Monday, August 4, 2008

The Next Dylan


Spike Woolridge: First point of clarification: Are we talking about the NEW Dylan or the NEXT Dylan? And is there a difference? Whichever way we go, we need to define the term.
Charlie T. Hustle: How about who is the heir to the Dylan throne, whether they are there or well on their way, yeah?
Spike Woolridge: Right, but what’s “the Dylan throne”?
Charlie T. Hustle: Good question
Spike Woolridge: I guess what i think we need to clarify is "what does it mean to be heir to the Dylan throne?" or "if there's a next Dylan, what does it mean to be Dylan in the first place?"
Charlie T. Hustle: right
Spike Woolridge: And, yes, as "I'm Not There" proved, there's no one way to pin the guy down. so we just need to set a basic, broad criteria and run with it.

1. Legendary Songwriter – best of his/her era and an all-time great.
2. Legendary Streak of Albums (two albums is no streak)
3. All Time Get Out Of Jail Free Passes – issued on volume, prolificity, legacy of great work
4. Voice of a Generation – the quintessential Dylan tag
5. Re-Invention – has to have a drastic change in style, a "Newport" is preferred.
6. Steeped in Tradition but also Creates the Tradition
7. Cultural Relevance / Political Presence with more weight on the cultural than the political.

Dylan Dylan Bo Bylan Banana Fana Faux Cobain?
Some Candidates

Spike Woolridge: Now let’s toss out a list of some people who have been called The New/Next Dylan, just for reference. They may or may not be actual contenders, but they have been, at one point, tagged as such. Or are on our minds as possibilities
Charlie T. Hustle: Jeff Tweedy (Wilco)
Spike Woolridge: Bruce Springsteen
Charlie T. Hustle: Ryan Adams? (large body of work)
Spike Woolridge: Steve Forbert is one of the first to have his career destroyed by the premature New Dylan tag.
Charlie T. Hustle: Josh Ritter
Spike Woolridge: Jakob Dylan has the most literal, genetic claim to the title. If anyone’s the New Dylan, I guess he is.
Charlie T. Hustle: Maybe Glen Hansard (The Frames)
Spike Woolridge: Dan Bern. Donovan got the tag.
Charlie T. Hustle: yep
Spike Woolridge: Conor Oberst (Bright Eyes) sure gets it. Steve Earle has gotten it. How about some females: Joni Mitchell was too close to Bob’s time (and sucked later), but Tracy Chapman and Ani Difranco got the tag.
Charlie T. Hustle: I‘ve heard Jack White (White Stripes, Raconteurs)
Spike Woolridge: Elvis Costello, Kurt Cobain (Nirvana), Beck. And then i have a few ideas that I’ll save for later. Just to keep a little something for the honeymoon.
Spike Woolridge: Obviously most of these are going to fit, in some way, the songwriting criteria or else they wouldn't make our list. They have proven themselves, at least to us, in that realm.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah, it always starts with the songsmithing.
Spike Woolridge: How many of them can live up to the other criteria?
Charlie T. Hustle: Most have had missteps aside from maybe Ritter and Tweedy, but, like Dylan, the missteps get passed over because of "pantheonic" work.
Spike Woolridge: In terms of the String of Records, i think the ones with the strongest cases are probably Springsteen (Born To Run up to Born In The USA) and Tweedy (Being There to now). Ritter is good, but maybe has too few albums (hypocritical, given my Don’t Disparage Them For Their Youth policy).
Charlie T. Hustle: Is Springsteen the voice of a generation?
Charlie T. Hustle: Tweedy has the "reinventiveness," but probably lacks the “voice of a generation.”
Spike Woolridge: Tweedy definitely has the reinventiveness. If you go back to Uncle Tupelo and to the Mermaid Ave stuff, you hear most directly how he gets a lot of the “steeped in tradition” part. And then, listening to the last handful of albums, how he has also evolved as a writer (words ampersand music) with his audience. Wilco gets the dad rock title somewhat deservedly. He's writing songs about the kids he and his audience are having, about the concerns of middle age, all that. So there's at least a twinge of speaking for a generation there, albeit on a scale far diminished from Dylan's.
Spike Woolridge: Before we forget, this guy should also get some consideration for the New Dylan.

