Monday, September 04, 2006

Lessons from ‘Modern Times’

I’ve been listening all weekend to Bob Dylan’s new release, “Modern Times.”

What a remarkable thing this is: in the 45th year of a storied recording career, here’s a singer and songwriter opening new doors, building confidently on a canon that has long since passed from legendary to unparalleled, touring more than 100 days a year to hone a sound and style that is fundamentally, undeniably his, but keeps evolving and changing along with the artist and his times.

His last great album, “Love & Theft” (2001) was a candid conversation about age and limits and regrets; this one is none of that. It’s deeply informed by a lifetime of experience – songs only a mature master could have produced – but manages nonetheless to be fresh and contemporary.

So what’s that got to do with a newspaper blog? Well, nothing of course.

And everything.

You see, this is about constant reinvention. Dylan was fantastic in 1966 at the Albert Hall, but that performance wouldn’t be Dylan today, or resonate with listeners today the way it did then. Lots of the other musicians who captured our attention in 1966 kept playing and singing the same way, and today they’re playing pathetic gigs at Holiday Inns in Billings and Greensboro …

You want to avoid the Holiday Inn? You have to keep your news report fresh, tuned, contemporary. You have to realize that people are watching TV on mobile phones, posting their own restaurant reviews, reading little snips of five different newspapers on RSS feeds several times a day.

Those bands replaying their 1966 performances are dead. Bob Dylan lives on.

In fact, wasn’t it Dylan who said, “He not busy being born is busy dying.”?


  1. Dylan's a great example of an artist whose career has spanned several decades, especially for somebody who can't sing (sorry, I had to slip that in). There are mighty few multi-decade innovator/survivors in the music business. David Bowie, Carlos Santana and, dare I say it, Madonna spring to mind. They not only keep up with the times, but lead them as well, a rare trick. Lessons for us, indeed, on this Labor Day.

    And now, time to crank up another Air Supply album on the turntable.

  2. Howard: I applaud you for somehow working Bob Dylan into a metaphor for the evolving newspaper industry. I doubly applaud you for avoiding the hackneyed "Times They Are A-Changin' " line.

    Dan: Dylan's singing is an acquired taste. Once you develop that taste, his voice is the sweetest, most soulful sound around.

  3. Andy,

    I'm glad somebody FINALLY took the bait on Mr. Zimmerman. Bob's voice is an acquired taste, as is that of Bruce Springsteen and bunch of others. I'm a Dylan fan, more so today than I was years ago. And the Boss rules.