Who’s the Next Dylan?


Bob Dylan, the greatest political songwriter of our time, if not ever, is now 76 years old. He remains active as a touring musician and fecund as a recording artist and songwriter – amazingly so, if you look at the full scale of his accomplishments since the early 1960s. Despite a heart condition that landed him in the hospital in 1997, he seems to be as fit as a fiddle for a man of his years.

But no one lives forever, even if it’s a foregone conclusion that his songs surely will. I hope he remains, to quote the title of one of his (numerous) most enduring and best known songs, forever young. A line from his song “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)” that is drenched with wisdom on how to live states “he not busy being born is busy dying.” That makes an apt description for his creative path along which he has consistently changed, grown, shifted and mutated, in the process providing more than a lifetime’s worth of rich listening.

But let’s face facts. He is not likely to retire unless circumstances force him into it. But we are all mortal, and he won’t be with us all that much longer.

As much as I wish to not even consider that notion, it does lead one to wonder: When he passes, what musical artist or artists might step up to occupy the large empty artistic space left by such an event?

The one musician whose career even resembles the Dylan trail of following one’s muse and taking political stances is Neil Young. His concerns for the state of the nation and the planet have fueled his most recent albums. But at 71, he’s also long in the tooth.

There’s also the singer and songwriter who’s been called “the female Bob Dylan,” my friend Lucinda Williams. But as much as the comparison has its apt aspects and the quality of his music and lyrical poetry is at its finest brilliant, she’s forged her own post-Dylan creative path.

The Dylan comparison earned by Williams is a later echo of the 1970s phenomenon of “new Dylans” – in itself a salute to his impact. For many reasons including being signed to his record deal like Dylan by famed A&R man John Hammond, Bruce Springsteen is the most notable among them. He’s similarly provided pungent social commentary and forged a superstar career. He’ll surely in some ways fill the huge gap (and already has).

Among those hailed as such in the first round of being slotted into the footsteps of Bob Dylan is Loudon Wainwright III, whose cutting wit and social satire retain their sharpness. In round two there was Steve Forbert, whose raspy voice and harmonica on a rack naturally evoked Dylan comparisons when he emerged in the late ‘70s. Both fly under the major musical radar as they continue to deliver quality work and excellent live performances.

I’d also consider such fine singer-songwriters as Peter Case and Australia’s Paul Kelly as contenders in this exercise. Richard Thompson also comes to mind, with the added benefit of his mind-blowing guitar talents.

We can’t forget the genetic new Dylan, his son Jakob. He’s done some fine work but has yet to reach incandescent brilliance.

The two artists I feel have the most potential to keep the spiritual and musical fires lit by Dylan burning are, in my opinion, Steve Earle, who I expect to continue to take up the topical music flag. And my friend Dave Alvin, whose gifts at renewing and reconfiguring musical roots and traditions into music with contemporary vitality is stunning.

But as much as I find this an interesting intellectual exercise to ponder, of course, there is in the end only one Bob Dylan. And both him and the milieu that allowed him to rise and have such near-immeasurable impact shall never be seen again.

And I just wish for him to continue living and creating, as I do all those in his immense shadow. And also continue to enrich the lives of those wise enough to keep really listening.

Populist Picks:

TV Show: The Glades – This crime drama set in South Florida about a witty rogue police detective whose smarts and insouciance make him a wonder at his job that ran for four seasons on A&E (2010-2013) has been at the top of my list of recent TV viewing delights.

Book: John Adams by David McCullough – Having already seen the historical TV drams based on the noted historian’s biography, I’ve now dug deeper into the great man’s life and legacy in the book to much both learned and inspiring. Required reading especially today to restore some respect for the men who have occupied this nation’s highest office.

CD: I Got Your Medicine by Shinyribs – The neo-swamp pop’n’bomp of this personal favorite band from the city where I live, Austin, is an infectious and rollicking pleasure rich with wit, grooves and soulful musicality.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email orca@prismnet.com.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2017


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