Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Bob On Top of the Covers

I bought the April issue of Q magazine. This wasn’t exactly a chance event. Nothing random going on. A mere 6 words on the front cover made it an essential purchase: “40 Years of Genius Bob Dylan” (I know – that isn’t grammatical, but you’ll see what I mean if you take a look at the cover). And some good – though hardly original – stuff there is, especially some of the photos. Although why Q had to – what is the word – compromise (maybe) the integrity of the piece by including comments from Chris Martin, David Gray and Bobby Gillespie – for heavens sake – is entirely beyond my comprehension. Be that as it may, nothing detracted from the sheer bliss of reading, again, about the enormity of Blonde on Blonde and the gossip surrounding its fabled recording, while listening to the album and remembering, and all…again...sad but true that I for one still cannot think of a better way to wile away a few hours.

Sadly, some part of my Dylan listening has been – what is the word – contaminated (maybe) in recent weeks. And it all started on a Wednesday. In the evening. On a Wednesday evening, at least during the football season, a group of supposed friends of mine (sometime including BondWoman, though never BondBloke) congregate at my place to watch Champions League matches. It’s fun. Well, it used to be fun. Other than the game itself (which can be of a variable quality), the staples of the evening include (a) a regular fare of pizza and beans, accompanied by the consumption of as much beer as you bring; (b) the availability of the Sky Sports channel; and for this current season (c) the refurbishing (to a high standard) of the viewing facility (and we are talking 42" plasma here) and upgrading of the seating. To that list I’d add the exquisite music selection which bookends the evening, and substitutes for the half-time ‘expert’ Sky punditry. There are only 2 rules of the evening (there used to be 3 rules, but BondWoman’s presence has rendered redundant the 3rd rule – you know what I’m saying guys, right? But- hey - the 21st Century has reached Scotland, right?) and these are (i) beans mustn't be dropped on the new turf, and (ii) you drink the beer you bring – not anyone else’s beer (it’s a game-theoretic problem – otherwise there would be a race-to-the-bottom effect, as one of our number demonstrates with irritating frequency).

So – an extremely pleasant way for all concerned to sepnd an evening you might think? And indeed you'd be right - at least it has been for the something like the 7 seasons that it has been going for. But…A note of controversy has now been injected into these Wednesday evenings which goes far beyond the usual sort of dispute which inevitably arises on such liberally watered sporting occasions. And it surrounds the incidental (to the football) music mentioned earlier. At the heart of the discord was a comment, a remark - one uttered with all the apparent innocence of a self-evident truth, but whose effect was incendiary (kinda like when, in the middle of a dinner party, kids say show-stoppingly rude things which they don't understand - so I hear anyway as having neither kids nor friends who invite me to dinner parties I can’t vouch for myself), namely – “cover versions of Bob Dylan always sound better than the original Dylan version.”

Now, I have a kind of a thing about Dylan’s music. Just a bit. Let's just say I like it. But that's incidental. 'Cause any right-thinking person would have the same view. And it is this. There is simply no instance – none, zilch, zero – where a Dylan cover comes anywhere close to bettering the original. Now, I accept that I have not heard every Dylan cover ever recorded. The list is huge – but I have heard many, and certainly all of those which came to the mind of the ‘cover-merchants’ who uttered this drivel a few Wednesdays ago in my company and whilst accepting my hospitality (unsurprisingly they tend to stick to the obvious - Byrds, Hendrix, Band, Roxy Music, Them, etc. – which itself is instructive). Now, I’m not denigrating any of these bands, nor indeed criticizing the decision to cover a Dylan song. That would smack of small-mindedness. Many of the covers are engaging enough on their own terms, and some are even quite pretty. (I always wonder what tone of voice Dylan assumed when he reportedly reacted to the Byrds version of Tambourine Man by allegedly opining that – “hey, you’ve turned my tune into something you could dance to.” Not sure that necessarily was complimentary.)

Let’s be clear. The first rule of statistics is that you have to compare like with like. Comparing Dylan singing Dylan with a cover violates that rule. So STOP doing it.

Dylan sings Dylan as a painting: cover artists sing Dylan as a photograph.

Dylan sings Dylan as poetry: cover artists sing Dylan as words.

Dylan sings Dylan as commentary: cover artists sing Dylan as melody.

Dylan sings Dylan as texture: cover artists sing Dylan as formica.

This isn’t about the quality of a voice (and I might return to that sometime). This is about the difference between real art and fake art. I don’t object to copies. But – please - let’s have no more of this nonsense. Go on then. Name one Dylan cover that stands even the most casual scrutiny against the original?


Blogger Herschell Hershey said...

That would be Mr Tambourine Man, by the Byrds.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006  
Blogger BondBloke said...

The only reason that BondBloke doesn't put in an appearance on Wed evenings is because I can't see the point of watching 25 grown men chasing a bag of wind around a field - the music would be fine, however I think even there RoadRunner and I would have differences of opinion on this particular subject...

Tuesday, March 07, 2006  
Blogger mądry said...

What about a cover version of a Dylan song which is itself a cover version? There is a least one.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006  

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