It’s-a hard to say what will last. Whenever we talk music – or any art, really – we inevitably drift into chatter of timelessness. As if that were something one could perceive! Aren’t there better ways to measure art? It’s really just a gamble, right?

The way I see it, ultimately, it’s up to the broader culture to canonize and maintain; and isn’t that what we’re really talking about when we talk about timelessness – the stuff that makes the cut, the stuff that’ll survive? (I’ve been persuaded, of course, to Dave Hickey’s point of view: that people don’t create art, the culture does.) In these terms, here’s what it boils down to: survival, for a work of art, merely means that the culture forces itself to remember you. And that’s kind of depressing, when you think about.

The real trouble: while it’s not quite an arbitrary process of selection and rejection (though it usually seems to be), there’s plenty of work which has – for lack of a better expression – the potential for timelessness, just not the good fortune. In other words, worthy art falls by the wayside – missing out on the broader recognition it deserves – every single day. That’s probably why we say shit like “she was so ahead of her time.” (Why are we so obsessed with time, anyway? Anybody?)

Somewhat begrudgingly, I’ll submit – or admit, I’m not sure which – that when it comes to Bob Dylan, timelessness is kind of a given. He’s one of the few modern songwriters to, for instance, have his lyrics included in a Norton Anthology – and if that’s not what canonization looks like, then I probably don’t know what I’m talking about. Stop reading now! But you know, there’re times (can’t avoid that word, can I?) when I’ll listen to this guy and feel like people are digging him for all the wrong reasons.

Bob Dylan – “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”

This song has everything to do with it. People always get bowled over by those lyrics, lyrics which Allen Ginsberg thought signified a passing of the torch (to paraphrase); what with Dylan’s “skeins of bright images” (Ginsberg again) just bubbling up, up, up. But you know what? I never get around to slowing the song down enough to find out if the words are all that great. Maybe I would if I ever listened to the original version, from The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan. But I fell for this version, culled from Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue, and... well...

... can’t get up, man.

And I’m bowled over not so much by the sermon, but the sermonizing, if you can follow me. Which is more powerful? And who’s got the better approach to the medium: the listener who fawns over the words, or the one who’s obliterated by the sound? Maybe a better question is: does the fire and brimstone, the sheer juggernaut force of this live version, pummel the original?

Well, um, fuck yes it does. End of story.

So – what’s gonna last? You tell me. But I probably won’t hear you, being stuck inside this tornado and all. (In other words: regardless of what will last, THIS TOTALLY SHOULD.)


Post-script: I could have written a much better post, could have said so much more about this song. (That bassline! It doesn’t walk, it kicks! Like a goddamn mule!) Oh well. Live and learn.


Clay B. said...

I like the original version better!

Tyler said...

Here's a hint: LISTEN LOUDER!!