May 2023

Bob Dylan's The Philosophy Of Modern Song

Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott

Many years ago, Johnny Cash compiled a list of one hundred essential country songs. It was intended for his daughter Roseanne who went on to become a famed country artist in her own right. She has shared some of those songs down through the years – most notably The List in 2009. However, she has held most of the songs her father passed down to her close to the vest for some reason. Cash wanted to provide a musical foundation and expand her knowledge of country music. The songs that she ended up recording were classic country covers performed originally by Jimmie Rodgers, The Carter Family, Don Gibson, Ray Price, Lefty Frizzell, and Patsy Cline.

While Cash's list was intended to be more provincial, Bob Dylan, in his new book The Philosophy of Modern Song, wants to let us all in on what he considers "essential songs."  He started working on the book back in 2010. The genesis for the book no doubt began with Dylan's stint as a host for Theme Time Radio in 2006. He covered assorted topics like weather, whiskey, coffee, and baseball in a song. In that role, he served as curator, commentator, critic, and comedian.

The book consists of sixty-six essays about a particular song and the artist who performed it. Being a songwriter's songwriter, Dylan naturally includes those who penned the song. He dedicates the book to the great Doc Pomus who wrote numerous hit songs that spanned several genres. He also thanked the crew at Dunkin Donuts. Who knew the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature recipient was a loyal customer? Or maybe he is just putting us on. While Cash focused on country, Dylan includes jazz, big band, blues, rock, folk, bluegrass – you name it, in his list. But like Cash, Dylan believes that music should be an active experience – not a passive one, not background music playing in an elevator. Let the music wash over you, inform you, bathe you in spirituality, and yes at times sensuality.

His writing style for this book seems to mimic his speaking style. It is alliterative, rat-a-tat-tat, staccato, stream of consciousness flowing into a mysterious river draining into an even more mysterious sea. The songs he writes about for the most part span the 1950's through the 1980's. I am assuming to him the period is "modern". As you read it, you join him as he muses, illuminates, pontificates, and makes his case because the songs he mentions will stand the test of time. Dylan, who throughout his lengthy career cared little about what the critics and even his fans thought about him. But you get the powerful sense from reading this book, that he wants us to care about these songs like he does.

Perhaps you have your own list of essential songs. If you do, pass them on to the people who mean the most to you. Perhaps their eyes will glaze over or maybe just maybe they will embrace the list and songs the way you have.


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Les Marcott | Scene4 Magazine | www.scene4.com

Les Marcott is a songwriter, musician, performer and a Senior Writer and columnist for Scene4.  For more of his commentary and articles, check the Archives.

©2023 Les Marcott
©2023 Publication Scene4 Magazine





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