In which is related an interview with Nathan Vogt by William Sidney Parker treating upon their decades-long argument and in which they did not get grumpy. This time.

SID: I just don't like Dylan. Let's just, let’s just put it like that. I don't like Dylan.

NATHAN: Ok, so, so you’re just

SID: And it’s not

NATHAN: so you’re just

SID: and it’s not

NATHAN: so you’re just laying it down. You're just throwing down the gauntlet.

SID: Right. But.

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: No. I’m gonna heavily caveat that.

NATHAN: “I don’t like Dylan”.

SID: I'm gonna heavily caveat that, however,

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: very much understand that Dylan is very important.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: And is a uh a seminal figure in pop culture and literature etcetera and

NATHAN: Right.

SID: song writing and performance etcetera.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: In other words most people have a visceral appreciation for, for Dylan. I don't.

NATHAN: Yep.

SID: Um,

NATHAN: Right.

SID: what I’m trying to do is carve out a way in which, like, is there a way to describe why Dylan is superlative, why he is important, why he is is a great, where you wouldn't confuse him with, for instance, a a great singer of, you know like an Ella Fitzgerald? So is there a way

NATHAN: Right.

SID: to distinguish between an Ella Fitzgerald and a Bob Dylan--as singers?

NATHAN: Right.

SID: And yet still get it across that they’re both seminal, uh, great with a capital G, historical

NATHAN: Right, right.

SID: historical figures.

NATHAN: Well, let me

SID: So

NATHAN: let me say let me say one thing about your caveat, which is that um you are not, uh, I wouldn't isolate yourself too much here because first of all Dylan's, you know, voice and his vocal style,

And I think it's probably better to call it a vocal style, you know, because it's a little bit more than just his voice um which he could deploy in other ways and and has tried to actually.

If you listen to like his country album from the late sixties, Nashville Skyline, he sings like a country singer and uses what is still a fairly unusual and some would say strange voice to very different effect, you know it’s a much more country style and he puts a lot more sort of twang and kinda swing into it. And it's actually quite good because he's got kind of a powerful voice. Tonally it’s sorta weird.

But, um, so anyway, so I would say, you know, you would a a lot of people don't like Dylan's voice and his vocal style or his style of singing--the one he

SID: Right.

NATHAN: typically uses.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: And. And I think what a, what a, some people, and you you know you may not not be one of them, but our friend Robyn and I have this argument and she's always beating me up about it, but “he's just a horrible singer

SID: Right.

NATHAN: and should never you know and really should just be considered just a song writer.” You know, so like one of the guys who hangs out and drinks around Nashville’s you know Music Row and, uh, is only, is is only useful as a singer insofar as he records his uh songs so that someone else can hear how, hear them, and then sing them the way they should be singing. So she wants to sorta reg- relegate Dylan to that stature, you know what I mean?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: “He’s just a song writer uhhh and a poet and no one should ever hear him.”

SID: [Laughs] Right. [Laughs]

NATHAN: [Laughs] You know? [Laughs]

I mean, that that’s, and that I don’t think that’s that uncommon. There's a lot of people who, you know, I mean, mainstream radio listeners, I think of which you are not one,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: who probably have different reasons. And I think to a lot of people the Dylan sound is not so pretty

SID: Right.

NATHAN: So anyway that that's my

SID: Well, and that’s

NATHAN: sense of your position. Yes?

SID: Right. And one thing we should think about maybe, maybe not yet, is uh, that we should come back to is, um, you know, do we want to separate Dylan's--well, I think I think we do--do we want to separate Dylan's voice from, you know, the greatness of Dylan? Like do we do we want to make an apologia for Dylan's

NATHAN: Right.

SID: voice being great?

NATHAN: Right.

SID: And

NATHAN: So this is where

SID: I think you’re

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: unique in being a Dylan fan in that, yes, you do.

NATHAN: Who? I do?

SID: Yeah. Like you,

NATHAN: Oh, no, I don't.

SID: Oh you don't. Okay.

NATHAN: No. And that’s actually my case is that, I hope I think this is my case, that while it's really tempting, because I think, one thing you can just sort of, I think most people are going to put Dylan as a creative talent and a writer, and, you know, like a writer who sounds good on the page, right? as a poet. Because people try to do that, too, right? They just say, they just say he's just a great poet. I don't agree with that. But I think a lot of people, most people who pay attention to music would put Dylan in a pretty small pantheon of pop, rock, you know, music creative musical creative forces of the last 50 years. You know what I mean?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: You just can’t get away from it because, even if you just take account of the number of people who have recorded his songs.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: Now, you could take the number of people who have recorded his songs as an argument for saying well that's because he did them so badly himself, or or or they sounded so bad. Or because they’re they’re they’re stuffed you know like a Shakespeare play, because there's so much fertile ground there that you can make so much of a song.

