Ron Rosenbaum

"Song to Woody": Dylan's breakthrough.

So I spent an evening talking to a Bob Dylan class run by Bob Levin at the 92nd Street Y and it was a lot of fun–people are still curious about the interview I did with Dylan in which he rhapsodized about the sound he’d been seeking, “that thin, that wild merucry sound”. There was a lively discussion, moderated by Jon Friedman and Bob Levin, of many other Dylan issues as well. Anyway, preparing for it I discovered once again what a mystery Dylan was/is.

I did something I hadn’ t done for a million years. I listened to Dylan’s first album Bob Dylan, from beginning to end. Thirteen songs, 12 or them negligable material–and one song, if not immortal than at least awe-inspiring, awesome. It’s the next the last song on the album, which makes it all the more surprizing since you have to put up with 11 ho-hum imersonations of blues singers, impersonaltions of other folkies, covers of old chesnuts.

And then there’s “Song to Woody”, so beautiful, pure, hypnotic, mesmerizing. You could play it all day long (which is what I did using the CD repeat function) and not get tired.

And I’m not even a big fan of Woody Guthrie. The melody Dylan took from him for this song (from some coal mining disaster lament) is just about the only Guthrie melody I’m really fond of and I can’t stand banjo playing, I’m almost allergic to it, and I associate it with Guthrie. . Why has no one remarked that Dylan has mercifully spared us the banjo for the most part in his work. Not enough has been written about that–nor about his killer harmonica work.

Anyway, as I was saying, 12 of the 13 songs on this first abum are just not memorable to me (I’ve always been a fan of electric Dylan anyway). No hint of genius.

But then in “Song to Woody” there’s Dylan no longer impersonating tired folkie riffs. He’s at last being himself, or impersonating hiself. You never know. this one next to last song, this one writen by Dylan himself this one called “Song to Woody” that suddenly soars, enters into your heart and soul with it’s beauty, it’s authencity,it’s generosity, its love. He had found his voice paying tribute to another voice, not disguising himself in another voice.

I bet you haven’t listened to it in years if ever. Check it out and tell me what you think.