T for Tom

Day 28 – Down In The Groove – 1988

Posted in A Dylan A Day by johnsontoms on July 20, 2016


My mind went straight to Mighty Ducks 2. Down In The Groove starts off with a cover of Bryan Ferry’s “Let’s Stick Together,” the song made famous during my childhood for bringing together the Team USA Junior Hockey Squad coached by Gordon Bombay. If that isn’t weird enough, it should tell you everything you need to know about Dylan’s 1988 effort.

The thing is, like previous poor efforts, it isn’t outwardly bad. It’s Dylan. But that’s not enough when it comes to the man who made his legend by being so much more. I’ve heard “Let’s Stick Together” in various forms, and I didn’t need another one that wasn’t improving on the original in any way. It’s just Dylan picking a song and playing it. The sound is much better here, and it seems more genuine. But the overall pulse just isn’t engaging at all.

On first listen through the record, “Silvio” stuck out as the most unique track, and I’ve learned in reading since that The Grateful Dead appear as backing band on the track. They appear only on that track, in fact, because Dylan insisted on having completely separate and different recording sessions and completely different musicians for every song that would appear on the record, and the result is somewhat schismatic. It peaks, it valleys, but the wave never seems to crest. It’s just the furthest extreme of what he was trying first with Empire Burlesque and then with Knocked Out Loaded, before reaching the logical conclusion here.

The thing is, I’m running out of things to say. As this retrospective starts to wear on me, I anxiously wait for the records I know to reappear; Modern Times, Together Through Life, so on. What I’m learning and what I can understand, is that only someone as important as Bob Dylan would get the time of day, over the course of many years, to wander around creatively aimless and distracted. He’s allowed, by critics, by record companies, by audiences, to spend this time figuring out who is and who he wants to be, sometimes by looking back at who he was. Even if they disparage his output, he’s allowed to keep going, time and again. We didn’t even give that kind of time to The Rolling Stones, never allowed to write anything new and left to spend their final years just playing the same songs over and over again.

There’s a chance at the end where it attempts at redemption: the final two tracks, first “Shenandoah,” then “Rank Strangers to Me,” are akin to field hymns, the kind sung by those who were stripped of their power by others. The first sweetly gives way to the second, growing in sentiment and somberness. I can feel that there’s an attempt to say something honest. But it shouldn’t come so late, and so by itself.

Bob Dylan was always so much more. He was always greater than what people thought of him, and his legacy in hindsight is stronger than any criticism given to him at the time. He’s the songwriter, and we keep letting him write, hoping that it comes out again, some day.

With the power of foresight, I know it works out. But not on this album.

Song: “Rank Strangers To Me”

This, somehow, on a lost record, might be one of his most personal songs, and his most beautiful singing. “I looked for my friends but I never could find them / I found they were all rank strangers to me.”



One Response

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  1. zapple100 said, on July 22, 2016 at 8:17 pm

    If you accept the fact that more then have the songs are cover songs, the music isn’t bad. I think it suffers from the 80’s style production. If it had a more natural sound something like “Modern Times,” it would be a lot better.

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