Charlie T. Hustle: That’s him! The next Michael Jordan!
Spike Woolridge: The next Jordan thing is an intriguing and not unrelated tangent. Vince Carter, Grant Hill, Penny Hardaway and everyone else all failed to live up to the billing. Kobe and LeBron, despite their dominating talents, aren't. The lesson was this: We were looking for the New Jordan in the wrong place. The New Jordan is Tiger Woods. He's the closest thing to Jordan we've seen.

Spike Woolridge: On that note, i have a few candidates who aren’t exactly in the traditional singer/songwriter Dylan mold, who might fit in with that “Looking In The Wrong Place” theme.
Spike Woolridge: Madonna. Look at the popularity, cultural impact and ubiquity, constant reinvention, consistent presence, toying with the media, flirtation with Hollywood, occasional career resurrection, even religious conversion.
Spike Woolridge: Jay-Z or Kanye West, who fulfill the Voice of a Generation better than most and certainly have the broad popularity. Jay Z gets points for his connections to the Beatles, Danger Mouse, Linkin Park, The Roots, etc. Dylan wasn’t afraid to mix it up, singing with Joan Baez, Johnny Cash, Kurtis Blow, The Grateful Dead, The Wilburys, etc.
Charlie T. Hustle: Can you get points for mixing it up with Linkin Park?
Spike Woolridge: Kanye dared to say that the President hates black people and bring Jesus back to pop radio. Dylan had a born again period and certainly was politically outspoken, famously calling out members of the Civil Liberties Committee when they gave him an award. Kanye is also probably the hip hopper with the most potential and ambition to cross over

Spike Woolridge: And how about some wild cards? JK Rowling (Too commercial? Not heady enough?), author
Spike Woolridge: Billie Joe Armstrong (Green Day); Tony Hawk, pro skater; Steve Jobs, Apple magnate; Jon Stewart, talk show host; Maya Angelou, poet

Spike Woolridge: And, lastly, in some ways I see literature as the new folk music, made for people with the patience for a story, the literati, the educated, and like folk music, cultivating more snobbishness than it reasonably ought to. Guys like Vonnegut and Hunter S. Thompson are great. Klosterman, Vidal, and Chabon too. But in the same way Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby spoke for that era and Kerouac's On The Road spoke for that era, I think Dave Eggers' A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius resonates with this generation, at least those who read it. His other books and social involvement and McSweeneys and so on give him a respectable run at being the voice of our generation. He’s certainly younger than the other authors, so has a better shot at the “string of relevant works.”

Charlie T. Hustle: I could see Klosterman and Eggers, but I don't know if books have the impact that music does. Sure, golf didn't have impact either, but Woods gave it impact. (I haven't read AHWOSG and wonder if I could find five people who have) I think to be truly impacting, the writer would have to bring literature to the forefront…make it something of a phenomenon.
Spike Woolridge: JK Rowling, anyone? Impact is tougher to come by today with so many more outlets for entertainment-- internet, gaming, movies, dvds, amusement parks, texting, IM, iPods, etc
Charlie T. Hustle: Right. That’s why maybe Steve Jobs, Jay Z, Madonna simply have to stay in the mix. Billie Joe Armstrong, though very intriguing, had a shot but hasn't done anything since American Idiot.
Spike Woolridge: American Idiot was protest pop that spoke to people in a mass way, from the kids on up.
Spike Woolridge: I think the cultural impact thing is impossible nowadays--everything's so fractured and, even in music, people are so specifically niched. “Impact” might very well be the hardest of our criteria for someone to crack. To be the New Dylan, you have to be more transcendent.
Charlie T. Hustle: Right...but music was niched then too.
Spike Woolridge: Yes, music was niched, but it was WAY WAY WAY harder to get ahold of. Access was more difficult and there was a lot less of it. Sure, there were folk fans and rock fans and pop fans, but it's so ridiculously subdivided now that somebody can be a HUGE fan of the most obscure little niche subgenre to the exclusion of anything else. Look at the blogs, they hype little bands that will probably never leave the basement as if they were the New Resurrection of Genius.
Spike Woolridge: There has never been SO MUCH music available, which is why, i think we're actually agreeing, a guy like Jay Z or Steve Jobs or Madonna might have the best case.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah, to be a persona like Dylan nowdays, you have to be a truly larger than life persona.
Spike Woolridge: And I wouldn't be so quick to dismiss Billie Joe, because with Dookie he was talking to teenage punk slackers and college kids alike. The breakthrough tells that story. And they’ve had a string of albums that sold well and resonated with a generation that needed something to shout at. Plus the eyeliner.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah he was arguably the strongest voice out of the later punk scene where as Dylan was the strongest voice out of the (later) folk scene. (Apologies to Greg Gaffin, Ian MacKaye and so on).
Spike Woolridge: (Strummer, too, is a notable omission, but the fade and his untimely death didn't help him. Or us.)
Spike Woolridge: Green Day’s next record will settle this, though.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah, he needs one more album, and maybe a bit of a reinvention and if he can give his fans a total middle finger (though maybe Warning or Nimrod was just that) then he has a decent shot.
Spike Woolridge: We agree on Billie Joe then: He's a contender, but he has to make his next punch.

