By Aaron Galbraith and Tony Attwood
Previously published: Part 1: Desolation Row
Definition: Dylanesque (comparative more Dylanesque, superlative most Dylanesque. In the style of, or reminiscent of the music or lyrics of Bob Dylan (born 1941).
Aaron: “Rhyming doesn’t have to be exact anymore,” Bob Dylan told Paul Zollo of American Songwriter magazine in a 2012 interview. “It gives you a thrill to rhyme something and you think, ‘Well, that’s never been rhymed before’. Nobody’s going to care if you rhyme ‘represent’ with ‘ferment’, you know. Nobody’s gonna care.”
Dylan once admitted to Rolling Stone magazine that he stunned himself when he wrote the first two lines of ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and rhymed “kiddin’ you” with “didn’t you”. “It just about knocked me out,” he said.
Well here is two artists who are also masters of rhyme – one you should know and one you probably don’t.
Bruce Springsteen with Blinded by the Light.
Manfred Mann’s Earth Band had the big hit with it but for me the original was the best. Cash Box said that it was “much like early Dylan, but especially like ‘My Back Pages,'” and that Springsteen “lets loose with a lyrical barrage of images and pictures.”
Tony: I did spend part of my life away from the influence of western music and indeed western civilisation. And somehow I’ve never caught up on the music of those missing periods.
So yes, I am going to admit, I don’t know this song. But actually, for writing not knowing something that one is expected to know, is not a bad thing; coming to a piece of music afresh makes it much easier to write about its impact. And to experience the “lyrical barrage of images and pictures” out of nowhere is quite an experience. As with the previous episode of this series, I am coming afresh to the music.
For as it happens I also didn’t know “Thanksgiving Day Parade” from the previous article in this new series, but my goodness I know it now. I have played the recording each day since you sent it over Aaron, and have also been bashing out my own version on the piano.
Now the point with that is that I could make sense of it immediately and felt part of the music from the first few seconds. “Blinded by Light” I can relate to at the start and do appreciate how the vocal line, bass and guitar interact. The lyrics are clear and there’s just enough musical accompaniment to give me the feel of the whole composition. But then when the whole band comes in, I can’t focus on the lyrics at all; for me (and I really want to stress that this is just my view) there is just too much happening.
So in trying to cope with this overwhelming barrage I’ve had to go and look at the lyrics
Madman drummers bummers Indians in the summer with a teenage diplomat In the dumps with the mumps As the adolescent pumps his way into his hat With a boulder on my shoulder Feelin' kinda older I tripped the merry-go-round With this very unpleasin' Sneezin' and wheezin The calliope crashed to the ground
Now I don’t demand that lyrics mean something for me to be able to listen and enjoy, but I do like them to give me something, but here, for me, that something is just an overwhelming torrent, both in terms of music and lyrics. The words, the percussion and the sax at times seem to be fighting each other.
Which of course does relate to being blinded by the light, but it doesn’t draw me in. There is simply too much there my brain can’t decide if it is listening to the rhythm, the accompaniment, the melody or the lyrics. And when I focus on any of them the focus is ripped away from me because of everything else that is happening.
I think this is an old man’s reaction; I can remember my parents commenting on some of the music I listened to in my teenage years and making giving me their reaction which was not too different from that which I am writing now. It’s not that “I must be getting old” but rather it seems, “I have got old”.
But I do have an artistic comment as well. If we look at the lyrics such as
Now Scott with a slingshot (blinded by the light)Finally found a tender spot (revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night) And throws his lover in the sand And some bloodshot forget-me-not (blinded by the light) Said daddy's within earshot (revved up like a deuce, another runner in the night) Save the buckshot, turn up the band (blinded by the light)
… I can’t get any imagery out of that at all, whereas “My Back Pages” does make sense in that it is a pack of related images to which I can relate – not to make total sense out of it, but to get a feeling about what is being explored. Rather like an abstract painting will give me feelings also…
Crimson flames tied through my ears, rollin' high and mighty traps Pounced with fire on flaming roads using ideas as my maps "We'll meet on edges, soon, " said I, proud 'neath heated brow Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth, "rip down all hate, " I screamed Lies that life is black and white spoke from my skull, I dreamed Romantic facts of musketeers foundationed deep, somehow Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now
Thus for me there is for me a substantial difference in terms of what is being created here, not just by the music but also by the lyrics. But then “I am so much older” now.
Aaron: Next we have a new artist known simply as Ren. This video has had 14 million views! For me this might be the pinnacle of lyrics, music and performance coming together as one glorious whole. Keep watching after he puts down the guitar as the performance continues. The lyrics are in the comments section under the video if you want to follow along.
Tony: I have come across Ren before, not least because Atwood magazine picked up on him, and he is indeed universally recognised as a unique talent. His compositions stretch the concept of form to its limits and beyond, which combined with the content of the lyrics and the power of the music itself, make the whole experience difficult to take in – at least for me.
I was able to listen up the around seven and a half minutes when Ren addresses the camera directly, and then had to stop – it was too overwhelming and too overpowering.
Which is not to say that I can’t take art that is overwhelming; I remember staring at Guernica for a hour when I first saw it before my companion dragged me away.
But music is different: it changes across the time of the performance while visual art simply is: we look, don’t look, look again – temporally we are in control.
This performance is utterly challenging and maybe having had my own battle with mental health, and by and large coming out the winner, I am not sure I am ready to re-enter that world: it is simply too overwhelming. Whereas, on the other hand, I can enter the world of Guernica because I was not there, it is history, it is more abstract, others suffered horrifically, I did not.
Ren’s work is brave and powerful and dominating and hopefully carries to everyone the message of what it is like to have the health issues he has faced. I utterly and totally admire him for taking up the challenge that his life has presented and fighting his way through, but sometimes being reminded of the horrors of a mental health decline is more than I can take.
I am fine now, I would hasten to add, and would like to think that over time I have done a little to help edge others toward the sort of treatment that helped me revolutionise my life, but in this music I find it hard, for I am reminded for a moment of the worst of times.
Perhaps that is not such a bad thing as it reinforces the strength I subsequently found, but it is still in the end too overwhelming for me to take in.