To my fans and followers”, 13 May 2011
This piece by David Hayes from the UK online publication Open Democracy is well worth reading. Hayes makes the point that the period since the mid 1990's has been among Dylan's most prolific and creative periods. I think he is right.
The media deluge that surrounds his 70th birthday - tributes, articles and profiles galore, new books and new editions of books, career reviews, and countless items in the “Dylan and me” sub-genre - is evidence of this rediscovery of a figure who (it is hard to recall now) was regarded during parts of the 1980s and 1990s as no longer of fresh interest artistically.
In great part the recognition is owed to Dylan’s immense and diverse creative efforts since the late 1990s. The turning-point may have been 1997, when the singer received emergency medical treatment for a serious heart infection. In the same year Dylan issued the first of what would become a series of three acclaimed albums of original songs (Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, Together Through Life).
These alone represent a musical renaissance in terms of the preceding decade. But there have in the post-1997 years also been well packaged compilations and “official” bootlegs of earlier material from his prolific oeuvre (including to date nine volumes of The Bootleg Series, with many live performances and out-takes), and covers (Christmas in the Heart); an astonishing autobiography, Chronicles: Volume One, which seems both to absorb and extend the literary lineages it belongs to, much as his music does; hosting an exuberant weekly radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour, where songs of many styles and periods loosely connected by subject are presented with an inimitable mix of affection, learning and bone-dry wit; having his drawings and paintings exhibited, and reproduced in book form (Bob Dylan: The Drawn Blank Series); and not least a concert schedule often described as the “never-ending tour”, which has seen Dylan perform live around 100 times a year across two decades and forty countries.
Dylan’s appearance in a range of advertisements (for lingerie, cola and cars) has, meanwhile, extended his commercial profile in what would earlier in his career have been unthinkable ways. More beneficial to his artistic reputation has been the work of film directors who have explored his achievement and beguiling persona via documentary (Martin Scorsese’s superb No Direction Home ) and drama (Todd Haynes’s I’m Not There , where six actors portray Dylan at various stages of his life).
All this - and there is both more, and more to come - is enough to make Dylan’s “late period” (assuming he really is mortal) worthy of note as a further rich phase of an already epic journey. This “mature” work also casts a fresh light on his career as a whole, in that the 1960s era of cultural and psychological transformation which his music helped define can now more clearly be seen as but one (albeit the founding and decisive) period in an ongoing achievement of astounding range. The arc of decades now, for example, allows the potent aura of ageless wisdom conveyed by some of the most renowned songs of Dylan’s 20s (Man of Constant Sorrow) to be heard alongside moving reflections on age, change and mortality (Not Dark Yet) composed decades on.
Betsy Bowden, Paul Williams, Greil Marcus and Michael Gray among them, emphasise how important the latter are to any assessment of his musical genius) - is more than ever available to anyone who cares and can afford to explore them.