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Dylan and Young Paper


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Dylan and Young Paper

  1. 1. Jay Lincoln History of Rock Professor Marietta Cheng The Doorman and the Disciple The Music, Life, and Legacies of Bob Dylan and Neil Young 1 “Bob Dylan? I’ll never be Bob Dylan. He’s the master,” chuckles Neil Young in an interview with Time magazine’s Josh Tyrangiel, ““For me Dylan is the greatest that ever lived in the singer/songwriter/poet vein. The guy has written some of the greatest poetry and put it to music in a way that it touched me, and other people have done that, but not so consistently or as intensely” (McDonough 145). Dylan, four years Young’s senior, had done it all first, had done it all the best, and had paved the way for future songwriters. Neil Young, an innovator and original in his own right, had grown up following Dylan’s work. So much so, that at one point he realized that he had to consciously restrain himself from listening to too much for fear that he may be too greatly influenced. There is a tendency from many to lump them into the same category: enigmatic, isolated, singer songwriters, with imperfectly perfect voices, and the poetic skill to match. Yet these two artists could not be more distinct in their inner motivation, in what made them so great. Their psychological interior and creative output were drastically different and is the reason for the unique nature of their respective works. Neil Young was a student of Dylan, a student in the way that Aristotle followed Plato, never quite surpassing in greatness, but equaling in talent, originality, and longevity. Neil Young’s isolated psychological interior and unique creative process combined with his lofty voice and tremendous guitar to create a music that transcended instruments, lyrics, and meaning; captivating audiences throughout the world. Bob Dylan’s poetic skill and
  2. 2. 2 ability to embody the zeitgeist of American youth throughout a critical transitional period identifies him as one of the greatest voices in American history. It was this ability to rise above mere music that labels Young and Dylan as songwriting greats. Dylan crafted his legacy and through indirection and enigma, his constant change and rejection of his own position as symbol of a movement spurned his followers, only causing them to yearn for him more. Young on the other hand, boldly took the reins of his own fate, using his immense talent, a unique psychological perspective, and business savvy to blaze his own trail down the road that Dylan had paved. It takes a visionary to see a path that doesn’t exist. Bob Dylan knew that music was his calling, yet as an intellectual, he understood that in order to become larger than life you must have a message. After reading Woody Guthrie’s Bound for Glory an inspired Dylan dropped out of the University of Minnesota and hitchhiked to New York City to meet his bed-ridden idol. A man of courage with a fierce desire to succeed, Dylan had begun “building a character”, an image characterized by his “hobo minstrel” like clothes and a “scratchy, unmistakably human timbre” (Epstein 96). He continued his self-construction by flouting his enigmatic personality. Richard Fernandez, the tour manager of both Young and Dylan said, “Neil’s eccentric with a purpose – Bob’s eccentric with a purpose, but I’m not quite sure what that purpose is, and the only person who knows what that purpose is may be Bob. Everyone else is just speculating.” Dylan burst onto the scene with a wave of socially and politically conscious songs that begged the audience to critically listen. Dylan said his “finger-pointing,” style was him “jumping into the scene to be heard and a lot of it was because I didn’t see anybody else doing that kind of thing.” What Dylan
  3. 3. 3 didn’t realize, was that in his attempt to “do something that’s never been done before” he had captured the zeitgeist of a youthful nation (McDonough 25). Neil Young was one of the many who felt the power of Dylan’s message, “There was a time when his essence was coming out strongly – really strongly – so it affected this whole generation. Everybody related to his voice, what he was saying, and you could really get into it. Not many people had that kind of impact” (McDonough 145). In 1965, Neil Young peeled out of his parent’s North Toronto driveway in his ’53 Pontiac Hearse christened Mort Two. With California Dreamin blasting out the radio, Young leaned his head out the window and shouted to the world “All the leaves are brown, and the skies are gray, I’m gonna go down to the States and really make it. I’m on my way” (McDonough 146). Young had been inspired by the “soul” of Dylan’s music and determined that in order to truly succeed as a musician, he had to leave the cold comforts of his North Toronto home. Longtime friend Linda Smith says of Young, “Neil was totally confident, very focused. You knew he was gonna make it. I think he had it all planned… he knew what he was doing. I don’t think Neil did anything spontaneously – he appeared to be reckless and spontaneous, but I think he plotted it all out and just kept his mouth shut. I think he’s that way with his whole life” (McDonough 146). This savvy approach to the music industry remained a staple of Young’s career. Associate and friend Dennis Hopper said Young’s “sense of business is extraordinary, he’s a cutthroat in a cutthroat business.” Young believed that many artists were weak when it came to determining their own fate and direction. That many were satisfied with simply leaving their future in the hands of managers, agents and various other suits (McDonough 125). Young’s
