Friday, August 28, 2009

28. Bob Dylan "Thunder on the Mountain" (2006)

Bob Dylan has famously, and repeatedly, claimed that he is not the Voice of a Generation, but "merely" a Song and Dance Man. Given the remarkable richness of his oeuvre, and the extraordinary influence of his music (only rivaled by the Beatles), fans have understandably bristled at the notion that his music is anything less than art, with a capital A.

But, it's a false dichotomy. Let's take Dylan at his word, since he has no reason to employ false modesty. Accept that he intends to write popular music. Does that prevent the listener from evaluating the product as art?

Fundamentally, "Thunder on the Mountain" is a standard twelve-bar shuffle. It substitutes a chorus for lively musical interludes from his touring band, his best since he was backed by the Band. (The truncated version below removes most of these interludes, and a few verses.) In another era, or some alternate universe, it would be considered a dance song. It aims to please, and boy does it ever.

The inventiveness of the rhyme, not the music, provides the song's primary hook. In this sense, Dylan's music is closer to rap than rock (or even folk). The rhyme structure is a standard AABB quatrain. But, he uses this simple form to heighten the virtuosity of his rhyme:

Thunder on the mountain, fires on the moon
There's a ruckus in the alley and the sun will be here soon
Today's the day, gonna grab my trombone and blow
Well, there's hot stuff here and it's everywhere I go

I was thinkin' 'bout Alicia Keys, couldn't keep from crying
When she was born in Hell's Kitchen, I was living down the line
I'm wondering where in the world Alisha Keys could be
I been looking for her even clear through Tennessee

Feel like my soul is beginning to expand
Look into my heart and you will sort of understand
You brought me here, now you're trying to run me away
The writing's on the wall, come read it, come see what it say

Bob Dylan is a Song and Dance Man making Art. No contradiction here.

Click here to view the entire list.