If you can’t understand why Bob Dylan is one of the top five most important American lyricists of all time (if not outright number one but I could see arguments being made for Jim Morrison or Bruce Springsteen), we probably can’t have a reasonable conversation about music. We would operating in incompatible spheres of musical discussion. Bob Dylan revolutionized folk music and song-writing ever since he first popped on the scene. I’m delving into my vinyl collection here with the first track on Highway 61 Revisited, “Like a Rolling Stone.” Considered by many to be one of the greatest songs ever recorded, I’d have to agree. I don’t think it’s my number one. And I don’t even think it’s Bob Dylan’s best song, but few songs had a bigger impact in the world of music than “Like a Rolling Stone.” It’s ripple are still felt today. My words (even when I was a regularly writing film critic) couldn’t have done this song justice. So we’ll just let old Bobby D speak for himself.
What’s up with the way that we listen to sad music when we’re feeling down? It’s like we intentionally create this feedback loop that makes us even more morose. After every break up or any time that I am rejected by a girl that I really like, there’s a 100% chance that I’ll start listening to a shit ton of the Cure and Brand New. It’s not a helpful or productive habit in the slightest, but without fail, I do it. And every person I know has their own selection of sad music to see them through sad times whether it’s High Violet era-The National or early Mountain Goats records. I’m not sad today. I’m just fucking miserable. I’m sick and since it just started today out of nowhere, I feel like there’s a healthy chance that this is only going to get worse. I have a promise to myself (and my dad) to actually go to class this year, and it’s not easy when you have to walk two miles to campus with a massive sinus headache. So, for some reason, when I got home from class today, I was jonesing for the melancholic indie folk of Elliott Smith. So, without further ado, his Academy Award nominated song (from Good Will Hunting), “Miss Misery.”
How have I not done a Bob Dylan song yet? I haven’t done The Beatles, the Stones, Zeppelin, or the Clash yet either so maybe it’s not that bad. I do tend to primarily focus on modern music just because that’s what I write about and it helps me to keep on top of my game. But for some reason, today I was feeling nostalgic, and has there been a greater songwriter than Bob Dylan in the history of American music? I think not. Bob Dylan’s been making music since the early 1960s and he has another album scheduled for release either this year or the beginning of next year. Picking a Dylan song to use for this series isn’t easy since the man has literally dozens upon dozens of fantastic tunes. Certain tunes, “Tangled Up in Blue” or “Visions of Johanna” for example, I want to reserve for special occasions because I have deep emotional connections with much of Dylan’s music. I decided to go with the undeniably iconic Dylan standard “Rainy Day Women #12 & #35” because it’s a landmark song of the folk movement without being a song that seems destined for specific uses on this blog. Enjoy.
Is Justin Vernon the least likely front man in modern indie rock? A slightly overweight, prematurely balding loner with absolutely zero desire for fame that regularly rocks a beard that would make Ted Kacyzinski proud. He broke up with his old band so he spent 3 months holed up in the woods in North Carolina (which wound up producing the best folk album of the 2000s so it was a win). Yet, Bon Iver remains one of the most intriguing acts of the last five years. While I prefer his/their (it’s complicated) debut, For Emma, Forever Ago, to their more recent self-titled, both albums are pretty phenomenal and the more I listen to Bon Iver, the more it grows on me. Bon Iver was the final act that I saw at this year’s Bonnaroo, and not only were they the best act of the weekend, they are easily the single greatest concert I’ve ever been to (even edging out the wonderful Jonathan Coulton/They Might Be Giants show at T5). I was in the front row for the show, and it was almost a religious experience. After about the third song, nearly every person in the front three rows was in open and unashamed tears because of how beautiful Justin Vernon and crew’s set was. It’s hard to pick one song from the set as the most beautiful so I’ll wimp out and pick my favorite song from his newest album (which also had me crying the most out of all of the songs in the set). It’s “Towers” and it’s got an equally beautiful music video to go with the gorgeous sonic folk.
I might write mostly about modern independent music (I just did the second half of an interview with Ryan Monroe of Band of Horses today), but classic rock will always have my heart. It was where I spent my most formative musical years and ultimately has colored the things I enjoy most about music (strong lyrics, instantly endearing melodies, instrumental virtuoso, soaring harmonies, etc) even if some of my favorite bands are the ones that most shy away from classic rock archetypes (Radiohead, Animal Collective, Sigur Ros). One of my all time favorite performing acts is Simon and Garfunkel. Paul Simon rivals Bob Dylan as one of the greatest lyricists of all time, and the bohemian poetry of his seminal works will never lose its charm. Garfunkel’s okay too I guess (I still have to question how much he really contributed to the group). While my favorite Simon and Garfunkel tune is probably “The Boxer,” the song that’s in my head right now is “My Little Town” which for obvious reasons, seems particularly relevant at the moment. It’s a song about growing up and outgrowing the people around you. It’s about recognizing the flaws of what birthed you while simultaneously recognizing perhaps its simple beauty and innocence. For a song that never ended up on an official Simon and Garfunkel album (instead on their solo works despite still being a dual effort between the pair), it’s still an all-time classic of one of the all-time greats.
Well, my magic carpet ride adventure in New York City is officially over. I made it back to my dad’s house in Philippi, WV, this afternoon at around 1 PM. And I’ve spent the rest of the day cleaning up the apartment (describing my dad’s living arrangement is semi-complicated in WV terminology), specifically the apparent clusterfuck that was my bedroom when I left (and also the spare bedroom which is even more of a disaster area). So, I haven’t had much time today to do my Song of the Day post, but I made sure I took 15 minutes out of the major cleaning project to do this. This may seem like a cliche choice for my first day back in WV in four months, but I guess it’s cliche for a reason. I may not be the most excited person on the planet to be in my home state and I know that New York City is where I want to spend the rest of my life. However, WV will always be my home, and we may have had our disagreements over the years but she’ll always own part of my heart. So let’s let John Denver (and his hit-or-miss understanding of WV geography) welcome me back to my home.
If humidity is taken into account, it is supposed to feel like it’s over 90 degrees here in NYC today after last week where I wore my pea coat and/or leather jacket all week and still felt uncomfortably cold. At one point last week, it snowed in my home state of WV. So, obviously these sudden and dramatic changes in weather are playing games with my sinuses, and at the moment, I feel like a grape being squeezed to make wine. Which is to say, I feel miserable and it’s why I’m up before my usual wake up time. I’ve actually been waking up off and on for the last several hours and I eventually had to give up on sleep twenty minutes ago. So, I figured I’d get my song of the day post out of the way early. This choice has been inspired by discussions I had with a friend about the way that children (men or women) learn about violence against women (and/or how to behave in general) by the way that their parents act and the responsibility that good parents have to take their children out of dysfunctional environments. “Fast Car” is about generational poverty and it’s a heartbreaking tune that without question remains one of my favorite songs of the 1980s if not my very favorite.