And you know do a Jimi Hendrix version of All Along the Watchtower which Dylan recorded as a single guitar voice folk song or you know you can take the Peter Paul and Mary version of Blowin' in the Wind or the

SID: Right.

NATHAN: the Bryd’s version of Mr. Tambourine Man and say well, those have turned into beautiful pop songs.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: Now the question is, are those, are those better than the ones Dylan did? And I think that's sort of where you get into the, what kind of Dylan fan are you? You know? Are you the kind that says yes, but truly, in 1965, no one else was writing songs like that, you know? The Beatles were writing three-minute pop ditties and Love Me Do, and Dylan was writing, you know, this six-minute Like a Rolling Stone, which liberally mocks, right? and almost didn't get him played on FM radio but somebody might say, well, yeah it was a great song but I wish somebody else had sung it. You know?

SID: Well,

NATHAN: But I

SID: You know what?

NATHAN: Yeah?

SID: Let’s, let's talk about like a Watchtower. Ok, so, because that's an interesting example because Dylan actually said Hendrix's version was definitive.

NATHAN: He said it yeah, he said the, the, that’s the way I meant for it to sound. Right.

SID: And we are not talking, we’re talking, I mean, we're talking Jimi Hendrix so we are talking a lot different from Peter Paul and Mary in general, so we’re

NATHAN: Correct.

SID: We’re still talking pretty hard-edged song.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: We are still not talking pretty.

NATHAN: Correct.

SID: Yeah.

NATHAN: Yeah you’re talking about, well it's, if you listen to the song, as Dylan sings it it's kind of a haunting folk song. You can kind of, it sounds like a dark night on a long empty open space. And Hendrix's version brings all this sort of menace to it, you know, with the edge of the electric guitar and everything like that.

The reason I will come down as a, you know, while while being a huge fan of a lot of the other recorded versions of Dylan songs, is that I think, I mean, for one thing, when people started trying to take up Dylan music, or you know, or or when when people got tuned in to Dylan, they didn't say and and, I, you know, you can quote like the Velvet Underground, their their singer Nico that was with them for a while, kept screaming at Lou Reed that she wanted it to sound like Bob Dylan. Not I want to do a Bob Dylan song. She wanted their stuff to sound like him.

I mean the interesting thing about Dylan music is, you, you know what I mean? like Joe Strummer of The Clash is not a great singer. He has a lousy voice in a lot of ways. But you can't imagine The Clash sounding any different. It's not like you want a prettier singer.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: But then the thing about Dylan is in some ways the songs are melodic enough and beautiful enough that you actually do want a different singer to sing them. So, you know what I mean like The Clash has a sound and that sound wouldn't work if you put a Great in front of it. If you went and got that kid who won American Idol and have had him sing a Clash song, it’d sound horrible. Right? Because

SID: Right.

NATHAN: you need, you need that sort of voice.

But Dylan songs, and this is part of the, part of why he is not just a great poet, but he is actually, I mean, he’s really really gifted with melody and with music. And, so it's not just about the written word on the page.

It's extraordinary how much word, verbiage, he gets out front of what are really you know beautiful melodies and catchy songs. You know what I mean?

SID: Right. Right.

NATHAN: And it was Dylan who said it himself, and he was probably being ironic, but he was, they asked if he was more of a poet or more of a singer, and he said he considered himself a song and dance man.

SID: [Laughs]

NATHAN: [Laughs] But anyway.

But my over, my, you know, where I was going with all this was just to say that I think that you have you have to really take account of the sound that Dylan made.

And I think there is more of a, of a total sound, like the way he put a band together and the instruments that he used. But anyways that that sound he thought a lot about, and it wasn't just he wrote the poems down. I remember hearing him say once that he knew what the sound, the recording of the song should sound like. And the guy asked him, well what does it sound like in your head? And he said, I never get it quite right when we record it, but I know what it's supposed to sound like. And the guy said, well, what’s that sound like? And he said, I can't describe it because it's a, it’s, it’s not just a sound, it's a whole feeling.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: And the guy said, and Dylan said, well, it's, it’s like what the morning looks like right before the sun comes up.

