Sunday, May 18, 2008

Bob Dylan

Possibly, many of ours interest started to grow about Bob Dylan after the arrival of Kabir Suman (then Chatterjee) in the Bengali music milieu. Before that, Paul Robson, Pete Seeger and Harry Belafonte were the only three American singers known within the circles of progressive minded Kolkata youths, not only for their music in particular but also because for their leftist inclination. In the introductory Marxist days, IPTA songs was the one and only window for progressive leftist music. For obvious reasons Bob Dylan was never an icon with the official communist cultural front where Robeson of Seeger was much accepted. Belafonte was introduced, courtesy Hemanga Biswas, for his version of John Henry, which became highly popular in those days. A foreign name was always more stimulating to the post-colonial temperament of the educated middle-class youth. It was even the same while listening to music that expressed solidarity with the oppressed.

Suman arrived with his gaan like a fresh breeze in the early nineties. He brought with him the new style of one-man performance, ruling the stage alone with a guitar and mesmerizing the audience by his lyrics with a new vocabulary of poetic expression. He also brought the essence of Blowin’ in the Wind with him. Suddenly many discovered Bob Dylan and subsequently whoever seriously looked into Dylan became instantly addicted. However, the official left had its own problems to admit him. But, honestly speaking, they couldn't ignore him either.

It was initially difficult to appreciate Bob Dylan’s music by an Indian ear. The main obstacle was his accent; in many of his songs, it was almost impossible to follow the words, which is the core of his repertoire. There was no Internet then like today, when any Dylan lyric is a mouse click away. Therefore, only a handful of his songs were repeatedly listened to comprehend their essential value. Songs are generally popular for its melody and rhythm. Who really cared for the lyrics? Bob Dylan is unique here because the mainstay of his music is the lyrics he writes.

Today when one listen his songs, it feels amazing to find how Dylan really sang them. It is the quality of a sheer genius to convert those complicated poetic words into a beautiful song. The intense surrealistic imagery of these lyrics combined with a distinct outlook about this somewhat weird world caught up the imagination of a whole generation. His major works, surrounded with a deep mysterious sensitivity, which is one of the most important conditions of pure art, made many of his admirers’ baffled. When Nat Hentoff asked Dylan in the 1966 Playboy interview, what his songs are about, Dylan’s legendary answer was, “…some are about four minutes; some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven.”

In the same interview, Dylan stated that he does not believe that songs can change people. He was wrong.