to charges of plagiarism.
was added, and levels were altered to imagine a Dylan song on a dance floor for these new, insufferable kids. Director Rupert Jones filmed the entire video in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, the epicenter of the moment’s urban hip (a neighborhood so precious, “cool hunters” from various marketing groups take the L train to check it out). Open casting was announced in search of various Dylan look-alikes, just from behind, and it was no shock that the hood was full of wannabe Dylans. Jones did not miss a
didn’t commit. There has been much debate about Carter’s claim, but Dylan put himself on a mission as a kind of identification: “The first time I saw him, I left knowing one thing . . . I realized that the man’s philosophy and my philosophy were running down the same road, and you don’t meet too many people like that.” Dylan did not simply don black causes like a pair of Miss Lonely’s earrings; he identified with the story and the man, although once some of the facts about Carter came out, he may
had “stolen” the title of “Blowin’ in the Wind” from him, a charge he later retracted. By 1978, Dylan at least revealed the song’s source: “‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ has always been a spiritual. I took it off a song, I don’t know if you ever heard, called ‘No More Auction Block.’” The chords, not the words and not really the melody, do resemble the antislavery anthem, immortalized in the chilling Odetta version that inspired the teenage Dylan to go acoustic, but “Blowin’ in the Wind” is certainly
relationship with, 9–11, 32, 72 as singer-songwriter, 2–3, 96, 99–100 Mavis Staples’ relationship with, 75, 87 theft of folk records by, 43, 93, 97 at University of Minnesota, 43, 66 and U.S. presidents, 89–92 vision of, in Switzerland (1987), 86 voice and singing style of, 1–30 Warhol Screen Test of, 31–32, 57 on wearing a mask, 6, 53, 119 Woodstock home of, 14, 17, 19, 56 youth of, 42–43, 54, 66, 67, 93. See also Blackness Plagiarism/appropriations Voice of Dylan and specific
emotion when he could deliver it, and adenoidal mannerisms when he couldn’t. But when there was no barrier between himself and the audience, as on the version recorded May 26, 1966, available on Biograph, he really does sound like he’s been “up past the dawn.” On the high notes (“to play tricks when you’re trying to be so quiet”) each peak is a plea made with what Keats called full-throated ease, although there was nothing easy about the material or the performance. Other nights, including the