So where I was going with all this was just to say that I think it's a really understandable thing to try to separate Dylan the singer and the sound of Dylan.

But I do think that, you know I, I guess I would say that I don't think nearly as many people would have cared about a Dylan song if they had never heard Bob Dylan sing it.

SID: One thing we haven't necessarily talked about, I don't know that we can, is, uh, you know we're also making it a little bit of of the positive attributes that we're giving to the, to his voice depend a little bit upon volition, like, almost as though he is deciding, my voice will be one octave and it won't be very tuneful and it will be kind of gratingly nasal.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: Do you know what I mean? Which he’s not, like,

NATHAN: Correct.

SID: you know what I mean? It's not like he sat down and said, well, if I wanted to, I could sing like Ella Fitzgerald. But I don't. [Laughs]

NATHAN: Right.

SID: You know? It’s like this is my instrument, I only do this with it.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: On the other hand, I think we can, we can say there’s something positive about what he did do with his instrument and we could, we might be able to, I don't want to get too highfalutin' because this is ah, kind of what disturbed me when you and I first started discussing this, is, you know, limitations, whether it be the censors, whether it be, you know, the sonnet form, can lead to creativity.

NATHAN: Right. I mean

SID: And often does.

NATHAN: Shake, you know, Shakespeare, uh, he he is he was writing for an audience. You you know what I mean? He he

SID: Right.

NATHAN: he was writing in the sand, he wasn't writing to um, you know, create English. [Laughs]

SID: Right. [Laughs]

NATHAN: The way he, you know, he wasn't, like, well, I'm going to redo the language here, become the most influential uh, writer of this language and change it for the next five hundred years.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: He was, he was trying to sell tickets. Right?

SID: Right. Exactly.

NATHAN: It’s like. Right. Dylan, trying to get a record contract. He just, like went to New York, he wanted to be Woody Guthrie, uhh, and then he got, you know, then he, sort of, uh, continued to expand his art, and then, before he knew it he was just doing all kinds of different stuff.

SID: And what we want to try to do is is say no, he’s he’s he did more than open doors. This this is, this is a greatness in and of itself, you know, with his, with his little one octave range,

NATHAN: Right.

SID: um, this, you know, vocal chords that sound like they, they, they’ve really been um, weathered. NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: And uh, you know

NATHAN: And they’re nasal.

SID: Yeah and nasal, and didn’t doesn't quite hit the notes.

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: Um. And it may be on purpose and and it, and it, and it may not. [Laughs.]

NATHAN: Right.

SID: We're beginning to think, um, a little bit of that is on purpose.

NATHAN: Yeah, I, I mean I think, you know, rock and roll’s always had a place for the, for the non classically beautiful singer. I mean in fact, the classically beautiful singer can sometimes be really cheezy in rock and roll.

Which is where I think the Ella Fitzgerald comparison can get, can get, uh, you know, me confused, because I say well yeah, but I mean she’s a singer. You know?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: You know? I mean she's uh, you know, that's that’s her whole thing and there’s no, there’s no, it’s, it's about how beautifully she sings it, it's not about, that, she's not trying to, uh, do anything challenging, she’s not trying to, I mean she’s doing interesting things, and and and it’s just sort of

SID: Right.

NATHAN: the genius of the singing, of that, the instrument, umm.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: You know, we've always got room for the not technically in that sense great singer, but who's still a great singer. Right? I mean

SID: Right.

NATHAN: Janis Janis Joplin’s always, she’s gonna, blow her throat open [Laughs]

SID: Right.

NATHAN: every night, but I mean that's a great rock and roll singer, but even by those standards, a lot of people people don't like to listen to Dylan.

SID: I mean even though, I mean, you’re not going to entirely give up on making an argument, I mean can can we make an argument for it that's more than just influence, than more that’s it's just the doors he opened to um, in terms of style and in terms of subject matter?

NATHAN: Right.

SID: Can we still make a, can we still make an argument for something great about, you know, that perhaps an octave, and um,

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: a little more, and and perhaps not all that well-tuned voice?

NATHAN: Right.

SID: And I think you know an an early fan described it as, you know, you kinda, you kinda don't expect it to be a voice. It's like if if uh something some the quote goes something along the lines of if sandpaper could sing.

NATHAN: Yeah. Yeah. You mean present-day Dylan, like the last ten years or so?

