Two new albums have have made the pandemic tolerable. They are Gigaton by Pearl Jam and Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan. Yes, they represent two diametrically opposite music styles. But music somehow represents points that have helped me in different periods of my life.
Gigaton by Pearl Jam is comprised of twelve songs. I have to say that I enjoy listening to all twelve songs. The styles of the songs run the gamete in terms of the musical spectrum that is the Pearl Jam sound. While the album comes out at a time which is odd in the continuing story of America, with the rioting and the pandemic, the words sound genuine about this point in time, a reflection of the past and hope for tomorrow.
A hard thumping grunge sound sets the tempo of the album with the albums first two songs, “Who Ever Said” and “Superblood Wolfmoon”. This is that characteristic Pearl Jam sound that I have learned to love over the years. Suddenly, I am whisked back to my high school/college days with a sound reminiscent of the Talking Head in “Dance of the Clairvoyants”. Experimental for Pearl Jam but well conceived. Then it’s a round-trip change with a quasi-Zeppelin sound in “Quick Escape”. Throw in another style change with “Alright”. “Seven O’Clock” is probably my favorite song on the album, largely because of the words, the excellent annunciation by Vedder, and the crisp music to tie everything together. “Never Destination”, “Take the Long Way” and “Buckle Up” continue in terms of experimentation, a return to the past, and reflections of other musical styles. All over the map on these three tunes but clearly they need to be listened to multiple times in order to grow into them. Then we switch gears with “Comes and Goes, with its strong guitar and haunting words of loss. The album is then rounded out with “Retrograde” and “River Cross”. Both songs are offer a strong finish to a great album. I cannot wait until they are touring again.
In the end, I can only conclude that we have five talented musicians who actually like each other, enjoy their music and have not let success ruin them. I am glad. I hope that they continue for another 20 to 30 years because I need another band to help me navigate through life, much like the Canadian trio RUSH who stopped performing several years ago.
The other album is Rough and Rowdy Ways by Bob Dylan. Clearly a significant change from Pearl Jam. The 2 CD set contains his first album with new songs in eight years. The sound is the Dylan of late. The words are the Dylan of the ages. After listening to the nine new songs on disc one, I envisioned a future of hearing Dylan. Either on the stage at the Telluride Blues and Brews festival in September, or the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in late April. Both have been postponed because of the pandemic. Both are music festivals that I greatly enjoy, and can hope that my vision comes true in 2021.
The two CD set contains ten songs in total. Disc one has nine songs and Disc two contains a single song. “I Contain Multitudes” starts off the album and is not associated with the poem by Walt Whitman, or the book by Ed Yong. But they could be…
Whitman writes about” Song of Myself”. It is a poem was divided into fifty-two numbered sections for the fourth (1867) edition and finally took on the title “Song of Myself” in the last edition (1891–2). In section 51 there is the following:
The past and present wilt—I have fill'd them, emptied them. And proceed to fill my next fold of the future. Listener up there! what have you to confide to me? Look in my face while I snuff the sidle of evening, (Talk honestly, no one else hears you, and I stay only a minute longer.) Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.) I concentrate toward them that are nigh, I wait on the door-slab. Who has done his day's work? who will soonest be through with his supper? Who wishes to walk with me? Will you speak before I am gone? will you prove already too late?
The subtitle of Yong’s book is “The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life”. In both cases, and in alignment with the Dylan song, they appear to be reflections on one’s self.
“False Prophet” follows up and one is left to wonder if Dylan is talking about himself. I think not. The music continues through “My Own Version of You”, “I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You”, and “Black Rider”. I find them as if Dylan is reflecting on old themes that I often hear in his music: people, places, the times and travels and roads taken. But “Black Rider extends those themes to envision finality or death, but it is unclear. “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” reminds me of a blues song, hitting those themes of people, places, times and travels. “Mother of Muses” pays homage to the ancient Greeks and I wonder if the Nobel Laureate is trying to get all classical on us. “Crossing the Rubicon” is probably my favorite song on the album. It represents a reflection of the past, and shows signs suggesting that all things, including life, are finite. Let’s remember that Dylan is almost 80 years old and perhaps even he feels his mortality. Disc one ends with “Key West (Philosopher Pirate)”, the second longest tune on the album, singing about themes as diverse as the town of Key West, places in Europe, and reminiscing about the age of poetry in Ginsberg, Corso and Kerouac, musicians like Armstrong, Hendrix, and Holly. Although several of the other songs on the album are intertwined with many people throughout history: Edgar Allen Poe, the Rolling Stones, Indiana Hones, Ann Frank, Leon Russell, Truman, Elvis, Martin Luther King, to Thelonious Monk, I wonder if Dylan is trying to find his own place in history. He should not worry.
Disc two, at just under 17 minutes, contains the single song “Murder Most Foul”. Here is Dylan reminiscing about the assassination of John F Kennedy in 1963. While it is lacking in music (overall it is very simple), it is the spoken words by Dylan, tying the horrors of that day in Dallas to the culture and period of the 60’s. I wonder briefly is this is his attempt at rap? The song itself covers the period in which Dylan was most vocal about the American experience: the war in Vietnam, injustices in our society. These are the tunes of Dylan’s past that I was introduced to in college that I enjoy listening to over and over. While the voice has changed over the years, the themes, and the power of the words have not.
I doubt that my kids will ever enjoy his music, and share the meaning behind the words as I do, but I can at least try.