Jimi Hendrix really needs no commentary. Everyone knows this song, and everyone knows his story. To the point of over-familiarity, some would say. Hendrix continues to compel the imagination as much for being such a tantalizing ‘what-if’ as for his actual legacy. Obviously, we all know that it’s more fun to lionize the gifted and dead than the equally-gifted-but-still-plugging-along. We enjoy the narrative more than we enjoy the work. Would we listen to Purple Haze with the same delight if Jimi Hendrix was now an elderly man composing music for films, releasing the occasional space-jazz album, and making out-of-touch comments about today’s social issues? Probably not. We like it because it’s a preview of attractions that never came.
The Rolling Stones recently made a blues album, their first straight-up blues album since the 60’s. The Stones can do their thing in their sleep at this point, so the question is not whether or not it’s a good album. The question is, once again, whether the Rolling Stones are the greatest living blues band or just a pastiche of one. Back in the day, when every other band was a blues band, the Stones were – arguably – the best of the bunch; now they’re among the last of their breed. The question remains, though: is it really the blues? If it’s a bunch of middle class white guys from the suburbs of London? What if it’s a bunch of elderly white guys who are richer than God? Can they achieve authenticity through sheer bloody-mindedness and depravity? The answer in 1968 was, I think, very much yes. What the Rolling Stones did was very authentic, although perhaps not in the way they intended. It never really sounded like real American blues, but it was believably enough its perverted English cousin. It was blues unique to its time and situation, born from the unique angst of its creators. Are the Rolling Stones still the greatest living blues band, despite being obscenely wealthy old men? Given that not many people are much given to either playing or hearing the blues these days, yes. The Stones still play the blues as though their ability to master the blues could still impress people.
My first thought was, wow, I haven’t listened to this gem in so long. Second thought; wow, nobody writes a put-down like Bob Dylan. I know Dylan has a reputation for being grumpy, or catty, or whatever you wanna call it, and his diss tracks are notorious, but what really makes it brilliant is that he never stoops to just putting someone down. He rolls out an entire thesis of what’s wrong with that person and why. And even on his most famous ‘insult songs’ he’s not without sympathy. Some of those songs are obviously romantic goodbyes, but I don’t think that’s what this one is. I think it’s just about one of those situations where you used to be friends with someone but you’re not friends anymore, for whatever reason. Obviously, we have no way of knowing that for sure, or who the target may actually be, if there even is one. That only makes it more interesting and more relevant, though.
“His prophecies were you”
One minute and twenty four seconds of Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s almost not even a full song. No, but trust me, it is an experience. I think that perhaps with the early Tyrannosaurus Rex albums, the songs don’t work so well out of context. The famous T.Rex albums that followed were a parade of hit singles, but this was a very different animal. The early albums need to be taken in as a whole. The songs flow together, and not one of them is anywhere near being a hit single. They may strike you as strange, especially alone like this, but they grow on you. You can’t help being charmed by Marc Bolan’s world, with its light mysticism and fantasy.
Would you look at those nerds. Their harmonies are angelic; their haircuts, terrible. In fact, looking at them now, I wonder if they weren’t the inspiration for Beavis & Butthead. Well, Simon & Garfunkel may have looked like bozos, but there’s no arguing with those harmonies, those melodies or that writing. Those two were both the kind of guy who seduces you by being the smartest person in the room, and wins you over completely by being the most sensitive too. How does this song, for example, not sink under its own verbosity? It has the confidence of its own cleverness, of course, but it also has heart. Paul Simon may be flexing his English Lit muscle with what may be the most pretentious closing couplet of all time, but he’s also turning a sympathetic eye on the unseen figure of the lowly subway vandal. Guys who spray paint subway cars have inner lives too! Maybe the hooligan has poetry inside him, poetry that only takes the form of gutter slang. Maybe that dick carved onto the hard plastic of the seat really meant the world to the person to took the time to chisel it there.
Here is an only moderately crappy video of late 90’s Bob Dylan performance. What’s interesting about it is this; has this always been a blues song and I just didn’t notice? Either way it works really well, although most blues songs don’t have quite as many words. It does show that too often, the persona of “Bob Dylan” has overshadowed the musicianship of Bob Dylan. Because the experience of hearing Blonde on Blonde as an album is all about the psychedelic intellectual journey, not the drier exercise of picking apart the musical structure of the songs. Of course, I’m coming at it as a non-musician, and for professional listeners I’m sure the experience is much more complex. But it is odd that on an album as familiar as this, I never actually noticed the musical styles and influences of the individual songs. It’s different to think of it as ‘Bob Dylan playing a blues song’ rather than a ‘Bob Dylan song that sounds like the blues.’ It’s a fine distinction.
I can’t say another word about the historical significance of Beatlemania. I don’t want to read any more words about it either. The Beatles have evolved, as historical figures, from a head-scratching phenomenon in their own time, to being subject to hindsight analysis from every conceivable angle, and at this point with absolutely no stone left unrolled, have entered the realm of pure academia, where overly-researched subjects go to die. Which is to say that the entertainment value of ever more arcane reiterations of the same well known story has become very low. But over-familiarity shouldn’t in any way take away from the still-unparalleled fun of The Beatles’ music. It’s all about the music, ya know. And the music doesn’t really need an annotated companion volume. It doesn’t need all that historical context. It doesn’t need analysis. It just exists. Just enjoy it and don’t think so hard.