Tuesday, August 14, 2007

House of the Rising Sun

(photo by Flickr user "Naked_Eyes")

The whole first album ("Bob Dylan" 1962) is a kind of supernova, with Dylan announcing himself, absolutely bursting with self-confidence. Cocky and self-aware about how overflowing with talent he is. This album is one of the most obvious in that regard.

It's mostly "cover" songs, but as a lot of people have pointed out, plagiarism is one thing and transformation is something else; the "Master Thief" meme turns up later overtly in Dylan's work. He certainly "knows the (his) song well before (he) starts singing."

Dylan 'borrowed'  some of the style and technique he used on "House of the Rising Sun" from a guy called Dave van Ronk. Once the album came out, Van Ronk couldn't play it anymore without being accused of ripping off Dylan. The punchline: "The Animals" had a number one hit with it two years later ('64) and Dylan couldn't play it anymore without being accused of ripping off the Animals...

On the Scorsese documentary (No Direction Home), Van Ronk relates how Dylan told him in passing that he had gotten a chance to cut a record with a big label: Colombia Records, and decided on the spot to include the song. "Uh, Bobby, I was planning on putting it on my album," Van Ronk answered. Dylan says,  "Oh. Sorry."

I wonder if, but doubt whether (whether/if), Van Ronk is one of the people targeted in "Positively 4th Street."


This is one of the songs people should hear if they don't think Dylan can (could, in his prime) sing.

The energy, the passion, the youth, the emotion, are overwhelming.

At the same time, there's the occasional flourish on the guitar _ just a pause really _ that reminds you of how alert he's being about the technique, timing and the storytelling, as he pours out the emotion. Control within abandon.

A slow build of suspense to a screaming

What a song.

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