Spike Woolridge: So, the survivors of this round, it seems, would be:
Madonna, Jay-Z, Steve Jobs, Springsteen, Tweedy, and honorable mentions to Klosterman, Eggers, and Billie Joe Armstrong?
Charlie T. Hustle: We never discussed Ryan Adams. I think he’s a wild card here
Charlie T. Hustle: Only misstep = Rock N Roll
Charlie T. Hustle: Got a backing band reinvention with The Cardinals
Spike Woolridge: Right. He has all the prolificity, love/hate relationship with his audience and the media, confidence, quality etc.
Charlie T. Hustle: Prolific, a definite character, a blogger. Not sure if he can be the voice of a generation...but maybe this generation can’t have a unified voice
Spike Woolridge: His inability to self-edit is a weakness, but not overpoweringly so. And he may be TOO steeped in his influences
Charlie T. Hustle: But claims his influences are heavy metal and rap.
Spike Woolridge: There may be some truth to that, but he's not writing songs that go that direction in the least bit.
Charlie T. Hustle: He refuses the label...look at this year’s shenanigans at Telluride.
Spike Woolridge: Yes. Telluride was very punk rock. But, like so many things Ryan Adams does, it was a spot-on impersonation. In this case, an impersonation of Dylan, minus the cultural impact and relevance. Dylan, on the other hand, stopped impersonating Woody pretty early on.
Spike Woolridge: I think the biggest knock against Adams, for me, is how many GREAT albums does he have? Heartbreaker, Pneumonia, Gold is great.
Charlie T. Hustle: Other than Rock N Roll he had a good string. Maybe not quite great like Dylan’s albums.
Spike Woolridge: They’re good and have incredible moments. but i don't think any of them are pantheon, top to bottom. Hold them up against the solidness of Animal Years or The Historical Conquests of Josh Ritter, and the detours on 29 or Cold Roses can get a little weak.
Charlie T. Hustle: See, I think Cold Roses is one of his strongest.
Charlie T. Hustle: But, for example, is Green Day's string greater than Ryan's? Come on. Nimrod? Insomniac? Warning?
Spike Woolridge: Be nice. Warning is good pop
Charlie T. Hustle: I know they are “good”...but pantheon?
Spike Woolridge: You win. I can’t stand behind those Green Day records as a whole, especially in the glaring light of this discussion. Point: Charlie T. So you would say Cold Roses is as solid- consistent to itself- as Blonde On Blonde or even just The Joshua Tree?
Charlie T. Hustle: Not really but maybe as consistent in the change of style as Highway 61 Revisited. Cold Roses could be Ryan’s Highway 61: got a band, went Grateful Dead style, lost some fans, gained others…
Spike Woolridge: Fill in the blank. Highway 61 was emulating _____ as Cold Roses was emulating The Grateful Dead
Charlie T. Hustle: The Stones?
Spike Woolridge: Really? I don't think he was going for the Stones.
Charlie T. Hustle: Maybe not
Spike Woolridge: I'm just trying to get a picture of what the parallel is there
Charlie T. Hustle: Can you think of what he was going for?
Spike Woolridge: I’m not sure either. Who knows?
Charlie T. Hustle: It’s irrelevant, really, because I’m not talking about the emulation part but the change of sound, addition of a band, alienation of fans, lack of care for what the fans thought.