  4. 4. 4 dedication to his own original vision marks him as one of the few artists who was able to keep his integrity intact throughout an expansive career. By the time that the spotlight hit Bob Dylan, he was already pushing it away. For a man who had constructed himself as the voice of the generation, Dylan was not prepared to shoulder the ideological load of the under-30 generation. He responded by shrouding himself in a cloud of aggression and contradictions. By becoming an enigma, Dylan distanced himself from his audiences’ attempts to fit him into a box that they could understand. Bono called Dylan “a very tenacious character. I think underneath all the so-called eccentricity, which I think is just a mask, there’s a very true person” ( Dylan). Dylan’s inner persona may never be known, whether his eccentricity was a product of fame, fear of responsibility, or simply Dylan’s crafty attempts to mythologize himself will forever remain a mystery. On August 31, 1951, a six-year-old Neil Young awoke moaning in pain and feverishly sweating through his sheets. His parents rushed him to a Toronto hospital where he was diagnosed with poliomyelitis. The debilitating disease brought Young within inches of death, and left him a pile of bones, grateful for life (McDonough 45) In his later years, Young struggled with intimacy, oftentimes watching women leave his bed crying over his refusal to remove his drawers. Donna Port, a close friend of Buffalo Springfield who later dated Jefferson Airplane’s Marty Balin, had been trying to set up Young with a variety of girls. After several girls had returned lamenting their inability to seduce the rock-star sex icon, Donna began to wonder.
  5. 5. 5 “His legs were like toothpicks, and one day I just asked him (if he had polio as a child.) The look of terror gave me the answer. Then it just flowed out. He was wrapped up in a blanket at the time, crying. It was a huge emotional scar to him. We talked about how cruel kids are when you’re growing up. It explained a lot. This guy had a heavy load, physically and emotionally. Neil didn’t fit. He never felt he fit. He wanted to desperately, but it always eluded him. Neil was always bleeding inside (McDonough 188). This perspective on Neil Young’s psychological interior sheds a light on his artistry. Although he was firmly planted in reality as a result of his own commitment to his musical vision, Young was alienated and isolated as an individual. Robin Lane, a back-up vocalist on Neil’s Everywhere Knows This is Nowhere, says, “Neil was very intense to be around. He had a purpose. Neil didn’t talk much about himself or what he was feeling. He was removed and in his own world. He was strange, mysterious – he sort of floated above the earth, but at the same time had his feet planted on the ground” (McDonough 190). This genuine persona of Young was what spurred his creativity, in comparison with Dylan; Young’s musical product was far more representative of his psyche. When asked how he writes his songs Bob Dylan paused, as if contemplating how to communicate the incommunicable, “You see… the way I like to write is for it to come the way I walk or talk” (Hedin 25). Bob Dylan set the standard for songwriters; his unique lyrical inventions, complex rhyme schemes, and clever integration of a message has entranced many and perplexed more. “’You tell me about politics,’ he wrote, ‘and I tell you there are no politics” (Miller 221). His bold
  6. 6. 6 refutation of any categorization identifies Dylan as the Afrika Bambaata1 of 60’s music, a transcendental figure whose complexities couldn’t possibly be grasped. Miller says Dylan, “featured unromantic and sometimes inscrutable lyrics that were involuted, hermetic, yet seething with an undefined, faintly intoxicating sense of self-righteous rage” (Miller 221). A poet and a prophet, Dylan explored “all forms of suffering, love, and madness, exhausting all poisons in himself, extracting only their “quintessence” through the systematic use of intoxicants and concentrating the force of his personal revelations in a music of delirious immediacy” ( Dylan was a lyrical innovator whose songwriting prowess and complexities have resonated throughout history as his work is an influence in subsequent songwriters. Sandy Mazzeo, a longtime friend of Neil Young, said, “Dylan’s songs are what’s happening all around him. Neil writes about inside” (McDonough 14). Neil Young was an introspective, lonely individual who’s own inner psychological conflict limited his ability to truly connect with others. Yet, his talent and ability to touch others through his music was a result of a specific creative approach in songwriting that Young admits to having very little control over. He says, “I’m just trying to convey a feeling. I don’t know where it comes from. It just comes out… Seems like even when I’m happy, I write about bein lonesome. I don’t know why,” he goes on, “sometimes I can’t get ‘em to come, y’know but then if I get high or something, and if I just sit there and wait, all of a sudden it comes gushing out. I just gotta get to the right level. It’s like having a mental orgasm” (McDonough 126). Neil 1 An African-American DJ from the South Bronx who transcended gang violence and territories with his boom box, intimidating figure, and social vision.
