Music

Bob Dylan, The Voice

Gregg Lipkin

Blood on the Tracks is an intensely emotional album that involves itself with the politics of the personal, transforming the ‘voice of a generation’ into something entirely new.

Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation.

It's a tremendous cliché. By now the phrase "voice of a generation" is so frequently associated with Dylan, used almost interchangeably with the "singer/songwriter" often placed before his name, that he could probably get it trademarked as his own personal slogan.

The statement is also incomplete. It speaks of Dylan, and his music, in the past tense implying that he is a man of another time who sang words for that time alone. When people hear him called the "voice of a generation" they undoubtedly think of a young Dylan singing protest songs in the early Sixties and giving voice to the political and societal frustrations felt by himself and others in their twenties. To claim that Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation is to imply he was the voice of political conscious for millions of people who had just entered, or were rapidly approaching, adulthood during that decade.

What about the next decade? What about when Dylan and his listeners were no longer entering adulthood but living, sometimes trapped, in the middle of it? What happened when an idealistic 19-year-old boy who had looked for answers to be blown to him in the wind in 1963 suddenly found himself to be a 31-year-old man with little or no time to rail against "Masters of War" because he had a mortgage to pay and a troubled marriage to save? Who functioned as his voice?

Bob Dylan, of course.

With the release of Blood on the Tracks in 1975 Bob Dylan proved that he was much more than a political mouthpiece from the ‘60s. Blood on the Tracks, was an incredibly emotional album that involved itself with the politics of the personal and in doing so it transformed Dylan into something entirely new.

At the end of the ‘60s, Dylan was the voice of a generation, but the emotional scope of Blood on the Tracks proved that Dylan was no longer simply the voice of an old era. To the contrary, Blood on the Tracks proved how timeless and universal Bob Dylan's music and rich lyrical tapestry actually were.

Bob Dylan was the voice of a generation?

No.

Bob Dylan is the voice of a generation?

Closer.

Bob Dylan is the voice of generations.

The Voice? Just Louise . . .

"You feel like an imposter when someone thinks you're something and you're not."

When speaking to Ed Bradley in a 60 Minutes interview broadcast on December 5, 2004, Bob Dylan decried the labels applied to him by his fans in the ‘60s, "prophet", "savior" and the clichéd "voice of a generation".

"If you examine the songs, I don't believe you're gonna find anything in there that says that I'm a spokesperson for anybody or anything really," he told Bradley.

"But they saw it," Bradley replied.

Dylan's response? All of the listeners had gotten it wrong.

"They must not have heard the songs," he said.

Of course, this was hardly a new posture for Dylan to take. Being the voice of a generation was never a label he accepted and as he stated yet again in the same interview, it certainly wasn't something he'd ever sought; while history is certainly written by the winners, these same winners do not get to determine how their writing is read. If we accept that Dylan never wanted to be a spokesperson of any sort and that he never wrote a single lyric that was intended to voice any opinion beyond his own, does that mean that he is correct when he insists that he is not the voice of a generation?

Of course not; as Ed Bradley insisted, when referring to Dylan's fans, "But they saw it." Dylan can deny giving voice to millions but it doesn't make him correct. He can claim that millions got it wrong and they didn't listen closely enough to the songs and it still won't change what "they" saw.

What "they" saw was a man that continually gave voice to what they felt, eloquence gifted to them by a modern day bard who could put all of their confusion into words that made sense, even if the words themselves were made all the more confusing due to confusing times.

So in 1963, a year that saw the assassination of a promising young president and the expansion of a war in Vietnam, a "blue-eyed" 19-year-old desperately trying to make sense of difficult times, might have gotten lost in the hard rain of confusion. Worried about his friends, or even himself being sent off to war, he might have been consumed by images of "a newborn baby with wild wolves all around it", and "guns and sharp swords in the hands of young children". Of course, they were confusing images, "void of form", until "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" gave them shape.

By 1975 the Vietnamese War was over and the 31-year-old had a brand new fight on his hands. He now had to find a way to preserve the idealism he felt, and the happiness he sought, when he was 19. How does one lyrically or poetically express a loss of happiness? How to express in words something that was almost the greatest of successes and might be the biggest of failures?

If you're Bob Dylan, you record Blood on the Tracks, and if you're a 31-year-old who spent your young adulthood finding your voice in the works of Bob Dylan, you listen to it. You listen to it in amazement and find that he has once again managed to put into words the emotions you have been unable to express. You let him serve as your voice once again.

"So forgot the clenched young scholars who analyze his rhyme into dust," Pete Hamill wrote in his 1974 essay that was featured in the liner notes of Blood on the Tracks. "Remember that he gave us voice.”