Spike Woolridge: Sure. i can buy that. I think Highway 61 was more of a departure/risk for Dylan than Cold Roses was for Adams, and maybe less obviously derivative, but i can concede Adams as a strong candidate.
Charlie T. Hustle: Okay. So Ryan Adams makes the cut with Madonna, Jay Z, Steve Jobs, Springsteen, Tweedy, Klosterman, Eggers, Billie Joe, Ryan Adams, Ritter?
Spike Woolridge: Ritter has snuck back in. We are both probably suffering from recency and homerism, but i'll keep him..
Charlie T. Hustle: I was just going back through the transcript and you were using him as an example of strong top-to-bottom records, so I figured he was still in.
Charlie T. Hustle: He’s from small town, goes to the city for success
Spike Woolridge: Critical acclaim, that string of albums
Charlie T. Hustle: Is he as big after 5 albums as Dylan was after 5 albums (Bringing It All Back Home was Dylan's fifth)?
Spike Woolridge: Ritter’s case is most weakened by his relative lack of popularity. Most of these will be, though, when contrasted with Dylan But his case is especially tough because Ritter may never be as big as Dylan was at his smallest. Or at least his low periods.
Charlie T. Hustle: Ritter just played with the Boston Pops (sold out).
Spike Woolridge: But isn't Boston his adopted hometown?
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah it is, AND he hasn't had his "Newport Folk Festival"
Spike Woolridge: He can stay in the conversation, but we both know that, at the end of the day, his achilles heels are his lesser popularity and the fact that he's easily the most green on our list. Though he DOES have great Dylanesque hair.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah.
Spike Woolridge: Klosterman and Eggers probably fall next, as much as I'd like to believe that the book can compete. They would speak to a generation if the generation knew how to read.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yep. Could Bill Simmons ( writer and The Black Converse favorite) be Dylan?
Spike Woolridge: Simmons is too cult. Ask somebody "have you heard of Bill Simmons?"
Spike Woolridge: crickets
Charlie T. Hustle: He might be “too cult” but he fits the blogging/internet voice of a generation.
Spike Woolridge: Voice of a market, voice of Boston. I just don't think he's even close to the conversation.
Charlie T. Hustle: The same could be said for Chuck Klosterman, David eggers, Josh Ritter, less so for Ryan Adams and Wilco
Spike Woolridge: Eggers is less provincial-born in Boston, grew up in Illinois, moved to San Francisco.
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah...but to be honest, a year ago I wouldn't have known who Eggers is. But thats the reading aspect again. Since I started reading more I know.
Spike Woolridge: Way to step up to the literacy plate.
Spike Woolridge: I admit Eggers is out (but not more than Simmons is and not without a fight from me-- the fact that he's on Beck and Aimee Mann records is not smalltime. The fact that he has his own volunteer centers across the country is no small deal.)
Charlie T. Hustle: No, that’s true.
Spike Woolridge: That he FOUNDED McSweeney's is huge and that he has organized amazing concerts that draw top drawer acts…
Spike Woolridge: He’s at the bottom of this heavy hitter list, but he has some significance
Charlie T. Hustle: He can stay in...everyone has their hole. It’s going to come down to who's holes are the least important

