At my last Dylan gig I was dismayed to see so many young people there. What on earth would they make of this wizened old man, croaking like a toad on steroids? For gnarled old Dylan junkies like me there’s no real problem with what he looks and sounds like – we are carried along by our collective memories of how things used to be.
I hope that no young person buys Dylan’s new album, Tempest, in the hope of hearing a rock hero. What they will get is sounds from the thirties, forties and fifties, very much what he used to play on his radio show, Theme Time Radio Hour. Some of the fun for us old fanatics is seeing where he gets his tunes from. On this album the riff on Early Roman Kings is lifted straight from The Animal’s “I’m Mad Again”, which in turn was stolen from Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy”, which contains the line “I’m a rolling stone”.
As happens with every new Dylan album, there has been some extraordinarily misplaced praise. I could scarcely believe it when I heard Paul Morley on Newsnight’s Review Show say that it was his best album since Blonde on Blonde. He reminded me of the time when a girlfriend of mine, who was eating a pear while watching TV, was so incensed by what a commentator was saying that she hurled the pear at the TV, hitting the miscreant right on the nose. I could imagine a lot of soft fruit being thrown at Paul Morley’s face on TVs all over the country. This album isn’t a patch on what we used to get, and of course we are never going to see the halcyon days again, but if we close our eyes and let our memories drift away, we can just discern a hint of the former glory, and that’s enough for us.