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Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin¹ Bob Dylan

1407 words - 6 pages

Bob Dylan: The Freewheelin¹ Bob Dylan

When I was growing up, Bob Dylan was more of a name on paper to me than a person. I knew Peter, Paul & Mary's covers of his songs better than I knew his. My parents listen to a lot of folk music--Peter, Paul and Mary, Simon and Garfunkel, the Weavers, Pete Seeger, Woody and Arlo Guthrie--but somehow Bob Dylan never entered the mix. Even after it somehow filtered into my consciousness that he'd written these songs I'd known all my life, that he was a performer, he remained mysterious. Photographs always seem to show him looking down, away from the camera, an expression of brooding concentration fixed on his face. When I heard the original versions of ...view middle of the document...

He's simultaneously traditional and revolutionary. Some songs have achieved this mythic antiquity--sounding like they were written much more than forty years ago--over time. "Oxford Town" alternates (often mid-line) between Dylan's characteristic hoarse, thin growl and a lower, clearer, more resonant tone reminiscent of Pete Seeger. "Blowin' in the Wind" is so classic and anthemic, people who don't listen to folk music know it. I don't remember ever learning it, it's a song I've always known. There is something about Dylan's lyrics, Dylan's sound. Even when you've never heard him before, he sounds familiar. He's part of our musical consciousness; he was part of mine before I ever knew his name.

On The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, the lyrics generally fall into one of two categories: the political, often centering around the Cuban Missle Crisis (which was going on as he was writing the album); and the personal, songs of alienation and nostalgia. But both songs centrally ask questions, written in Dylan's style of using concrete images to communicate abstract ideas and concepts, constantly challenging the audience, making them reach and grope for the meaning behind the words.

The technique of using images as a conduit for concepts is most obvious on the political songs "Blowin' in the Wind" and "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall." Dylan once said that "every line in ["A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall"] is actually the start of a whole song," which leads to a disconnected feeling. Each line of the song is a whole separate story, or the start of one, but as you listen, a unified whole also emerges, a song which is greater than the sum of its parts, a song in which no one verse or phrase can stand alone. The same is true in "Blowin' in the Wind." The images--a newborn baby with wolves all around it, mountains washed to the sea, a black branch with blood that kept dripping, guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children, and many others--flash by, so that just as you're picturing one the next squeezes in, until they pile up into an apocalyptic whole.

The most powerful song on the album, for me, is "Masters of War." It too uses harsh imagery, as in "You hide in your mansion/As young people's blood/Flows out of their bodies/And is buried in the mud," as well as lines about Dylan following the politician's casket to the grave and dancing upon it. But the dominant characteristic is anger, of the helpless rage that has no relief, the resentment toward politicians that send young men off to die and call it peace-keeping. It was written during Vietnam but has never lost its relevance. It's one of the few violent songs that Dylan ever wrote, apparently surprising even the author. "[It's] a way of getting temporary relief from the heavy feeling of impotence that affects many who cannot...

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