  7. 7. 7 Young’s unique creative process facilitated his ability to accurately reflect his own isolated psyche, a psyche that his audience could identify with and find meaning within. Bob Dylan is known as perhaps one of the most unique vocalists ever to sing into a microphone, his nasally growl is unmistakable and reverberates through the minds of his audience. Dylan’s music was full of surprise, the “disembodied, sometimes vehement way in which it was sung made it seem like a revelation that could only be received by the most faithful and fervent of disciples” ( Author of Jokerman: Reading the Lyrics of Bob Dylan, Aidan Day, sums up the musical effect of Dylan’s voice perfectly Typically, the voice engages the line of the melody but its simultaneously jarring, atonal separation from the music, together with the relentless subordination of musical elements to the exigencies of verbal order, opens a space which registers a distance and an unease involving both singer and listener. It is a pattern of invitation and rejection in which the audience-- alienated from easy absorption into the music and denied relaxation--is required to attend closely to the transactions between voice and words. While the voice impinges distinctively on the listener, it simultaneously seeks to refuse an unthinking capitulation to itself and to the sense of what it is singing. It is a pattern which places special demands upon an audience, expecting it to participate actively--and to risk itself--in the play of meaning. Dylan may have said that he only wrote for himself, but the reality of his music was a highly intellectual product that necessitated critical thought from the audience in order for it to reach its potential. Dylan’s construction of himself as the bedraggled bard with a voice to match furthered the depth of his musical image and contributed to the intellectual success of his records.
  8. 8. 8 If Dylan opened the door for the “sound-a wracked voice”, then Neil Young was the first one to step through the entrance (Marsh). Young was not always confident in his ability to sing, but after being urged by several friends and musical associates, he began to believe that there was a place for his vocals. His voice, “a quavery, poignant tenor, is far from technically ideal, yet its rawness in itself a metaphor for vulnerability” (Rockwell). Rickie Lee Jones called it “Hesistant, whiny, masculine and feminine… all the sadness and the unresolved angst in his voice conveys what it’s like to be a teenager. You are saying goodbye to childhood in those years” (McDonough 15). Young’s voice was as if the little, skinny, polio-stricken child of his past momentarily took over his vocal chords, chorusing haunting melodies over his assertive guitar riffs. He could sit in a chair on stage, practically immobile save for his steady rocking and deft finger strokes, for hours on end as a captivated audience stared, enthralled by the tenuous voice and soul-scraping guitar. Young gives credit to Dylan for opening up a musical world for him, yet Young’s technical skill and unique voice may even surpass Dylan in terms of pure musical prowess and product. A defining aspect of Dylan’s character was his multi-genre ventures and refusal to be limited to a single musical area. Early on in his career, Dylan decided to begin playing with a band, a move that many of his folk-entrenched followers viewed as radical change. One follower however, Neil Young, loved Dylan’s transitional ability, “I was fuckin knocked out… I had already played rock and roll and folk music. I was goin back and forth from one to the other, so to me it never made any difference. I couldn’t see what the big deal was. You play electric guitar,
  9. 9. 9 you play acoustic guitar, who gives a shit? What’s the big deal? Only the people that try to put a label on it,” he goes on, “That’s a classic case of someone trying to nail you into a corner. He just did what he did – he played folk music up to a point, made records, sang, became a folk hero, did the whole thing, then decided to move on – so there really wasn’t that big of a deal. The big deal was the reaction to it” (McDonough 144). Dylan’s musical ambitions may have at times surpassed his technical ability, yet his commitment to his art and whatever direction it took him was an innovation to rock, a testament to his integrity, and an important example for subsequent artists. Although Dylan was the first, Neil Young’s ventures into various genres of music was a defining factor of his musical career. His ability to seamlessly transition, while representative of his immense talent however, perhaps limited his growth in any specific area. Yet this comfort and acceptance of musical transformation was a primary component of Young’s identity. Indeed, “the degree to which he took his own changeability and ambiguity as central themes, and this reflexive impulse, along with the generally poetic register of his language, placed Young firmly in the singer-songwriter tradition.” In fact, Young pushed the boundaries so far that at times he too potentially threatened his career. An unpredictable songwriter and performer, Young worked within an exceptionally wide range of styles and at times blatantly defied his audiences’ expectations (Rockwell). Bob Dylan’s musical acumen and broad appeal demonstrated “that pop music could address serious social issues rather than just teenage romance or frivolous concerns, and this became a model for many other songwriters. While the folk
