Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is Bob Dylan Over-rated?

Thanks to a Doc Jensen-inspired facebook conversation about Mad Men, as well as hearing a Dylan song yesterday while I was running over to a hardware store to replace an outdoor electrical cord (I tend to chop them with a powertool once every 12 years), I was reminded how annoyed I am not so much by Dylan but by Dylan worship.  I think this is perhaps one of the most fundamental divides between baby boomers and the generations after them (you know, those marginalized in the political system): boomers love Dylan, post-boomers find his music to be ok. 

Perhaps you had to live through the 60's to get it, but Dylan's songs are ok, his voice is grating, and his guitar work is adequate. 

So, to my boomer readers (just my relatives, I think), flame away.  Do my post-boomer readers agree that Dylan is over-rated?


Mrs. Spew said...

As I argued in the car, I think it's not all boomers who rate Dylan high, but the oldest of the group, the ones who were actual teens in the 1960's, not kids. Musically, he is often listed as an influence for 1960's and early 1970's performers. Younger boomers have far less interest in Dylan than bands like Aerosmith or U2, and are more likely to credit influence to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton. Dylan did a really good job of making himself declared king of folk and the progenitor of pop, but James Taylor has had more lasting folk impact on music, and folk is basically now a sub-culture at best. The new Lilith Fair had to cancel dates because it's perceived wrongly as female folk music.

Dylan's longer lasting impact is as a political figure, the guy who is protesting the oppression of the little man, the Vietnam War, etc. through song. But since the eighties, protesting the oppression of the little man has not been in vogue and in the 1980's, the boomers abandoned the idea. The later boomers weren't hippies, they were MBA's, and Dylan has little impact on them except as a footnote of the sixties, early seventies era. There is a nostalgia directed at him in some quarters, but that happens with all major artists in turn (see Tom Jones.)

Steve Greene said...

Um, yeah, what Kathy said. My much less interesting point, is that I know a lot of people my age who are big Dylan fans. Regardless, he's over-rated.

Theo McLauchlin said...

I wasn't around for the 60s or 70s--in fact I was born when Dylan was born-again--and I am still a huge fan.

I happen to find "overrated" on matters of taste a limited concept. I think it just means, "I like this guy less than most other people do." It's a judgment that makes more sense where there are more objective criteria. For example, I'm willing to say JaMarcus Russell was badly overrated (by Al Davis anyway).

One could be (slightly) more "objective" about Dylan's influence than his quality, and I think he's had more impact than Mrs. Spew thinks. I agree he didn't make folk music a lastingly popular genre. That may be because he stopped doing folk music. But (in doing so, in fact) what he did do was to expand what pop music could be about. I don't mean just politics, which I agree dropped out of most pop music. I mean, first, a certain degree of lyrical seriousness. He had a huge influence directly on the Beatles and Stones in this respect--I really don't think you get Come Together or Gimme Shelter without Dylan. I also think he started a trend towards selling records despite (or in virtue of) a bit of hipster cynicism and a bit of really being a downer. In this regard he helped open the door for the Doors and especially the Velvet Underground (and all their indie-rock descendants).

So even though I like Dave Matthews less than most people seem to, I don't think he's "overrated" because I don't see that concept applying; and I'm (grudgingly) willing to accept that he's had a large-ish influence on music college students like.

Mrs. Spew said...

He was unquestionably influential. My argument was that I just don't think there's a heavy amount of Dylan worship going on anymore, despite that Steve has run into some.