Thursday, August 07, 2008

Ballad of a Thin Man



While Bob was on tour in 1966 in England, he was boo'd and heckled during most of his performances because he had changed from Folk/Acoustic to Rock/Electric. At this time, his fans from the Folk genre thought he had gone into pop or commercial music and was "selling out" or compromising his art by not using it to write more protest songs or try to change society, a higher calling. Bob came to the conclusion long ago that societies don't change just because of a song. Societies are expressed through a song, and he had a knack of choosing the right words and music that articulated what society was going through.

Bob was about music, not politics and he was into folk music because it was a foot in the door into a career for him. His view was always long term, even though he was clueless on how to get there, he had a vision. He made so many quick changes that it was apparent that he was always prepared for the next thing. His focus was never on yesterday but always about the present and the future.

And he walked that delicate line between creating work that people would like and creating work that he was committed to despite the reactions that he got from audiences. It's one thing to create a sculpture that you created and getting derision while you stand next to it, it's another thing when your art is emanating in original song from your own mouth and getting boo'd. In the former, the sculpture is what is receiving the criticism and you are too, but not as directly, while in the latter, it's harder to differentiate the criticism between the unpopular art and yourself. You're a lot closer to it.

In my previous post "How Does It Feel?" Bob is letting the heckler get to him and striking back through his music and flipping him off. In this post, Bob is trying to maintain self control under the pressure of not just one abuser, but several. Imagine trying to work under those circumstances, with your mic malfunctioning and unable to get started with the song. Those had to be the longest few minutes of his life. But Bob managed to be a professional and give a heart felt performance at the same time.

In "I'm Not There", Cate Blanchett plays Bob playing "Ballad of a Thin Man" while "Mr. Jones" a reporter/nemesis is living out the imagery of the song. There is a part where Jones is on a stage in a cage and Bob hands him a microphone, the tables have turned and supposedly Jones finally sees things from the musician's perspective. It's rough. Jones' work is on a printed page and although his work gets criticized, too, it's not the same as having to perform on a stage where you and your work are fused together. And if you are creating things that come from your imagination and your heart, and not merely from talent, genius and skill, it altogether can feel like you are naked in front of all these people.

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