  10. 10. 10 traditionalists may have believed his music had become to commercial, it was Dylan who arguably changed the mainstream approach to rock by infusing his lyrical and musical sophistication and wit” (Covach 197). In comparison “Neil’s music was much more abstract. He had a lot of musical thoughts that didn’t make sense to me right away. His voice was odd, shaky. It’s like looking at a Cubist painting in 1920 – if you just look at one Picasso, you think “I don’t know what this is” but when you see the whole body of work it’s a great thing” (McDonough 166). Bob Dylan embodied the spirit of the youth culture movement in his music, he “was the original hippy, and anyone curious about the style and tone of the younger generations thinking in the early 1960’s has only to play his albums in chronological order. They move from folk whimsy to weird humor to harsh social protest during the time of the civil rights marches and the Mississippi summer protest of 1963 and ’64.” Then, in the months following the assassination of JFK, Dylan was asked to receive the Tom Paine Award from the Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. In his acceptance speech, he attempted to implore the audience to understand the mental strain that Oswald was under and how society perpetuates that “tightness”. He was booed off stage and began to feel as though it was impossible to communicate with those so attached to the bonds of society. Dylan then transitioned from “the hard commitments of social realism to the more abstract “realities” of neo-protest and disengagement. His style became one of eloquent despair and personal anarchism.” He moved on to “become the voice of an anguished and half-desperate generation. Or at least the part of a generation that saw itself as doomed and useless in terms of the status quo, business-as-usual kind
  11. 11. 11 of atmosphere that prevailed in this country as the war in Vietnam went from bad to worse” (McDonough 70). In terms of societal significance, Neil Young pales in comparison. Yet his isolated psyche was familiar to a large audience and his ability to convey emotion through his music touched many. Young was “the quintessential hippy-cowboy loner, a hopeless romantic struggling to build bridges out of himself to women and through them to cosmic archetypes of the past and of myth” (Rockwell). Bob Dylan was the trailblazer who opened up every door imaginable for following artists. His ability to epitomize a movement along with his poetic songwriting, unique voice, and general mystique labels him as a hallmark of musical history. His most celebrated pupil, Neil Young, expounded on Dylan’s musical dexterity while providing insight to a deeply interesting psychological interior that, coupled with his haunting voice and rich guitar, provided a unique sense of mystique altogether different than Dylan’s.
  12. 12. 12 Works Cited Covach, John Rudolph. What's That Sound?: An Introduction to Rock and Its History. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2006. Print. Epstein, Daniel Mark. The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait. New York: HarperCollins, 2011. Print. Hedin, Benjamin. Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader. New York: W. W. Norton, 2006. Print. "Keirsey Temperament Website - Portrait of the Artisan® Composer (ISFP): Bob Dylan."Keirsey Temperament Website - Portrait of the Artisan® Composer (ISFP): Bob Dylan. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. Miller, Jim. Almost Grown: The Rise of Rock. London: Heinemann, 1999. Print. "NEIL YOUNG" by Dave Marsh." Rolling Stones "Illustrated History of Rock" N.p.: Random House, 1980. N. pag. NEIL YOUNG by Dave Marsh. Web. 15 Apr. 2013. "Quotes from Others about Bob Dylan." Http:// N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2013. Rockwell, John. "Neil Young - As Good As Bob Dylan?" Editorial. The New York Times 19 June 1977: n. pag. Neil Young - As Good As Bob Dylan? Web. 15 Apr. 2013. Tyrangiel, Josh. "The Resurrection of Neil Young." Time Magazine (2005): n. pag. Web. 16 Apr. 2013.