By Tony Attwood
In this little series I am trying to show how, in my view, the music and the lyrics of Dylan’s compositions can be seen to be of equal importance.
This time I am going to try and compare two different performances of Gates of Eden wherein the lyrics stay the same but the musical approach is quite different. Both recordings are taken from the magnificent Never Ending Tour series by Mike Johnson which is currently still being published on this site.
First a recording from 1988. Here Bob has virtually dispensed with the melody and declaims the words, thus making the rhythm more important than the tune. Meanwhile the percussionist puts in a virtuoso performance; the full emphasis is on nothing but the horrors of what is happening to the world.
Second a recording from 2000 in which Bob has not only returned to singing the melody he also has a counter melody appear from time to time in the guitar. Whereas in the first recording above everything is subsumed beneath the horrors, now there is a delicacy among the descriptions of destruction. We are invited to feel sorrow and pity at what has been lost, rather than anger at what we have destroyed.
To see a song one has written, in such utterly different ways, takes an amazing amount of insight into one’s own work – something that many creative people lack. And indeed it is something that Bob himself has been accused of lacking from time to time.
Personally, I find the first of these recordings hard to listen to: I really don’t want to know. But with this second recording, I find myself uplifted even in the realisation of the horrors of what we have done to the planet and to ourselves. I am in fulsome agreement that humankind has destroyed its own environment, and that we treat each other appallingly. But I don’t need the heavy-handed approach of the 1988 recording to tell me. Here I can take it all in through the reflection that I am seeing the world as Bob is – or at least he did at that moment of performance.
But more, I find this a beautiful piece of music in 2000. In 1988 it was a horror show. And yes of course the world can be described in that way. But it is one of those things I know, I don’t want to be reminded.
Yet however you hear these two performances, and whatever reflections you have, please do appreciate the extraordinary ability of the artist to see his own work in two such different ways. And I hope you can also see that this is a perfect example of why we need to contemplate the music AND the lyrics. Change either, and one changes the entire artistic creation.
- How most analyses of Dylan’s songs mistake the essence of what the songs are
- Abandoned Love
- Ballad for a Friend
- Drifter’s Escape
- Blind Willie McTell
- Black Diamond Bay
- Can you please crawl out your window
- Chimes of Freedom
- Cover Down Pray Through
- Desolation Row
- Drifter’s Escape
- Early Roman Kings
- It ain’t me babe
- Not Dark Yet
- Sign on the window