by Paul Most

remember the days when, no matter which bar you went to in Greenwich village, you'd get ten guys, one after the other, torturing a chromatic harmonica in its neckstand, driving a C chord into the ground, and intoning a horrendously nasal talking blues about how disaffected he felt.

With such a parade of jokers and thieves -- to borrow some Boblike imagery -- it made perfect sense to describe these people as pretenders to the throne of the great Weezer himself. Sometimes, as in the case of a now almost forgotten minstrel from Asbury Park, it made sense. In other cases, calling someone THE NEW DYLAN was either a marketing ploy, a lack of imagination on the part of the critic, or maybe just a reflection of how imitative and rote the rock scene was (and of course, still is).

Just to maintain our sanity, let's acknowledge that some of these people didn't have much in common with Dylan. On the other hand, they probably never would have done what they did if Bob didn't invent the whole category of rock songs that weren't only about getting laid and driving in your car.

And as a final irony, let's remember that Bob himself was very self-consciously imitating someone -- Woody Guthrie -- when he started out. So he shouldn't be throwing any stones through the glass windows of his beautiful Malibu beachhouse.

  1. STEVIE FORBERT -- Remember him? What was it, "Romeo's Tune" or something? This fresh-faced kid made nice music, still does. But the hype of being saddled with the NEW DYLAN label killed his career more quickly than the occasional dud song could.

  2. TRACY CHAPMAN -- Yes, a woman can be the new Dylan. Especially when she starts out taking herself very seriously, plays an accoustic guitar, speaks for the dissafected, etc. The irony is that her first album, filled with frankly depressing songs about policemen coming into projects to harass people, working deadend jobs in checkout counters, and so forth, quickly became background music at yuppie dinner parties. Proving once again, who listens to lyrics, anyway?

  3. BECK HANSEN -- The most recent new Dylan. Which I don't buy at all. With his knowledge of the studio he feels more like the new Todd, but with his hybrid of rock and rhythm grooves he feels comes off as more of a genre mixer like Prince. But thank God he doesn't get naked on his covers. And as for being the spokesperson for his generation, a la Dylan, Beck himself says his generation is too fragmented to have a spokesperson. Smart guy.

  4. STEVE GOODMAN -- Who? He wrote "The Train They Call the City of New Orleans." Arlo Guthrie had the hit with it, though, which pretty much sums up the luck this guy had in his career.

  5. JAKOB DYLAN -- of the Wallflowers. He actually has some claim to the title, being the the fruit of the master's loins. He's also very charismatic (probably because his looks and very attitude eerily echo his Dad's). As second generation pop stars go, he's certainly better than the excruciating Julian Lennon, less of a bummer than Roseanne Cash, and God knows, infinitely more palatable than those twin blond himbos Ricky Nelson sired.

  6. JOHN PRINE -- Dark humor, sentiment that only occasionally gets treacly, genuine insights about people. Sometimes all in the same verse. Wrote the best song about loneliness and old age (Hello in There) since Eleanor Rigby.

  7. BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN -- Well, the guy has a bit of a case here. He was discovered by the same talent scout that found Dylan (John Hammond). He plays a dreadful harmonica, just like Dylan. Wears a similar leather jacket. In his early records, he even tried the same kind of spontaneous ramblin' talkin' rock poet wordplay that Dylan invented. Listen to Tom Joad, and he's even emulating Bob's own role model, Woody Guthrie. Currently, it's not hip to like the Boss. Just as it was au courant to dig him a few years ago. Eventually, he'll probably end up like Merle Haggard, a singer and songwriter of great quality who goes in and out of fashion, but who's always good, whether you're embarrassed to put him on your cd player or not.

  8. DONOVAN -- Bob himself had the first and last word on this guy in the documentary film about Dylan's first English tour, "Don't Look Back." His pithy evaluation of the ballader who shamelessly ripped him off in the then current song "Catch the Wind": "He aint nothin'." Look, no one ever said Dylan was nice.

  9. BILLY BRAGG -- People love this guy. Why, I have no idea.

  10. BOB DYLAN (himself) -- It seems a fair question to ask, after all this time, if the Dylan of 1997 is worthy of being called Bob Dylan. And frankly, I don't think he can cut it. To paraphrase Gary Giddins (in an article about late period Miles Davis), Bob is the Death's Head Sphinx of rock. He looks like Bob, he sounds like Bob, but he's just phoning it in, and who can blame him after thirty years of doing this shit. Even if it is some of the best shit ever. However, it's comforting to know he's still out there, heading for another joy. In fact, it's a miracle the guy didn't choke on his bile years ago.

Table of Contents

Tension February/March 1997