The first time listening to Bob Dylan’s songs in Blood on the Tracks (1975), I thought I could never be able to enjoy this kind of music. It sounds harsh and raw, too folksy, and heavily narrative. Then one day, while waiting for a class to begin, I suddenly craved the tunes in Blood on the Tracks. I had to sit down and listen to the first few songs of the album immediately. I have no idea why it happened but my liking for Dylan started just like that. His voice, his music hold a strong gravity that commands my attention. Like any great artist, he has the power to deliver us into a different world; a world so enchanted that we want to be a part of it: at times, we want to just be surrounded by the sound, let our mind flow freely, and think less. At others, we want to listen to it carefully, to see what’s in it that makes us want more.
I have wanted to write about Bob Dylan for a long time, but I don’t know how to begin, and I always wonder whether my writing could give him justice. I have searched for books and articles written about his music and started reading his biography. I have followed several guides to his works, which are usually a list of his most “important” albums. Then today I thought why not just listening to his music chronologically. Just as when I like some fiction authors, I will start reading their works, as many as I can; or when I like particular painters, I will look at their artworks carefully before reading any critical works. So my journey with Dylan begins by looking at his debut album Bob Dylan (1962).
The released album features eleven folk standards and traditional songs, and only two original compositions: “Talkin’ New York” and “Song to Woody.” He said in an interview in 2000 that he was hesitant to reveal too much of himself in this first album. Here, in the product of the twenty-year-old Dylan, already we encountered very Dylanian materials: the perfect synthesis of the voice and the instruments, the smooth yet strange harmony of sound and lyrics, the poetic of the lyrics emerged from his arrangement, a sense of ultimate freedom—from the narrative as well as the sound, and the unpretentious reverie—in short, all the materials were there, and a decade later, he will polish and push them to the next level. In this album was a young artist who was very confident of his talent and has started using his devices with ease.
As I listen to this album several times, I realize that what I like best in this album, as well as in his future works, is the incredible ability to evoke imagery using music and word, or more precisely, word here is nothing but one of the sound utilized in his arrangement—word is music itself. Imagery is everywhere in Dylan’s two original songs, and they are imagery of ordinary things, such as:
So one mornin’ when the sun was warm
I rambled out of New York town
Pulled my cap down over my eyes
And headed out for the western skies
So long, New York
Howdy, East Orange (“Talkin’ New York”)
I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down
I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Your paupers and peasants and princes and kings. (“Song to Woody”)
Mundane as they are, when being infused in the arrangement of Dylan, they hold irresistibly poetic power.