Denying this fact doesn't make it any less true; it just casts Dylan in the role of Louise from his 1966 song Visions of Johanna, holding “a handful of rain, temptin' you to defy it".

The Voice, the Woman and the Big Girl

Blood on the Tracks can be seen as an album-length act of defiance on Dylan's part. Gone are the politics for which he'd been most famous. The album concerns itself instead with the politics of the heart. For this reason, Blood on the Tracks represents Bob Dylan at his most powerful.

The album purportedly chronicles the dissolution of his marriage to Sara Lowndes, and while the album is a rather naked display of emotions, it never sounds as though the emotions expressed are Dylan's. To the contrary, Dylan functions as a storyteller rather than a confessor and as such he vividly tells stories of various love lives without ever sounding as though he is telling the story of his own.

This ability to function as a narrator rather than a biographer, coupled with the songs' personal themes over the political, make Blood on the Tracks an exceptionally universal work of art. It was this quality that solidified Dylan as the voice of generations; his protest songs were well known by 1975 and could still easily speak to, and for, young adults with a distaste for the industrial military complex and a desire for peace. However, many who had already "finger pointed" with Dylan when he'd sung them 12 years earlier, had seen their passion for national politics give way to passion and personal politics.

Blood on the Tracks is an album about love -- obtaining it, struggling to keep it and ultimately losing it. People who'd been against the Vietnamese War in the ‘60s found themselves against a romantic wall in the ‘70s and they were even less equipped to express their romantic feelings than they'd been to express their political feelings. The personal is harder to express than the political and age changes expression of the personal immensely. This is obvious when contrasting the songs on Blood on the Tracks with compositions from earlier in Dylan's career.

"Nobody feels any pain tonight as I stand inside the rain," Dylan sings in "Just Like a Woman" (1966) before concluding: "I just can't fit / Yes I believe it's time for us to quit / When we meet again / Introduced as friends / Please don't let on that you knew me when / I was hungry and it was your world."

The narrator's posture in "Just Like a Woman" is the hubristic posture of youth. His own desire is too strong to be held within the relationship, he is too hungry to be in world that isn't his own, so he is choosing to leave. He never sounds as though he is losing something he will be unable to regain after he has obtained a world that's all his own and the only one who sounds saddened is the woman who "breaks just like a little girl".

"You're a Big Girl Now" from Blood on the Tracks begins in the rain as well, "And I'm back in the rain, oh, oh / And you are on dry land." Dylan's vocals are soft, punctuated by anguished "ohs", and he endows the narrator with a genuine sense of loss. In 1966 it was a boy standing in the rain, eager to walk away armed with only his youth and his possibilities and the lover he thought to be a woman proves to be as young as her age. A man who is staring his romantic failure directly in the eyes sings "You're a Big Girl Now" though, and unlike his 1966 counterpart he is consumed with the reality of what he is actually losing. He sings to her through tears "with a pain that stops and starts / Like a corkscrew through my heart" and the lover remains steady, secure and he falls apart.

This weariness of age versus the vitality of youth is evident not only in the dissolution of relationships, but also in the midst and remembrance of them as well. In "Lay Lady Lay" from 1969, the young narrator blithely encourages his lover to "lay across my big brass bed / Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile." The lyrics indicate an affair that is finite, but the casual delivery of the vocals belies the belief that any end to it is in sight. The older, more world-weary singer on Blood on the Tracks has trouble even accepting that he has achieved an actual loving relationship in the first place.

"I've seen love go by my door / It's never been this close before," Dylan emotes in "You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go"; he then proceeds to recount past romantic failures and concludes, "But there's no way I can compare / All those scenes to this affair / Yer gonna make me lonesome when you go" and it becomes clear his previous relationships are keeping him from being comfortable in this one, the most loving he's ever had.

This same depth of love is clear in the album's ballad of reminiscence, "If You See Her, Say Hello", a rewriting of sorts of 1963's "Girl From the North Country". While both songs ask an intermediary to pass along best wishes to a past lover, only "If You See Her, Say Hello" recounts the relationships end and the narrator's inability to move on. "And though our separation it pierced me to the heart," Dylan sings, voice cracking slightly to painful effect, "She still lives inside of me we've never been apart." The lyric, and its vocal delivery, stand in stark contrast to the rather straight recitation of "Girl From the North Country’s" most anguished line, "She once was a true love of mine."

The feelings themselves may have changed as the years, and Dylan, progressed. However, the sentiment Dylan committed to lyrics of love and love lost are universal. A man fumbling for the words to describe his sadness over breaking up with his wife could use "You're a Big Girl Now" as source material just as a boy trying to describe why he feels the need to leave his girlfriend could cite "Just Like a Woman" because Dylan gave each the voices to do so.

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From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Music

The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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