Folk Philosophy Riffs, Grifters, History Playlist Philosophy

Folk Philosophy Riffs, Grifters, History Playlist Philosophy

Bob Dylan, sing songwriter and Nobel laureate Philosophy, has made an entire career defying expectations. What should one expect from his new work, The Philosophy of Modern Song? First of all, modern song should read as American modern song. Because the majority in the 66 tracks analyzed written by Dylan were American. By modern, we are talking about mid-century, mainly between the 1940s and the 1960s. The stylistically and generally the songs are a mix of all aspects. Of the Great American Songbook, folk and rock’n’roll as well as country and many more.

Also these are the kind of Americana that found on the Dylan’s own recordings. Philosophy is the kind of term that could applied to any publication context and caution the listener. Not to be expecting anything as programmed as, say the story of the development of modern music.

Dylan’s selection of songs creates an atmosphere more than a strategy. The book filled with outlaws, grifters and the gangsters, cowboys and gamblers and con artists. There are some references to hucksters, such as The Colonel Tom Parker (Elvis Presley’s manager). And 19th century performer PT Barnum. And to rubes (or people who easily manipulated). Also, readers, be aware that this book is about modern song on its own definitions.

Bizarre Fictions Philosophy

Every song serves as an opportunity to launch two different types of riffing. There are, firstly, bizarre fictions that have a tangential connection or even at all to the specific song. Though some reconfigure the lyrics from the song they are riffing on. In the third person perspective, these stories are alluring as an individual narrating their dream. Which is (for me) there isn’t much.

With Dylan-esque imagery, these dreamy pieces don’t have the sexiness and music. Naturally from Dylan’s late 60s time however they do have the same semi-prophetic style that blends the mundane with the apocalyptic.

For example the chapter on Everybody Crying for Mercy by jazz and blues singer Mose Allison is sure to please. There are some shocking moments in these works however, they all have an air of AI-generated prose.

Most interesting, however, are the essays that accompany the dreams of the piece. As with the previous pieces, the essays usually tangentially connected to the song they discussing. We get a glimpse of Townes Van Zandt (his family a dream of him becoming an attorney) or the connection with Rosemary Clooney, Armenian folk song and Alvin and the Chipmunks, but the essays more an opportunity for Dylan to reflect (philosophies) about all things from movies as well as polygamy and lemmings as well as on language, history and war. The front cover of this (very elegantly designed and richly illustrated) book aptly states, the human condition.

A Gender Imbalance Philosophy

Similar to the dream pieces these essays are associative and playing with nature, however they are more concerned with providing details. The article of Nina Simone’s Don’t Let Me Misunderstood starts with a discussion of the difficulties that the opening paragraph of the book L’Etranger (by co-author and fellow Nobel laureate Albert Camus) has presented translators

And then into a fascinating historical background of Esperanto and is followed by noteworthy examples of misunderstood language and finally, a brief discussion of Simone’s version of her song. This is a great opportunity to discuss the relationship between interpretation and art. Concerning this topic it’s not a surprise that Dylan would claim to be the mercurial Dylan should assert that

Speaking of Simone the singer is just one female artist featured in this collection. Along with Dylan’s thoughts possibly baiting about the subject of polygamy and feminists and the often misogynistic depictions of women in his dream works climaxing in The Eagles’ Witchy Women It is difficult to know what Dylan does not have an woman problem.

Sexual Sexism

However, as is the case with Dylan it’s difficult to determine how seriously you should take anything he says. Are he riffing on the sexual sexism of his original material or is he simply playing himself? This is reminiscent of the arguments that surround stand-up comedy (that is another source for the term riff.

However, all of this is what makes The Philosophy of Modern Song seem more serious and sombre than it actually is. The book is full of authentic, and well-informed, enthusiasm for some of the songs that are discussed including The Fugs’ CIA Man and the Osborne Brothers’ Ruby.

Are You Mad?, the latter leading to the somewhat surprising, yet not completely absurd, claim the bluegrass genre is “the other side of heavy metal. Dylan is fond of these statements. There are more songs about shoes than there are about hats, pants, and dresses combined. There is nothing scarier than someone earnest in their delusion.

A Lot Of Fun Philosophy

The most enjoyable parts of the book come when you’re part of the joke or when Dylan is hilariously funny. Anyone who is familiar with The Grateful Dead would have to smile at the absurd claim that they’re essentially a dance band. But Dylan has recorded the album along with them maybe Dylan is the what he is doing best. Dylan also has a great comedy side-order that is a bit grumpy and old-man. For example, when it comes to food, he writes that

This observation came drawn from The essay on Cheating’s Heart by Hank Williams. There are many instances of Gerund sing words lacking their terminal g’s within The Philosophy of Modern Song but not just in the context of the song’s title. Elvis (Presley is not Costello) describes himself in the book as backwoods-born but city-living, truck-driving, hip-shaking with a feral whiff of danger. The way that the complicated adjectives are hyphenated indicates that Dylan is having fun with his Gerunds.

The book is primarily about having fun (though the book gets serious when Dylan discusses the dire situation of Native Americans and war). In spite of the over-the-top discussion about this blurb as well as the press release, I was able to have lots of enjoyment (rather than philosophizing) out of this collection.

If anything else, in spite of the gender prejudice the book is an excellent playlist. I can’t think of anyone who doesn’t find some obscure gems. Two of my favorite discoveries came from the latest songs in the book (from between 2001 and 1986) Do Not hurt anymore by John Trudell, and Old Violin by Johnny Paycheck, just two of the many Johns and Johnnies that populate this book.