On Music (A Modern Epistle)


An embedded clip from Bob Dylan's Don't Look Back
(I very much love figuring out new tricks!)


We took a brief tour of the Morgan Library's Bob Dylan exhibit on Saturday and I found myself with a new fixation. Their showing of Bob Dylan: The American Journey 1956-1966 could be seen as simply a collection of (often uninteresting) memorabilia, but they had some truly excellent objects and experiences interspersed.
Many listening booths, an impressive assortment of hand-printed concert advertisements, and enough video clips of Dylan to make me fall in love.

My favorite was not the one above, but rather a short clip that was playing just as we walked through the entrance: Dylan as vibrant, eccentric, jumpy, and doing some sort of madlibs-esque nonsensical recitation. He was wearing a velvet blazer, drainpipes, boots, and had his "shock" of hair. It was fantastic. I need to find this clip and watch it again and again. I love his sarcasm, the hauteur, the unapologetic strumming, smoking, speaking.

I'm also now going to be tracking down a copy of Don't Look Back and Eat the Document so I can continue to watch and puzzle over why I am so drawn to his face. He radiates style and character and persona; such a complicated man--so clearly making an effort to craft himself as well as his music, but never coming off as false. I am puzzled how someone so conscious of his movements, words, and audience can still seem so original.

A few years ago I picked up a book called Flowers in the Dustbin by James Miller. I had always wished I were more musical, capable of writing songs, putting them to music, singing them with grit and sincerity and melancholy. I loved the rockstars, the poets, the innovators. I read through Miller's description of the foundations of American music, of the deep-rooted music that grew out of so many cultures, ideas, and traditions. And I read of the innovators, the people who shook us up, who made the ear recognize a new sound and the body respond to new rhythms.

Music started to mean a lot more to me, perhaps I was just learning the narrative power of song, or the incredibly natural feeling of playing an instrument and singing, but I picked up my father's 70s Alvarez and started to take guitar lessons. I didn't get very far (though I like to think that if I took some time to practice and learn, I would be pretty decent), but I did realize that playing a song, any song, even strumming the same chords in different patterns while thinking up words in your head, it lets something loosen up. The character Maude (in one of the best movies ever: Harold & Maude) says to Harold that everyone should be able to play a little music!

I agree with her (and with an awful lot of what Maude says in that movie). Music and dance are one of the greatest gifts we have