SID: Well, I mean I mean, his his his voice has always been something that's taken people aback.

NATHAN: Yeah.

SID: It certainly, it certainly was better in its youth, you know,

NATHAN: Right.

SID: thousands and thousands of cigarettes ago.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: But um, but it's always been something no one, no one has ever particularly said, boy, that guy's got some, you know, chops, or pipes some

NATHAN: No. That’s right. Yeah. Yeah. Exactly right. And and worse than that. I mean, it’s it's been kind of like that, you know, he has that tonal nasal quality. I think part of the reason that The Edge shows up on lists of all-time great guitar players is not because you could throw him into the studio and he could play any lick, any kind of song you wanted to record.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: It's because he has a totally distinctive voice that he has developed,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: and when he plays the guitar, no one else sounds like that.

And I, my argument with Dylan is, that it’s very similar in the sense that the limitations of his voice and the, um, I don't know if it so much forced him to develop a particular style of writing or singing so much as it becomes part of the whole delivery of the sound and the song, and that that is, you know, uniquely able to convey the meaning of what Dylan is up to, or to obscure the meaning to the, to the point, or make it am ambiguous enough or ambivalent enough, that so many people are so interested in that. Sometimes the, the really great ones are, are governed by limitations which makes them great.

So he is doing it kind of, and, one of the questions is, if you were writing songs like that, that have that kind of interpretative space around them where, you know, the meaning is not entirely clear uh, but, but people are very interested in what they mean and and they mean, they mean something to people even if people aren't in agreement what they mean.

Well, Rolling, Like a Rolling Stone is a good example because the, you know, classic interpretation of that is uh, that it's a, it it’s a big "screw you" song. Woman, lover, something, you know, how does this feel? Right? to be on your own, life shifting, cast out, or something, you know? That he’s sneering at her, you know? But there is another radically different read on it which is that it's a, an enormous song about liberation, how does it feel to be on your own? meaning you you you’re you’re free of all that stuff now. Right?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: And you can hear it both ways. And I think that's one of the geniuses of the songs, um, lyrically, you know?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: I think the genius of the song musically is that its drive and its force and holding of fifty thousand other things that I can't even describe.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: You know?

It made me think of another sign of that Everyman thing. Which is, I remember uh, Dylan playing the, was it the Grammy's or the Academy Awards? um, not too long ago. I think it's when he wrote a song that showed up in um, that um, ah, movie The Wonder Boys which I think has Michael Douglas um, maybe a Michael Chabon novel? It's set in Pittsburgh, anyway, there’s a Dylan song called Things Have Changed and I think he was playing that in the Academy Awards but he was, he was fed in by satellite. So this is Dylan, you know, after 60 years old,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: Maybe he was 62, or 63, I think he’s in late sixties now, but. And he’s um, beamed in by satellite from Australia so it's already a little bit odd. And he um, has a band now which is composed of, some of truly finest kind of rock group musicians, I mean these guys who just sit around forever and play with a lot a lot a lot of people. And they're just, they’re amazing and they’re, eh, they’re mostly middle aged now, they all look a little out on their own now, lots of, you know,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: just kinda quirky looking guys with, you know, pork pie hats and lots of soul patches and they’re sitting on stools and and. Dylan is standing there in a, in a, sort of a Stetson, he's got this pencil-thin mustache.

SID: Uh huh.

NATHAN: He’s wearing a a, you know, a suit straight out of like 1962 Nashville you know.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: You know he’s real country, like he, like he’s going out on the stage at the Grand Ole Opry, which is often how he dresses now,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: and um, he's kind of really pale, like someone put on this awful ghostly pale makeup on him, maybe he meant to, I don't know. But it's a lot of theatre is what I’m saying in the way that they look, and he, and they, they play this beautifully, I mean they sing this absolutely gorgeous rendition of the song. And his voice, if you thought it was bad in 1965, I mean, it’s, [Laughs]

SID: [Laughs]

NATHAN: you can hardly, you can hardly hear a thing he's saying now. It's so shot, I mean just physically shot.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: And uh, he is growling through his words. Um,

But. But uh, it's hard to imagine anyone else singing the song because of the of the delivery, and the and, and I remember somebody writing about this and the award show later, saying that it’s, you know here was Hollywood, here was this award show, and then, like on the screen suddenly were these like strangers from this strange land,

SID: [Laughs]

NATHAN: Right? of like, of like lost Guthrie country Americana playing this gorgeous kinda ghostly, it’s like somebody got, took, like, raided the graveyard and pulled these guys up you know, and and and put together this graveyard orchestra, to play this sort of gorgeous haunted and the guy said, he was just saying, you know, thank God something like that comes along and pierces through, it’s it’s, no one’s ever seen or heard it before, [Laughs]

SID: Right.

