Musical Notes: Bob Dylan - younger than that now

IN THE late 1960s, until he began to de-construct himself with Nashville Skyline, Bob Dylan was still the hippest person on the planet. In 1978, after the superlative Blood on the Tracks and the best-selling Desire, Dylan toured Europe for the first time in 12 years, and was received rapturously by enormous audiences and by reviewers, while his Top Ten hit "Baby, Stop Crying" (he's never had one since) was on jukeboxes everywhere. Eleven years later Dylan finally managed a near-great album for the 1980s, Oh Mercy, once more receiving critical and popular approbation, topped by a triumphant, magical series of concerts at Hammersmith.

His public esteem had as often been low. Throughout the early 1970s, Dylan was a pariah of the passe. At the beginning of the 1980s, while post-punk youth ruled and everyone over 30 was a boring old fart, a born- again Dylan's latest album was Saved. He was about as hip as General Franco.

Looming disdainfully above it all was a critical Hadrian's Wall constructed by the literati to keep out all the guitar-wielding barbarians. Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Johnny Rotten . . . they were all indistinguishable oiks howling on the borders of civilisation.

As late as 1992 the playwright David Hare could imagine he was summing up the battle-lines between civilised culture and its enemy, a cheap and destructive pop culture, in the phrase "Keats versus Dylan". Never mind that Bob Dylan had spent the previous three decades with his face set firmly against the vulgar and the cheap, or that Keats had been a cockney oik and upstart himself. Such was the critical climate still that Hare's comically inaccurate personifying of the divide caught on like a pop craze itself. Within minutes, A.S. Byatt could go on The Late Show and pronounce that the qualitative difference between Keats and Dylan is that with Keats, she could take you through one of his poems and reveal many layers . . .

What's risible is not the preference for Keats, nor the ignorance about Dylan: it is the malapropriate self- confidence that had her thinking it reasonable to hand down these uninformed but lofty judgements. As if, indeed, her very unfamiliarity with Dylan's work affirmed the loftiness that justified dismissing it.

The wall does seem to be coming down. In 1997 Greil Marcus's critical study Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes was accorded substantial reviewing attention on both sides of the Atlantic; and in late 1998, a few months before being appointed the new Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion discussed Dylan's retrospectively released 1966 concert recording from Manchester Free Trade Hall in terms of "the tremendous beauty and subtlety of the songs and the matchless voice that sings them".

The public mood too seems unusually favourable towards someone so strongly associated with the 1960s that he always risks dismissal when people feel intolerant of the recent past and that decade in particular. There was a wave of warm re-appraisal when, in 1996, Dylan was taken ill. Then his first collection of new compositions in seven years, Time Out of Mind, reminded people of how striking and unique this artist is. He even won Grammys and a Kennedy Center Award, with President Clinton saying of him:

He probably had more impact on people of my generation than any other creative artist. His voice and lyrics haven't always been easy on the ears, but, throughout his career, Bob Dylan has never aimed to please.

Exactly. Meanwhile the presence of the young in audiences at Dylan's concerts shows that many newcomers are drawn to him, in wave after generational wave, in spite of everything. They have the enviable pleasure of getting to know his vast back catalogue: well over 40 albums, contributing to and exploring so many musical genres and much poetry. As we look back at the second half of the 20th century from its closing moments, Bob Dylan still looks one of its dominant figures.

Michael Gray is the author of `Song & Dance Man III: the art of Bob Dylan' (Cassell Academic, pounds 29.99)

Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Healy of The 1975 performing on the Pyramid Stage at the Glastonbury Festival, at Worthy Farm in Somerset

music
Arts and Entertainment
booksThe Withnail and I creator, has a new theory about killer's identity
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
tvDick Clement and Ian La Frenais are back for the first time in a decade
Arts and Entertainment
The Clangers: 1969-1974
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Rocky road: Dwayne Johnson and Carla Gugino play an estranged husband and wife in 'San Andreas'
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Nicole Kidman plays Grace Kelly in the film, which was criticised by Monaco’s royal family

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emilia Clarke could have been Anastasia Steele in Fifty Shades of Grey but passed it up because of the nude scenes

film
Arts and Entertainment
A$AP Rocky and Rita Ora pictured together in 2012

music
Arts and Entertainment
A case for Mulder and Scully? David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson in ‘The X-Files’

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Impressions of the Creative Community Courtyard within d3. The development is designed to 'inspire emerging designers and artists, and attract visitors'

architecture
Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

    Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

    Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
    Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

    Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
    Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

    The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

    Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
    The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

    The future of songwriting

    How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
    William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

    Recognition at long last

    Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
    Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

    Beating obesity

    The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
    9 best women's festival waterproofs

    Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

    These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
    Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

    Wiggins worried

    Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Liverpool close in on Milner signing

    Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
    On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

    On your feet!

    Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
    With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

    The big NHS question

    Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
    Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Thongs ain't what they used to be

    Big knickers are back
    Thurston Moore interview

    Thurston Moore interview

    On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
    In full bloom

    In full bloom

    Floral print womenswear
    From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

    From leading man to Elephant Man

    Bradley Cooper is terrific