I am genuinely thrilled to announce that today is the long-awaited publication date for THERE, I SAID IT: Bob Dylan Is Overrated (and a few other carefully considered objections to the greatest musicians of all time).
It’s available in paperback and Kindle versions, right here and right now. Please buy many copies, give them as holiday gifts to your music-loving friends and loved ones, and watch their faces light up with joy as they thumb through the pages. No, seriously: do.
For those of you who have just arrived at this blog post-election (first of all, welcome!), please think of THERE, I SAID IT as a much-needed bathroom break from today's political sturm und drang. As the great man once said, we are gathered here today to get through this thing we call life. So while I'm all about plumbing the depths of our collective fear and anxiety, this week I'm going to take a bit of a break from all that, and celebrate a bona fide triumph of creativity, collaboration, and friendship.
THERE, I SAID IT is a book of essays, beautifully and hilariously written by many of my most talented friends and show business colleagues, each of whom has a gripe about one of the Greatest Musicians of All Time: I Don't Get It.
This book started as an innocuous Facebook post, in which I confessed my total and lifelong emotional resistance to any and all things Bob Dylan. I asked my Facebook friends to tell me their “blind spot”: who's that legendary artist that you just don’t get?
The post proceeded to explode, with 275 comments about almost every musical giant under the sun. Sensing that the subject had touched a nerve of sorts, I asked a few of my friends to expand on their thoughts in personalized essays. I have the great fortune of being friends with some pretty wildly talented creative people, including Saturday Night Live contributors, Hollywood screenwriters, Emmy-Award-winning producers, professional musicians and actors...as well as a bunch of folks who work outside the arts, but who can write brilliantly. The book grew from there, with superb essays about The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Carole King, Billy Joel, you name it. (Here’s a longer version of the book’s origin story.)
But enough looking backwards! Today is one of those incredibly rare days in showbiz, an actual release date. Let us celebrate this delicious occasion in the only way Americans know how, with credit card numbers and Facebook mentions.
In all seriousness for a moment - I and my fellow co-authors would genuinely love and appreciate your help in promoting this book. This is a handmade, indie effort all the way, deeply dependent on the proverbial kindness of strangers. We would be most grateful for your postings, likes, retweets, emails, skywritings, and ravens.
Here's the link to the Amazon page one last time, for easy cutting and pasting right into the gift-buying craw of your social network:
And your feedback is welcome! In the comments here, on Facebook and Twitter (follow the book on both!) ...if I've learned one thing making this book, it's that everyone has SOMEONE they just don't get...and they love talking about it. My co-authors and I would love to hear your gripe - as well as your pushback on OUR gripes. Fire away.
Lastly, I want to thank my amazing co-authors, who not only wrote a book's-worth of brilliant, personalized gems, but who endured with unending patience my procrastination and cluelessness as I wheezingly labored to bring this book to life. I am genuinely honored to have you as my friends and creative collaborators. And I’m profoundly moved that we have made this memento together.
Here’s an excerpt from the book, below: my Bob Dylan essay. Thanks again, all! Stuff yer stockings!
Bob Dylan by Joshua Shelov
OK so Bob Dylan.
As I mentioned in the introduction, this is not a hate book. This is a series of personal confessions. This essay is not about Bob Dylan: it’s about me, and my attempt to understand why I have never in my life, not for a single three-minute stretch of his music, loved Bob Dylan.
The irony here is thick. I am the eldest child of two boomers, both of them no-nukes hippie-peaceniks. My taste was born in their record collection, a steady spin of not just ’60s music but ’60s folk music. My dad literally PLAYED THE BANJO. To have grown up in a family that loved Pete Seeger and Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and Tom Lehrer, brainy/soulful issues- oriented singer-songwriters who hoisted their lyrics like picket signs, musicians I continue to love to this day...I mean, it is downright bizarre that I have never gone through a single legit Bob Dylan phase.
But it’s true. He has kept me at an unrelenting distance. And I, in turn, him.
