Bob Dylan is my favorite singer/songwriter. Original, I know, and I’ll spare you the diatribe about his greatness as his standing among the 20th century’s greatest performers and personas is well established. He is immortal as far as the history of music is concerned and bears responsibility for some of the best musical and lyrical offerings ever produced. That being said, Dylan’s undertakings became more mercurial as his career went on, and in addition to having written some of the most powerful and groundbreaking songs of his generation (or ever), he may also have lashed together some of the worst I’ve ever heard. This ongoing series entitled Bob Dylan’s Bad Dreams seeks to bring those forgotten anti-classics into full view with naught but love and admiration. The idea is to keep this list going on a semi-regular basis until I run out of things to say.
Album: The Basement Tapes (1975)
While The Basement Tapes boasts one of my favorite album covers, the same can't be said for some of its musical offerings, though, overall, it's fairly decent album. Recorded mostly in the basement of Big Pink by Dylan and members of The Band—in a pairing that usually produced some spectacular work, which includes (you snobs) some of the fantastic drunken songs at the end of Self Portrait—it may be a little unfair to hold this one up to the standards of a studio release. These were bootlegs, after all, and for the most part, Dylan and The Band were probably just fucking around for most of this one.
Still, someone got the bright idea that these sessions should be collected and then sold to fans for money. (According to Wikipedia, we can thank Rolling Stone editor Jann Wenner.) In case I've inaccurately stated my position, let me assure you that I'm always ecstatic when a trove of unknown, or even amateurish, Bob Dylan recordings are unearthed and then released for public consumption. These often mediocre cuts become a part of the strange legend of Robert Zimmerman, of which Dylan's dark years—we'll say the period between the late-1970s and 1989, until the release of Good As I Been to You—are certainly a major part.
But what Bob was on during The Basement Tapes is another question altogether, and one I'm loath to ponder for too long. Take this gem from the first verse:
Well, that big dumb blonde
With her wheel in the gorge
And Turtle, that friend of theirs
With his checks all forged
And his cheeks in a chunk
With his cheese in the cash
They’re all gonna be there
At that million dollar bash
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee
Ooh, baby, ooh-ee
It’s that million dollar bash
Just what the hell that means, I don't know. And I don't think I want to know. Most likely, Dylan was simply being absurd, spitting out a collection of verses so random and meaningless he didn't even know they would one day see the light of day. So I'm inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt on this one. I'm willing to accept that this transgression was not as premeditated as his first two bad dreams: "Man Gave Names to All the Animals" and "They Killed Him." I'm willing to accept that even Bob Dylan, through his first fifteen years as a performer, could have perpetrated a massive flub like this one. But I am not willing to let him completely off the hook, because he should have known better.
Besides, I kind of like it.