The Ugliest Girl in the World: The Reanimation of Bob Dylan in the ‘80s
Deer Tick convert âNight After Nightâ (from the Hearts Of Fire soundtrack) into a gentle lilt about the soulâs dusk-to-dawn darknessesâindividual and global. Venerable San Francisco jamband Tea Leaf Green transmogrify the 1985 half-ska toss-off âWaiting to Get Beatâ into a credibly pixelated Vampire Weekend-style Afro- shuffle. Itâs My Morning Jacketâs Carl Broemel who discovers the latent sing-along and sweet comforts inside âDeath Is Not the End.â And when Freemanâs âWiggle Wiggleâ arrives back in Lauterâs ears, the producer finds himself in New Yorkâs High Line elevated park, tears rolling down his cheeks. The answer for âJokermanâ arrives in the form of an email from Doug Martsch, asking if Built to Spill can contribute.
While most of the artists record the tracks themselves, Lauter and OâBrien insist on mixing them, part of their mandate to give the album its identity. They scatter Easter eggs throughout, ready for eagle-eared Dylan freaks. They add barking dogs to Beneventoâs âEvery Grain of Sand,â conjuring the ambiance of the demo on The Bootleg Series.
And there, jamming on Freemanâs swamp-dementia dream of âWiggle Wiggle,â overdubbed later, is Slash. This might seem like a non-sequitur collaboration were it not for the Guns Nâ Roses guitaristâs presence on Dylanâs original studio recording. Slash told the producers a story about his session with Dylan. âHe showed up ready to play all these lead licks, but Dylan thought it sounded too much like Guns Nâ Roses. All he ended up keeping was Slash strumming away on this acoustic section.â
On Bob Dylan in the 80s, Volume One, in addition to his long-deferred guitar solo, the man born Saul Hudson plays the part of a giant Easter egg with a top hat. There are eight fairly excellent â80s Dylan songs left for Bob Dylan in the 80s, Volume Two: âFoot Of Pride,â âMost of the Time,â âThe Groomâs Still Waiting at the Altar,â âCity Of Gold,â âBlind Willie McTell,â âWhat Good Am I?,â âDignity,â âEverything Is Broken.â One not-that-great Bob Dylan song still left for Bob Dylan in the 80s, Volume Two: âTight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love).â
The opener for 1985âs Empire Burlesque contains another treĚs â80s moment: that time that Dylan started cribbing lines from Humphrey Bogart movies and (possibly) Star Trek episodes for his lyrics. As a songwriter, Dylan had long borrowed melodies, images, and even whole couplets from old folk sources. But for the first time, he now plunged, however subtly, into the realms of pop culture. The move would become an entrenched artistic method for him well into the 21st century, from âLove & Theftââs ambient quotations from Junichi Sagaâs Japanese novel Confessions of a Yakuza to the literally hundreds of micro-references that scholar Scott Warmuth has overturned throughout Chronicles to the wholesale borrowings that made up the 2011 art show of Dylanâs âAsia Seriesâ paintings.
In the 1980s, Bob Dylan also launched his Never Ending Tour, which continues in some capacity to the present day. In doing so, he began his reinvention as a live performer, eventually capitalizing on the â80sâ down- and-outness to create a whole new Southern gentleman-on-the-skids persona.
It might have been the 1980s, butâdespite all the goofy â80s-ness of all he was doingâBob Dylan continued to evolve, even if his creative decisions didnât resonate with much of his audience. Itâs not that his music deserves a free pass, but merely a second or third or fourth listen because of what arrived before (and after) it. Sometimes, he connected anyway.
âDylan launches into a sheer masterpiece of a vocal appearance, uniting 1966 and 1986 like they were born twins and then bursting beyond any re-creations of the song into an astonishing cry of urgency,â wrote lifelong Dylan obsessive Paul Williams of a 1986 London performance of âI Want You,â and thatâs one of Williamsâ more restrained commentaries.
It was Williams who launched the first rock magazine, Crawdaddy!, in 1966, wrote DylanâWhat Happened? when Dylan went Christian in â79âDylan himself ordered 114 copiesâand kept on keeping on with the Bobhead. Crawdaddy! had grown from the zine-writing science fiction world of which Williams was a part, where the proto-geek parlance of the times deemed him a âtrufan.â Bob Dylan in the 80s is dedicated to Williams, who passed away in 2013. âHe felt [Dylan] could transcend the act of songwriting and kinetically deliver art in the moment,â says OâBrien.
Even if Dylan himself couldnât locate the word he was supposed to be keeping with himself, Paul Williams never lost sight of it. He followed every questionable move in real time, giddily inventing entirely new metrics and metaphors to gauge Dylanâs success. Paul Williams came to a complete appreciation of Dylan, and the whole Bob. Bob Dylan in the 80s: Volume One is an aural and alchemical approximation of that experience, a transmogrification of the ugly into the gorgeous by way of sheer enthusiasm, and realizing they were the same all along. Not bad for a stupid joke. Listen to Bob Dylan in the 80s, Volume One and become an instant trufan.