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Sunday, September 21, 2014

Hearing Joan Baez Sing 'Don't Think Twice, It's Allright'

In another blog, I am following what happens to me while digesting the complete recordings of Bob Dylan. Of course, apart from the other blog being a completely self-centered (or, in scientific terms, auto-ethnographical) project in itself, it is also a project that interacts with the rest of my musical life. So Dylan trickles into this blog from time to time.

Every time I heard Dylan's song 'Don't Think Twice, It's Alright', for example, I could not help feeling that this is a truly aggressive song. I am not sure where that came from; maybe from the audacity to sing about a former lover: "You've been wasting my precious time". Maybe it was fortified by the biography I read about Dylan, showing him  to be sometimes a not very nice person to his intimate relations. Somewhere in my head was the story of Dylan's relationship with Joan Baez, which had an unhappy ending, very much to do, it is said, with Dylan's simply dropping the woman. I connected 'Don't Think Twice...' to this story, wrongfully because the song was there before the story, but there you go: the funny way heads work.

I am listening now to Dylan's second album, on which the song appears. There is also the song 'Masters of War', wishing explicitly for the death of those Masters of War. It is considered to be an outrageously aggressive song, but actually I had less trouble in hearing that song and placing myself in the writer's shoes than in hearing 'Don't Think Twice...'. The former is about anger and frustration; the latter, I found, was mean and cruel. Some critics try to sell 'Don't Think Twice' as ironical. If that's irony, I know why I am not a fan of it.

Last week I was at he always fantastic Take Root festival in Groningen. Headliner was Joan Baez. I arrived late because I had to sing with my shanty choir at a harvest festivity in a small village - an extremely rewarding occasion I might write about another time, if only because I became acquainted with Motorclub Waardeloos ('Worthless') - and when I entered the main hall, there was Baez singing.

How old is she now? Somewhere in her 70s, I guess. But (?) the concert was great, very convincing, she and only two musicians capturing the audience from start to finish. She sang 'Gracia a la vida'. She sang 'Diamond and Rust', about her relationship with Dylan. She sang John Lennon's 'Imagine', reminding me of Dylan's 'Masters of War' because that always makes me think of Lennon's 'Working Class Hero', just as Dylan's 'Girl from the North Country' refers me to Simon and Garfunkel's 'Scarborough Fair'.

Listening to music in my case seems to be all about making endless connections to what I've heard before, building up a network of connotations that makes listening a richer and richer experience as I grow older; in the present moment of listening, my history is constantly present, as is the future in which this present moment will be a past moment to which the next present moment will refer - et cetera et cetera et cetera, ad infinitum (but never ad nauseam).

Anyway, at some point Baez sung 'Don't Think Twice'. And while listening, I found that the song's meanness and cruelty had mysteriously vanished. Suddenly the words fell into place. Was it because I thought Baez was entitled to sing a cruel song, given her history with Dylan? When home, I relistened Dylan's version, and found it  had become hard now to assess the song as a cruel song; it led me to reading the lyrics carefully for the first time, which did not help to get back to the cruel feeling the song had had earlier for me.

So here I am, listening to a song which had been frightening to listen to in the past but now has been domesticized by my own listening history. I wonder if my original experience may come back again. I guess not. But I'll keep you posted.

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