- Jim Marshall
The Stranger, our cooler siblings to the north, ran this excellent feature on Bob Dylan in their recent guide to Bumbershoot: The Bob Dylan Torture Test made four teenagers—all born in the '90s and who had never listened to Dylan before—devour the legendary singer's catalog for 72 hours straight.
The results of this very unscientific assignment? They all hated Dylan, more or less.
I felt lost in songs like "Subterranean Homesick Blues" that left me wondering what was musical gibberish and what simply went unappreciated because of a lack of historical context. Who was Johnny in the basement? What medicine was he cooking? And this soot-faced Maggie? Was she some renowned '60s chimney sweep?
Which, of course, makes total sense. No musician should be consumed in 72 hour doses, and given the average age of the participants (18.25 years) this reaction should be expected. For most of us, Dylan fandom came in our 20s, when our musical palates matured along with our ability to do more grownup things—or at least to obtain booze and weed easier, two components that always seem to accompany Dylan's music. While my admiration for his albums knows no bounds (well, Under the Red Sky is where I draw the line), I was more or less indifferent to the man while growing up, despite having parents who worshipped every mumbled word that came from his mouth. It seemed like the hype never matched the music, which changed for me as I grew older. (This reaction, of course, is not exclusive to Dylan.)
The torture test also required the teens to rank, 1-10, everything from Dylan's voice to the "degree to which my parents think he's important," the latter of which results in some pretty interesting responses. Some are funny:
My dad said he has three CDs that he still listens to these days. One of them is The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. My mom called herself a great admirer of Bob Dylan and even went to one of his concerts "or maybe two," she said. "But definitely at least one." I can tell those were good times.
While some are sort of depressing:
My parents do not believe him to be the troubadour of their generation, because they are only 39. Neither of them likes the vocal style very much or necessarily his music, but they can appreciate and respect him because of his influence on the music they grew up with. Both agreed that covers of Bob Dylan songs are generally better than his originals.
Now I just feel old.