D is for Dylan – Lost in the Eighties

Friday 20th February

The Eighties weren’t kind to Dylan, or to many of the giants of the Sixties – McCartney, The Stones and The Who all struggled for an identity – as too did many Seventies Icons such as Rod and Elton.  Maybe it was the advent of synthesizers, or the technical advances in production, with artists often taking a year or longer to record an album, which used to be done in a couple of days two decades ago.  Also Dylan was getting older, in his forties now and he was constantly touring with various different musicians, including Tom Petty and Paul Simon and even The Grateful Dead.  His sorties into the studio tended to be hurried and he seemed to just want to get the record done and get back on the road – contractual obligation rather than artistic achievement.  But even among the pretty poor records there were gems such as Brownsville Girl and Dark Eyes, but often only a single good song on a whole record.  Also Dylan Live was pretty dire too; he constantly re-arranged the chords and even the melodies of his greatest hits so that attending a concert became a slog, sitting there and trying to guess what song Dylan was mauling this time.  The surprising thing was that no matter how bad the records or the live concerts his popularity kept growing, as new generations discovered and revered him.  The nineties were almost as bad and he released two albums of obscure old folk songs with no self-penned songs at all.  The only decent record he made was “Oh Mercy”, where his latest producer Daniel Lanois went to ridiculous lengths to make Dylan comfortable, and toiled away for weeks until he almost dragged a great record out of our hero.  Dylan’s response was to straight away record another crap album, and it would be ten years until he chose Lanois again.  Were the eighties just another attempt by Dylan to lose his audience, or was he truly lost himself?  Who knows?  Being Bob Dylan was now a lifetimes job, weaving the mystique, never letting anyone too close, and his voice too seemed to get worse as he got older.  Then around halfway through the nineties he suddenly seemed to rediscover his muse….