Thursday, August 6, 2009

Bob Dylan Song #131: Let It Be Me

http://expectingrain.com/dok/div/greilmarcusselfportrait.html

I wonder, at this point, what it is about this performance of "Let It Be Me" that bothers me so much. It's a reasonable enough take on the song - obviously not worth comparing to the Everly Brothers version (then again, the Everly Brothers have that whole "amazing vocal harmony" thing Dylan can't really draw on), but surely not the worst thing to be found on this album. Dylan hauls out the Nashville Skyline croon again to bring a softer treatment to the beautiful French tune, and the backup singers offer reasonably good harmonies. The band, as well, acquits themselves nicely enough. So then what is that burning itch that I can't quite scratch when it comes to this song, which is inoffensive and pleasant enough to actually constitute a possible highlight?

After some reflection, I've decided that what bothers me is that the Nashville Skyline croon actually shows up at all on this song. Now, I know that it pops up intermittently throughout the album (almost as though it's some sort of virus Bob's getting out of his system), so it's not like this is an isolated incident that I can point at. And I also don't have a problem with the croon in general; after all, it's probably my favorite part of the country album where it makes its worldwide debut. And yet when I hear it here I find myself disliking that croon, thinking of it more as a cheap joke or an easy out, something to actually lend some credence to a cover version that sort of lightly drifts by without actually making any sort of impact on our imaginations. In a way, this feeling kind of worries me - it's far too strong an emotion than this song probably deserves.

Maybe it's just my protective nature; seeing that I really do enjoy that "country voice" of Bob's, hearing it in a different setting, one that I don't particularly approve of, is a little too jarring. It'd be rather like putting Han Solo in, I dunno, Michael Bay's Transformers or something like that. It's odd to think that this would be the song to elicit this kind of distaste in me, but sometimes you can't predict those sorts of things. It's funny, too - I've heard that country voice singing the rather lame lyrics of "Peggy Day" as well as the gently beautiful lyrics of "Lay Lady Lay", and I should be accustomed to that velvety voice wrapped around words that don't really rank as some of Dylan's best. But to hear it on this album, singing lyrics as part of a cover version in a progression of them...it just rubs me the wrong way.

And now, a few words about the 7th section of the RS review. As mentioned in the previous post, Marcus paints us a tale of a young man who's responding to Self Portrait, comparing it to the pablum his parents listen to, even considering the dreaded re-gift when he receives the album as a birthday present. This leads to one of the most powerful sections (upon first reading) of the review, which I will quote here:

"To this kid Dylan is a figure of myth; nothing less, but nothing more. Dylan is not real and the album carries no reality. He's never seen Bob Dylan; he doesn't expect to; he can't figure out why he wants to."

Ouch! Pretty powerful stuff, no?

Well, what sort of robs this passage of its strength is an application of the common sense that occasionally gets tossed out the window when we're dealing with Art, Maaaan - Marcus mentions at the beginning that this imaginary kid's siblings "have been living with Dylan for years". Now, don't you think that those siblings might, just might, have let this imaginary kid give his classic albums a listen? I mean, setting aside the usual sibling rivalry crap that we go through in our youth, I'd like to imagine that a kid who would at least know what Self Portrait sounds like would have given Highway 61 a spin or two in their lives. And let's face it - much like the sister in Almost Famous that bequeaths her records to her brother before becoming a stewardess, if your siblings are cool enough to listen to Dylan, they're probably cool enough to let you hear those records for yourself. And by listening to those albums, I can only assume that Dylan no longer becomes a figure of myth; his image fills out thanks to those amazing songs, and the imaginary boy would indeed find himself wanting to see the amazing man who wrote those songs.

Marcus, by ignoring what seems like an obvious bit of business to the rest of us, does himself a disservice. It makes him a little harder to take seriously, you know? Music is such a communal part of our society - even the dreaded file-sharing that's raping the music industry is a type of communal experience, in a way, in that rare stuff we might never find in stores is available to those with broadband and the will to find it. The bigger the fan of music, in general, the more likely that person is to share music with somebody else, just in the off chance that that person will love something with the same all-consuming passion that they do. And yet here's one of our foremost music critics, willfully ignoring that communal aspect, just so he can make a point about Dylan's worst album existing on an island and some poor bastard being tossed on said island. With no offense to the author of those lines, that seems disingenuous to me.

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4 comments:

Nathan said...

I've been reading this column since the beginning, and I really do love it. I think the problem with the Self-Portrait series (which is the same problem I had reading the Basement Tapes series) is that it doesn't really lend itself to a song by song analysis. With both of the albums mentioned, there is a certain lack of substance to the lyrics. I'm sure I'll get some flack for saying that about the Basement Tapes, but most of those lyrics were improvised or quickly written out so that Bob would have something to sing while they played music. Obviosuly there are a few exceptions to every rule, and both albums do have a few stand out tracks. My point is, by reviewing an album like Self Portrait, your usual, insightful interpretations of lyrics and musical accompaniment have been somewhat reduced to the old "I don't like Dylan's voice" arguments, such as in the above review. It's not necessarily your fault as much as it is the difficulty in reviewing an album like this, however, instead of reviewing the album itself, you spend at least half of every column critiquing a critique of the album. It's similar to the Basement Tapes reviews, where the "Old, Wierd America" was mentioned in almost every review. (By the way, not because of your reviews or anything, but if I never hear that phrase again, it will suit me just fine. Probably the most over-used phrase in any review of the Basement Tapes.)By now, we've had seven or so entries that all sound about the same. Maybe with some of these more difficult albums, you could do as you did with the "Isle of Wight" review, and do the whole thing in one shot. I thought that was very inventive, and a fun read, although, in all fairness, I really love that show. I'm very much looking forward to your columns on New Morning, and, to be honest, I can't wait until this Self Portrait review is over so we can get to that. Leave it to Dylan to make one of his worst albums the longest....

lixue said...
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lixue said...
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ApocalypseKurtz said...

Interesting that this is the song he pulled out during the 1980 gospel Tours...