April 2009

Bob Dylan and the Poetry of the Blues
by Michael Gray
April 6, 2009 Hugh's Room Toronto
A report by David Fujino
Perhaps the ultimate 'Dylan fan', author Michael Gray spoke about Dylan as a great songwriter whose enduring influences often come from the pre-War blues of the 20's and 30's.

For nearly two hours, Mr. Gray shared with us his compendious knowledge and sensible enthusiasm for Dylan.

He divided his recitation into an Acoustic and an Electric section; and in the Acoustic section he played us a fascinating example of a 20 year old Bob Dylan playing harmonica and singing with the recently 'discovered' Big Joe Williams in the blues, "Sitting On Top of The World" on March 1962.

Gray quipped that an older Big Joe Williams was working to sound vibrant, while Dylan was working at singing like he was 'old'.

Then he spoke about the 1964/65 period of Dylan's career as a 'cranking up of his reliance on the blues' as exemplified by the blues heavy recordings "Highway 61" and "Bringin' It All Back Home". These Dylan blues 'you've never heard before, but their words are part of the shared ocean of words that people use in the blues'. Once again, he said, Dylan managed to access the blues and be radical and conservative at the same time.

Gray went on to say, with a chuckle and a smile, that it was so typical — so typical that Dylan would 'go electric' in 1965 right in the middle of the 'folk revival', which tended to believe that acoustic music was inherently the 'better' and more 'natural' and 'politically responsible' music of the two.

So few protesters picked up on the accomplishment in Dylan's personal and original lyrics that lay beyond the electric guitars, and certainly they didn't hear the big influences of Robert Browning and Robert Johnson that keep showing up in Dylan's work, was further information shared by Gray, essentially an ultimate Dylan fan, speaking this night to an audience of appreciative Dylan fans.

But lastly, I'll always have the memory of the DVD selection Gray played for us: Dylan with a punk band performing on March 1994 on the "David Letterman Show".

Letterman was visibly uncomfortable before and after their performance.

We welcome your comments and feedback
David Fujino
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