Monday 23 May 2011

My Back Pages, day 1

Recently I've been using this blog to try and work out my crazy. In a way it worked, because I'm now feeling significantly less crazy. I'm not going to dwell any more on why this is, but you know. Thank you.

Instead, I thought it might be a nice project to try and restore this blog to some sort of normalcy, where creativity is given more of a free rein and my personal insecurities are pushed deep, deep down inside. My chosen topic for a week of posts is one I've touched on once or twice but never really expanded. Indeed, I have probably promised to expand on it on several occasions but I never have. Luckily, I am not a liar because I now am.

I don't think you should never meet your heroes. I think people will always appear all the more heroic for you knowing them better, finding out what makes them tick, their story. All of my heroes except one are people I know and, therefore, have met. I'm not going to name them here. Bad luck, nosey parkers. I will, however, say who the exception to the rule is, and that's Bob Dylan.

It's Bob Dylan's 70th birthday this week, so no doubt the internet will be inundated with all sorts of retrospectives and thoughtful essays about his contributions to music and to modern culture. These are all likely to be a lot more informative than this. But I'm not really aiming for any purpose greater than to talk about five of my very favourite Dylan songs. If you learn anything or are inspired by it at all, it will be a bonus. But one for which I'd never dream of taking any credit.

Today's choice is Let Me Die In My Footsteps. It will probably be the shortest write up, but what more do you want? I've already given you introductory paragraphs. You're judging me on WORD COUNT now?

A quick aside. I'm hoping, where possible, to provide a YouTube clip of the song in these posts. However, none are available of the original recording for this first selection, and cover versions of Dylan songs almost always miss the point. Yes, he's not a singer. But no-one else comes near in terms of intonation, conviction or rhythm. This is never more evident than for songs like Let Me Die In My Footsteps, part of his early output of "protest songs" (a nomenclature Dylan himself has always disputed). Show me a "good" singer tackling a song like Blowin' In The Wind and it will put me to sleep. When sung by Dylan, these words in these songs are like nails being relentlessly hammered down, one after another after another. It's what they're meant to sound like.

Anyway. To Let Me Die In My Footsteps. It's one of the very first songs Dylan ever wrote, and for me still one of the very best. It comes from early in 1962 and didn't appear on any official release until The Bootleg Series vol. 1-3 emerged in 1991.

It's a song about human dignity in the face of technological might, inspired by Dylan watching sharky businessmen hawking nuclear fallout shelters door-to-door and their adverts appearing all over the press. Other songs from later in that same year, pre- and post-Cuban Missile Crisis such as Masters of War find Dylan in a far more combative mood. In Footsteps, however, he is restrained and resignedly dignified. It is a monumental achievement by a man barely out of his teens.

To try and examine it further would be to negate its eloquence, so I will instead just point you to the lyrics of the song here.

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