Monday, December 24, 2007

No. 291: The Basement Tapes

Band: Bob Dylan and The Band
Album: The Basement Tapes
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: Um... People love this album...
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: ... But I hate it. It's a bad facsimile of folk music.
Best song: Bah, whatever.
Worst song: See above.
Is it awesome?: Nope.

There is probably no truer Boomer masturbatory exercise on this list than this album. Like all things Dylan, "The Basement Tapes" falls somewhere within "is it genius or just plain weird" continuum. Sadly, for the project

But, the simple fact that there was an absolutely clamoring for this record when it came out is a testament to the unbridled love for all things Dylan, quality be damned.

Let's explain a little:

The songs were recorded in 1967 while Dylan was recovering from a motorcyle accident. The Band was there with him and both outfits wanted to mimick old American folk music. The recordings were mainly for themselves, but slowly, bootlegs of the sessions trickled out into the world. Because Dylan was bigger than Jesus in the late '60s, the bootlegs made their way around the Dylan fandom. The label (and presumably the artists) wanted to cut some of that off at the past, and released it as a double album.

The album's lovers will say that it's the best of both worlds. The Band's Americana coupled with Dylan's lyrics make for a great approximation (and update) of the folk music that defined America earlier in the century.

I, on the other hand, would suggest it to be a Disney version of folk music. Let me explain.

Twentieth century French philosopher Jean Baudrillard has written extensively about America and their love of "manufactured reality." It's basically the concept of symbolism on a grand scale. Disneyland's Main Street is the great example of something that isn't real, but is a symbol of something (the small town) that actually exists and has some value.

The folk music of the early-mid 20th century has a great deal of value. It was the culture of the underclass and reflected many things about said class. When Dylan and the Band -- both artists of huge repute and success -- try to emulate that life, it stops being a reflection and simply a copy of something. It's the dark side to post-modernism.


If course, I'm not the person to talk to about this stuff. I started this project as an anti-Boomer thing. Robert Christgau, who I admire, loves the album:

We needn't bow our heads in shame because this is the best album of 1975. It would have been the best album of 1967 too. And it's sure to sound great in 1983. A+

So, Christgau likes it. But, I don't.

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