4th street or E-Street?

Spike Woolridge: The time has come to cut through the crap.
Charlie T. Hustle: Top 3
Spike Woolridge: These honorable mentions are sort of interesting to discuss, but we have to cut.
Charlie T. Hustle: Billie Joe has been the most interesting but hasn't done anything in a few years
Spike Woolridge: Yeah. He’s had more widespread relevance than many.
Spike Woolridge: My Top 3: Springsteen, Jay Z, Madonna. Steve Jobs is #4, interesting for the sake of argument and gets wicked creative/innovation points
Charlie T. Hustle: Springsteen...might be "bigger" than Dylan. Steve Jobs gets the Tiger Woods Factor, the falling apart publicly and storming back a la Time Out Of Mind.
Spike Woolridge: Yeah, and the RABID Apple fans. Imagine the outcry if Jobs pulled a Newport.
Charlie T. Hustle: My 3: Jobs, Springsteen, Jay Z, but none of them have a "Newport." And isn't that part of what makes Dylan Dylan?
Spike Woolridge: Yeah. So Madonna and Jobs stay in there for the time being. Let's talk Springsteen and the HOVA.
Spike Woolridge: Here's why i think Springsteen gets the nod:
Charlie T. Hustle: Okay, shoot. I've got some ammo against but I want to hear your argument
Spike Woolridge: - discovered by the same talent scout (John Hammond) as Dylan was.
- played the Village like it was his home
- talkie, rambly singing in early career
- storyteller first, he's a pantheon writer
- commercial success over a prolonged period of time
- rabid, loyal, time tested fans
- resurrections (can't count him out)
- carries on a tradition, but adds his own thing to it
- speaks for people (in his case, mostly the blue collar world)
- his string of records is indisputably impressive:
meaning The Wild, The Innocent & The E-Street Shuffle-->Born To Run-->Darkness on the Edge of Town-->The River-->Nebraska-->Born In The USA is a formidable run, even for a guy like me who is admittedly not the biggest Boss fan
Charlie T. Hustle: (Born In The USA = 15x platinum, wow. FIFTEEN TIMES.)
Spike Woolridge: :: then the late 80s/early90s gave us Tunnel of Love/Human Touch/Lucky Town/Streets of Philadelphia/Secret Garden era, which has highpoints in spite of some critical backlash
:: and then finally he has Ghost of Tom Joad (which is amazing by any definition)>The Rising (topical, political, of the day)>Devils & Dust (ditto)>The Seeger Sessions (basically Bruce's version of Bob's World Gone Wrong/Good As I Been To You covers records)> and now Magic
Charlie T. Hustle: That is a very similar parallel
Spike Woolridge: There’s more.
Charlie T. Hustle: Can't forget the politicalness of Born In The USA
Spike Woolridge: Exactly
- his refusal to be a political cog---calling out Reagan for misappropriating Born In The USA and then pushing Mondale away when he wanted to capitalize on it.
Charlie T. Hustle: You brought in some things I would have missed.
Spike Woolridge: - but he also showed a sincere willingness to be involved, lending “No Surrender” to John Kerry, pushing the Vote for Change tour, and being involved with Amnesty, Viet Nam protests, the list rolls on.
Charlie T. Hustle: - he is also, like Bob, on the cover of almost every album.
Spike Woolridge: - he laces in lyrics that can be topical, references to current events, political, (admittedly less humorous than Dylan), and is prolific enough
- he passes the songwriter test
- he only really falls short with the Reinvention thing
Charlie T. Hustle: YEAH. And he doesn't have a Newport. And is he a mythical personality?
Spike Woolridge: The Boss is larger than life for sure. He also tours in ways that would be respectable to Dylan's, with a legendary live show that would shake up night-to-night with less reliance on stock setlist.
Spike Woolridge: The question is: who has a Newport? Who else has middle fingered their core audience like that?
Charlie T. Hustle: I don't know...I guess nobody else has really had that and come back from it in the way Dylan did.
Spike Woolridge: The Beatles did smaller evolutions with Rubber Soul, Revolver and Sgt Pepper’s. Radiohead followed OK Computer with Kid A, which may be the closest. The Dixie Chicks sort of alienated country too with the Bush comment. Chris Gaines? My Morning Jacket’s new record?
Charlie T. Hustle: Yeah, aside from the whole "Newport" clause, he has basically paralleled Dylan without being a copycat.
Spike Woolridge: Even a lot of the same influences, just a decade later.
Charlie T. Hustle: Definitely more mainstream, more palatable because he spoke for the working man. But it seems like though Springsteen was the Dylan of the 70’s-80’s…he isn’t the Dylan of today.

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