Bob Dylan knows God's story

Bob Dylan turns 75 : The archivist of America

Because the US is currently campaigning: Lyndon B. Johnson was president when it happened. Fifty years ago, on May 16, 1966, the first double album in rock history, Bob Dylan's "Blonde On Blonde", was released. Music critic Neil McCormick has described it as "a tremendous explosion of language and sound". The tenderness and aggressiveness of Dylan's poetry rush into a musical flow that is often compared to mercury. His wide-awake voice spurts poison, complains, threatens, triumphs and rocks elegiacly through incredibly long ballads - “Visions of Johanna” lasts seven and a half, “Sad Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” eleven and a half minutes.

Bob Dylan brought the intellectual and the literary to popular music, changing its timing and imagery. It was a necessary correction, just as Picasso and the Cubists captured the new image of the world in the early 20th century. "God didn't tap his shoulder, God kicked his butt". This is how Dylan's producer Bob Johnston described the miracle.

The world has its songs and would be poorer without them

75 years ago, on May 24, 1941, Robert Allen Zimmerman was born in Duluth, in the far north of the USA, on the Canadian border. His roots are German, Jewish and Ukrainian. The family from Odessa is said to have come to the USA around 1900. It is unclear where the artist name comes from, as well as the origin of the album title “Blonde On Blonde” and the reasons for its years of disappearance in the late sixties. Dylan is reminiscent of Shakespeare, he hides behind frequently changing masks.

The world has its songs and would be poorer without them, but it doesn't know Zimmerman / Dylan as a person. In Sam Peckinpah's western "Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid", for which he wrote the music ("Knockin 'On Heaven's Door"), he plays an awkward guy named Alias. For years he has been producing his albums under the pseudonym Jack Frost.

"It Ain't Me, Babe", "I'm Not There", exactly. In Martin Scorsese's documentary “No Direction Home” (2005) he once spoke in detail about his art, unpretentious, calm and distant, like someone else. It's just a cliché, a disguise: that he can't be grasped. That everything that is said and written about him is “idiot wind”, as one of his profound hate songs is called. Now he is three quarters of a century old, continues to play on his eternal tour, and the fog has lifted.

Think of Bob Dylan as a meticulous collector

In March, a private foundation in Oklahoma acquired Bob Dylan's extensive and finely stocked private archive. Manuscripts, letters, notebooks, 6000 documents from a period of over 50 years. The price is said to be between $ 15 million and $ 20 million. Cataloging and digitization will take two years, then the material will be exhibited in Tulsa, where a rare copy of the US Declaration of Independence and the estate of Woody Guthrie are located.

Think of Bob Dylan as a meticulous collector, right from the start. His collecting area: Americana and himself. The first volume of the autobiography “Chronicles”, published in 2004, amazes with its lexical memory. From 2006 to 2009 he hosted the "Theme Time Radio Hour" on satellite channel XM, 100 episodes with topics such as baseball, old and young, dreams, fools, shoes, spring cleaning, California; a cross-section through the everyday culture of the USA with Dylan's ironic-knowledgeable comments.

Even "Blowin 'In The Wind" goes back to a gospel song.

Even "Blowin 'In The Wind", which is at the beginning of his career and earned him the unloved image of the protest singer, goes back to a gospel song. But he fought violently against political co-ordination and evaded all crushing hugs. Perhaps that is precisely why he became the “voice of his generation”. From a distance he saw what was going on. Anyone who is in the middle of the turmoil cannot observe well.

You no longer have control over your sons and daughters, the old order is gone, please get out of the way. That was Dylan's announcement in "The Times They Are A-Changin '". “The big doesn't stay big and small doesn't stay small,” says Bertolt Brecht's poem “Times change”, which he often used.

Dylan took his inspiration early on from Woody Guthrie, playing the blues in its traditional southern variations. He's a traditionalist at heart. After shaking the folk community with his electric fury in 1965, he retreated to the country with the fabulous musicians of The Band. The "Basement Tapes" were created there, dozens of songs from America's rich treasure and sediment, telling of outlaws, freaks, poor pigs and crazy incidents, mixed with Dylan's surreal humor.

"Fallen Angels" bows to Frank Sinatra and the rich American songs

Depression, provincial, religious madness, violence and nightmares, all of this is lost in the recordings from the country house cellar, which document "the old, scary America", as Greil Marcus writes in his book about Dylan and The Band. Like many Americans, Dylan has a passion for genealogy. He lives it out musically, even without considering his fans.

He can still be irritating. Like its predecessor, “Shadows In The Night”, his new work “Fallen Angels” (Sony Music) does not bring his own compositions, but bows to Frank Sinatra and the rich American songs. So he did it again, the singing archivist, and made twelve crooner numbers, from “Young at Heart” to “Polka Dots and Mooobeams” and “All Or Nothing At All” to “Come Rain Or Come Shine”.

The material goes back to the forties, and of course it doesn't sound like Frank Sinatra and Big Band: Bob Dylan and his tour musicians play a neat Schrammel-Schrummel style, you know it from the concerts. The voice seems to have sprung from a shellac record, one melancholy sunset after another, many final dances, and many will come, like Woody Allen, who has long been immersed in film heritage and genres.

Bob Dylan is one of the great prophets in the pop world

Pluck and pluck, swing and pling. Old love wouldn’t be if it hadn’t got a little rusty too. A lump if that doesn't budge. But then the new album was soon put aside and used earlier works. It started early with Dylan. The late work. With “Time Out Of Mind”, 1997.

Heger and collector, word juggler like no other in pop. The Germanist Heinrich Detering, a Dylan fan since the Göttingen Student Days, published a book about it this spring: “The voices from the underworld. Bob Dylan's Mystery Games ”(Verlag C. H. Beck). Detering examines Dylan's song world and reveals a tangle of traces that lead to Ovid and Shakespeare, Petrarch and Homer. Christopher Ricks already demonstrated the influences of Catullus, D. H. Lawrence, James Joyce, John Keats etc. in his book "Dylan's Visions of Sins" in 2003. The Bible is also hit hard. There are so many literary sources from which he draws, so diverse, that generations of doctoral students will still enjoy them.

Heger and collector, word juggler like no other in pop

"Petrarch and Sinatra, alliances full of drama and comedy, travesty and tragedy, theft and love," says Detective Detering. Dylan samples literary images, phrases, and movie quotes beyond recognition. Is that what makes it so unique, the incredibly broad education, knowledge of the core of language and its relationship to sounds? Bob Dylan reminds us that the poet was originally a singer and the singer a poet, a traveler, a walking archive of stories, melodies, myths. And the is he as he lives and weaves. He doesn't have to reveal more about himself than the innumerable songs that he has recorded and transformed.

His knowledge includes the size of the country where he was born 75 years ago. Probably the fund of pop culture is larger than any other civilizational store. Pop is a memory like none before, and Bob Dylan is one of the great prophets of the pop world, a tireless practitioner especially. This changes perception, because, as Detering states, “as the boundaries between epochs and cultures also blur those of educational and popular culture.” Blurring, of course. It would be more accurate that the borders disappear.

One of his lesser-known albums from the early seventies is called "Planet Waves", a bouquet of warming love songs, memories of the freezing Minnesota of his childhood. A song is recorded in two versions, a softer and a harder pace. We put it on for our 75th birthday: "Forever Young". Or try again with “Young At Heart”?

Now new: We give you 4 weeks of Tagesspiegel Plus! To home page