A-Z of Dead Man Singing: Z

A-Z of Dead Man Singing: Z

26 days ago

Z is for Zimmerman, Robert. As Dave says in chapter 1 of Dead Man Singing, back in the early 70s it was required by law that all singer-songwriters include at least one Bob Dylan cover in their repertoire. Dave’s choice, ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’, wasn’t in my first draft but now seems such a perfect fit that it’s hard to imagine an alternative. For what it’s worth, the song whose place it took was Richard Thompson’s wonderfully bleak ‘Withered and Died’, which at least reappeared subsequently in the book, and also gets a hat-tip in the blurb on the back cover.

In the book, Dave performs an acoustic version of 'It Ain't Me Babe' similar to Dylan’s original, though the one he recorded on his debut album Songsmith (1971) is described as ‘an exuberant, barrelling band version’. I’d love to hear it, though the closest I’ve heard to what I was imagining is Bob’s own live version, recorded with the Band on the Before the Flood album.

There’s a scene in an episode of West Wing where Presidential candidate Matt Santos is asked what his favourite Dylan album is, subsequently prompting one of his young campaign staff to ask how come men of a certain age get so hung up on Dylan. Speaking as a man of a certain age, I still find it hard to understand how people don’t get hung up on Dylan. Admittedly, not everything he has recorded maintains the highest quality control, but – as discussed in Dead Man Singing – that’s priced in with any worthwhile artist: sometimes missing the mark is an inevitable consequence of pushing boundaries and taking creative risks; it’s not realistic to expect ground-breaking, exceptional work at every step, but Dylan certainly delivered more times than most. He doesn’t need me to defend his work, but if you need convincing, the following article which The Independent newspaper published on the occasion of Dylan’s 70s birthday in 2011 makes a compelling case:

Other than Dylan and the Beatles, who else is in the conversation for the most important musical figure in the history of popular culture?

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