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Basement Tapes

From what I've read, not much is known about Bob Dylan's hiatus from his motorcycle crash in July 1966 until he resurfaced eighteen months later except that it produced The Basement Tapes. Before I began listening to them, all I had to inform my impression of this time was what I had heard on John Wesley Harding—a bleak and introspective sound with a hearty helping of religious searching. One thing that never occurred to me was that he may have been having the time of his life and in no hurry to return. That was my first impression of The Basement Tapes. The collaboration with The Band here is among the best I've ever heard—each borrowing from the other's style until symbiosis is reached a whole new style takes flight. The sound is so dense, layers of organ and guitar supporting a whole mess of dudes harmonizing their hearts out (I could write an entire essay on the Dude Harmony of The Band, and may still. There is something deeply right there.) The album has a somewhat timeless feel yet seems to encompass many specific times and sounds at once, all accomplished easily and naturally. Now I understand why Greil Marcus spilled so many words describing this as a new anthology of American music. The album is so rich, I don't think I'll ever stop listening to it.

After my first couple of weeks with it, I started to feel a darker undercurrent running through some of the songs, starting with "Too Much of Nothing." It sounded to me like the "too much of nothing" during his recovery may have driven him a little crazy, forced him to deal with his brush with death (if in fact it was that serious) and resurfaced some despair. Then "Million Dollar Bash" started to get to me because it always sounded like some kind of bizarre riff on an afterlife. Combined with the timeless/historical feel of the album, I began to see these songs as a celebration of the legacy of the many musicians that had come before and died and the current performers as proud members of that mortal progression. Instead of feeling documentary, it's so firmly rooted in the tradition that it's uplifting even in the acknowledgement of our fate. "We're all gonna make it to that million dollar bash," right?

So now I have a clear and satisfying picture of that time, accurate or not. I picture a newly married Bob and Sara Dylan living quietly with their three children in upstate New York. In the beginning he's recovering from the crash, having breakfast with the kids, trying to work through some despair and deal with mortality, etc. Eventually he starts making a daily trip up to The Big Pink to play a little, more therapeutically than anything else. They work through decades of old songs and eventually produce some of their own. Whatever happened with the music, it's all set against the backdrop of his new family life and he returns to them every night (I know it's a bit later, but something like this). With that kind of life, who would want to hurry back?


Comments

Lincoln,
Did you get my email?? Fill me in!!! Would be nice to hear from you!

Posted by carole peters at August 16, 2006 11:02 AM