Track 6. Most of the Time
Oh Mercy man, Oh Mercy is one hell of an album. It set the Dylan parameter for me when I was in the initial phases of getting hooked. Bob Dylan was the 60’s icon, world changer, but he was also the guy who did Man in the Long Black Coat, Ring Them Bells and Most of the Time. Same guy, different universes. One of my favorite writers / bloggers is a guy named James Howard Kunstler, his main thing is architectural aesthetics and peak oil. His book The Geography of Nowhere is an insightful read about the development of American Suburbia focusing on the power plays of the automobile industry. He can be a grump ass about things (his weekly update is called Clusterfuck Nation) but I buy what he is selling usually.
On his website he reviews Chronicles Volume I (Bob’s self penned sort of autobiography) and in it he states the following:
“And by that, I include the possibility that he saw the danger of becoming a fraud, of slipping across a frontier into self-parody and baroque pretentiousness, which was almost the case with his 1966 magnum opus Blonde on Blonde. And after that Bob Dylan kind of flamed out.
It was one of the longest swan songs in the history of any art. He continued to produce an impressive stream of recordings for nearly forty years after that. The first of these, John Wesley Harding, was in its own right a perfect statement of Dylan's predicament and an appropriate announcement of his resignation from the post of generational bard. "Dear Landlord, please don't put a price on my soul. . . ." It contained one great song ("All Along theWatchtower"), and some pretty good songs ("I Dreamed I Saw Saint Augustine"), but the mystical language now seemed forced (e.g. "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest"). The kernal of Dylan's genius, his supernatural conviction in his own doings, had cracked for good. Perhaps that conviction had been part of the act, too, but if it was, he had pulled it off masterfully for a decade. The many albums that followed were not devoid of interesting and sometimes even moving songs. Here and there the ghost of the old spark flashed. But after 1970, something essential was missing.”
It is this type of perspective that really makes me glad that I was born and got into Dylan long after that 60’s explosion. This is a common viewpoint, a pigeonhole, that you can understand if you lived when this stuff was hitting the shelves. It is that “back in my day (insert anything) was better”. I came from a place where in the same six months I took in Just Like a Woman, I Believe In You, Song to Woody, and Most of the Time all together. My evaluation of Dylan was on the whole, not based on my opinion of the previous. And for this review Kunstler is just wrong. Oh Mercy, not just a song but the whole record, should never on any planet be lumped into the category of a swan song. It is different, for sure, BUT JUST AS HEAVY, VITAL and MIND BLOWING.
When Springsteen inducted Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame he mentions that Dylan was unjustly placed in his own shadow and that if anyone out there was writing Every Grain of Sand or Sweetheart Like You they would be calling him the next Dylan. I nod my head in agreement Springsteen.
Kunstler concludes his review by stating with certainty that history will judge Dylan as the most important artist of his generation. What I have issue with is that “my generation” ownership label. I believe that Dylan is America’s Shakespeare and that history will prove him to be the most important artist since the formation of our country and this is due in large part to the entirety of his work. To go back to a previous thought he is the same guy who wrote Visions of Johanna AND Most of the Time (Not to mention the ridiculous roll he has been on since World Gone Wrong).
Oh Mercy is off the board. Slow tear falls for Ring Them Bells, Political World, Disease of Conceit, Man in the Long Black Coat, Shooting Star, What Good Am I?, Where Teardrops Fall.