NATHAN: [Laughs] you know? and no one else could do it. And I think, you know there is that, there is that quality too that sort of, yes it's Everyman. The argument is, like, you don't have to be a a great singer, have a great instrument to be a rock star or pop star. Uh,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: On the other hand the fact that, it is the quality of, uh, I've never heard a voice like that before,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: I've never heard anyone, uh, come up with that sound, that uh, that, you know, that, is, so it’s almost like the Everyman and No Man thing, you know? [Laughs]

SID: Right.

NATHAN: It's like nobody.

SID: Right. Well it, and it seems to re-, it seems to be related,

I mean another thing that I think I've talked around, we’ve talked around, is is authenticity. That

NATHAN: Right.

SID: seemed to be, um, that's something which he ushered in,

NATHAN: Right.

SID: to some extent, at least in par-, uh, I mean certainly authenticity has been something that artists struggled with forever. But,

NATHAN: Right.

SID: that seems to be something he brought to popular music, would

NATHAN: Right.

SID: be um, that authenticity might no longer be founded upon um, chops.

NATHAN: Right.

SID: That authenticity, uh, that, now has something to do with, uh, an emotional honesty or, um, or um, a confessional honesty? although I don't want to say he’s he’s confessional, although I keep coming back to that.

NATHAN: And Dylan really came out, but now the Stones were were being bad and everything, um, in a, in a, in their way. Um.

SID: Right.

NATHAN: But uh. But that kind of a, a, disdain for, you know, for the, for authority in a way

SID: Right.

NATHAN: is what you might want to credit him with, and so if you’re gonna say he’s the voice of a generation, to me it's more of that,

SID: Right.

NATHAN: and, then more that sort of, consciousness that, um. But again, like if you go back to the main theme, I mean I I, to me all of that is part of the sound and you know not just part of a discussion you could see on a page.

SID: Right. Right. Ok.

NATHAN: Yeah, I think that is my, the the that is kind of my uh, my position about all this. Because I've always struggled thinking, that I, it's hard for me to argue that that's a nice sounding voice. But here's one other thing. That I, you know, again it’s, I I always tend to always want to put these things in their historical context, you know? You always wanna say, like well no, you know before Dylan nobody did that. Before Dylan nobody did that. Right?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: And it's never really totally true, but I mean by that like before the Beatles nobody did that. Well, somebody did something, you know what I mean?

SID: Right. Right.

NATHAN: Um, but it all kind of coalesces around certain people, and and then there are few, I think there are just the staggering geniuses who pop, who pop right through

SID: Right.

NATHAN: and say, take a whole bunch of things that were going on before and then do something totally different, and you got to put him in that category. You hope that um, that, that what they, if it's really good, it it, um, should take on a bigger life than than they could give it, or that they could intend for it.

The question is who can deliver that, you know? And I don't just mean, you know, on a, on a, on a case that somebody else can record it. I mean what kind of voice can change some of the songs and have them, you know, take the life that they are supposed to take, meaning not give them a a deliberate interpretive spin, you know, not take them in, in a, in, you know one direction, but leave them out there with all that kind of ambiguity so that the interpretive game goes nuts with everybody who hears them. You know what I mean?

SID: Right.

NATHAN: Like how I hear a verse of that song because of the way Dylan recorded it, you know what I mean? not in spite of the way Dylan recorded it. But if Dylan hadn't laid it down that way, I think a lot of other people wouldn't have heard their own version that way. And again

SID: Got it.

NATHAN: I’m I'm making a distinction, not not, not the Robyn Kilpatrick argument, which is, the reason so many people recorded it is because his sucked. But

SID: [Laughs]

NATHAN: but the reason so many other people recorded it is because his is so strange and unique, and distinctive and and gave itself, made the song mean so many things to so many people that it actually um, made it even bigger. So that that would be an argument not not for Dylan being better than Ella Fitzgerald as a singer, but for, as an interpreter of the particular type of stuff that he did, which no one else has done, um, he’s, he's the best. So I’ll, I'll say it. I think Dylan is the best singer of Dylan's songs.

“Dylan's Voice” was published in the 2010 edition of The Labletter.

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