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Dylan After '80


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Dear Bill Wyman:

I just wanted to register my disappointment with your Dylan review (1/14/94).

The review of the album was insightful, but your depiction of the man as a "boring . . . irrelevant . . . indifferent . . . " marginal has-been whose musical senses are long gone and hasn't produced memorable work in 20 years is shocking to hear from a serious critic.

I suggest you reevaluate, at the very least, Infidels, Oh Mercy and disc three of The Bootleg Series. 1983 was as prolific a year for Dylan as any since 1967, and his work in many ways more compelling. Far from having to turn to external sources to bemoan a "world gone wrong," the tracks on Infidels and the seven or so that eventually turned up on The Bootleg Series are the work of a man with a profound (albeit disturbing) vision. The songs are finely constructed, the melodies durable, and the supple rhythms provided by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare subtly intensify the mood. Dark and brooding may not be your favorite Dylan incarnation, but he's an artist to be reckoned with on those terms.

"Blind Willie McTell" is not the work of a man going through the motions.

Alright, that was ten years ago. But Empire Burlesque was a fine album, and Oh Mercy (and its outtake, the turbulent "Series of Dreams") represents another return to form, with ringing melodies and knowing production by Daniel Lanois.

I guess if you follow "transcendent" art with that which is merely "great" (though again, "McTell" clearly falls in the former category), "great" pales. Particularly when the artist is communicating an unpopular message. (I think there's a parallel between Dylan's and Mark Twain's career in this regard.) If Dylan's after-'80 output had been the work of a newcomer, I think that person would have made history.

Thanks for listening, Bill.

Martin P. Fox

N. Burling


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