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After the encounter with rock, folk music was fattened up with electronic technology till, inevitably, the moment for slaughter had to arrive. Lately, a reaction to much of this gadgetry has set in, and there has been a return to simpler sounds. Dylan, who started it all, moved steadily into the furious closeness of Blond on Blond, and then stepped back to the calm of John Wesley Harding. A lot of the hard, driving rock went out of the music, but it left some shiny modernity, enriching the old folk and creating a new style.
Music From Big Pink is the first album release by a little known band that had a big hand in shaping the new music. Sometimes playing as The Crackers, they have been working with Dylan since coming down from Canada three years ago. Music From Big Pink is their own home-grown blend of rock and folk.
The Big Pink sound has rock drums and a bouncy organ, but there's a lot of lyrical piano, and the voice is all folk, sometimes gospel sing-along:
Take a load off Annie
Take a load for free
Take a load o: Annie
And you put the load right on me.
The songs are filled with religious imagery--an inn in Nazareth, a golden calf, Kingdom Come. They are about life and death, and about suffering, but in a light, cheering folk style. In "We Can Talk" the mysteries of life are hidden beneath catchy, gay words.
We can talk about it now.
It's that same old riddle,
Gonna start from the middle.
I'd fix it but I don't know how.
There is some nonsense thrown in:
I'd rather burn in Canada
Than freeze here in the South.
And a touch of wit:
Pushing the eternal plow
Pulling that eternal plow,
We got to find a sharper blade
Or have a new one made.
That's the folk in the music; you take all the things that bother you and sing a song about them, but a happy song.
Or a sad song, like In A Station, with a sweet piano.
Wonder could you ever know me,
Know the reason why I live?
Is there nothing you can show me?
Life seem's so little to give.
It's different from the rock sound, which is more wild and vivid. Two of the songs in Big Pink do have a little bit of anger in them that the others don't have. It is interesting that these are the two written with Dylan. "Tears of Rage" and "This Wheel's on Fire" give a hint of how Dylan got from Blond on Blond to John Wesley Harding.
Both songs are written as stories, but it's hard to get more than a feeling of what they mean. One senses in them that something has changed since Blond on Blond.
We carried you in our arms on Independence Day
Now you throw us all aside and put us all away.
This is not the same Dylan, glorying in the down and out life of the folk singer. He is angry now, weary of wailing about the hard times:
Tears of rage, tears of grief,
Why must I always be the thief?
Come to me now, you know we're so alone,
And life is brief.
The anger comes out more strongly in "This Wheel's on Fire." Again, there is a story, someone to meet again some day, lace to tie in a sailor's knot, but what does it all mean? All we know is
This wheel's on fire, rolling down the road.
Just notify my next of kin,
This wheel shall explode.
In "Blond on Blond" Dylan reached the exhausting limit of rock, but it left him filled with tension. In these two songs he is getting some of the pent-up anger out of his system. He had to make this emotional break with "Blond on Blond" before he could begin to create a new style.
"I Shall Be Released", all Dylan, is like an old time spiritual, the comfort Dylan needed before he could write the far-away, preaching songs of John Wesley Harding.
They say every man needs protection,
They say that every man must fall.
Yet I swear I see my reflection,
Somewhere so high above this wall.
I see my light come shining,
From the West down to the East.
Any day now, any day now,
I shall be released.
For Dylan this song is a transition to a new form, and it fits nicely with the band's own songs. The Big Pink sound is not as glamorous as straight rock, but its simple folk flavor, spiced with a hint of rock, is a welcome change.
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