Well, look, it ain’t complicated. It starts and ends with the Occam’s Razor knock against Bob Dylan, which is that he is a flat-out terrible singer. A drowning cat. A mewling goat. The pitiful creature Gollum, choking on a leash of elvish rope.
That’s pretty much it. I don’t like Bob Dylan because he doesn’t sing well.
But OK, fine, since you’ve got me thinking about this, I guess it goes a little bit deeper than that.
Let me break it down into two sub-categories. The first one being: my ears.
My ears are Beatles ears. They are melody ears, harmony ears. On the great sugar-salt spectrum of rock ’n’ roll appreciation, I am sugar all the way. Even within the friendly confines of the Beatles oeuvre, I’m inclined towards the Paul stuff, which is of course not merely sweet but like walking-past-the-Cinnabon sweet. I like me some John and George, sure (especially You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away), but for my money the height of the Beatles reputation rests on Paul’s Greatest Hits: Yesterday, Eleanor Rigby, Blackbird, Penny Lane, Michelle, The Fool On The Hill, For No One, Fixing A Hole...the epicenter of my taste is the Pauliest of the Paul stuff, the songs where George Martin’s layering-on of strings feels not treacly but perfect.
So, these are the ears that “HOOOWWWWWW does it FEEEEUUUUHHHLLL” is landing on.
The second, more complicated factor, is about the type of terrible singer Bob Dylan is.
It’s that he kind of wants to be terrible.
The way I hear it, Dylan’s famously contrarian attitude contorts his singing voice to be worse than it actually is. Which was not very good to begin with.
He’s kind of trying to suck. I think that’s a big part of my problem.
Now, for what it’s worth, I think his trying-to-suck is also a significant part of his appeal. When he sings, Bob Dylan is kind of communicating to his fans, fuck you for listening. And people - O, ye legion of Dylanites - you lap that shit up. You love Dylan’s whole Garbo thing, the way he gave the finger to his loyal folkies by plugging in at the Newport Folk Festival. You love giving him your love, and you love him recoiling from your love.
Now look, I’m all about an artist experimenting, growing, refusing to rest on his laurels. As an isolated incident, I applaud Dylan for ditching acoustic at the height of his Acoustic Godhead period. But with Dylan, there’s something deeper at work. There’s a personal elusiveness that crosses over into affront: a contempt for anyone and everyone around him. You know what I’m talking about. It’s that willful, you’re not allowed to know me, no one can know me, I’m going to stay out of sight not only artistically, but physically, emotionally.
And I think that this DNA-level perpetual fuck you is the thing that pushes me away, much more than, say, other non-melodically-gifted singers like Springsteen and Tom Waits and Leonard Cohen, R.I.P.
Cohen is a perfect counter-example. He can’t sing particularly well. He’s kind of gravelly and workmanlike and flat. But he is exceedingly clear. Cohen spends years honing his hyper-literate, poetic lyrics. And when he sings, you are damn well going to understand those lyrics.
Cohen’s clarity is an aperture. It lets you in. A Leonard Cohen song is a strange, mysterious journey. But you are on the train with him.
I’ve been trying to climb aboard the Bob Dylan train forever. I’ve turned on Blood on the Tracks and Highway 61 Revisited, uninterrupted, good sound system. I have stood on the platform and waited, ticket in hand.
But when that train starts pulling in - when Bob Dylan starts singing - I swear to God I feel like the conductor is literally kicking me, beating me back onto the platform.
Dylan is probably the most respected lyricist of the 20th century. He has written lyrics that have literally been deemed worthy of the Nobel Prize in Literature. And yet with his performance, he seems determined to obscure them. He stabs at them, slashes at them, throws them away.
I don’t want my favorite artists’ messages spelled out. I love ambiguity. All I want is what they’re going after. I’m just happy to be along for the ride.
But with Bob Dylan, it’s like...well, off he goes, I guess. I’m ditched. Back at the station.