Apr 19, 2010
He sounds like Dylan but not like he has a head cold
I've never been able to figure out my lack of chemistry with the ouevre of Bob Dylan. Actually I can tell you exactly why it is — I don't like the sound of his voice — but I find it hard to fathom that that alone is what keeps me from appreciating someone so important. It's like disliking the Beatles because you don't like the number four. How cruel musical taste is: a 20th century icon toppled by so thin a trip-wire. It's quite a drawback, too, not liking Dylan; it not only disbars me from membership of a club that includes a lot of people whose musical taste I admire but denies me acceptance as even the most basic kind of musical connoisseur. In these Catholic times, not liking Dyan is the one thing that's simply not done, the one thing that brings polite society to a silent stand-still. "You don't like the sound of his voice?" I can hear people think when I tell them, as if it represented the ultimate in narrow-minded pedantry. "I've tried," I tell them, feeling miserable and alone as the silence envelops me, "But I just... can't..." and then I dribble to a halt. unable to get out the fact that I think he sounds adenoidal and nasal and just kind of whiny. The shame is too great. The mystery just got deeper, and my pain just that little bit more acute, because I really love the Swedish singer Kristian Mattson, who any fool could tell you sounds just like Bob Dylan, whose lyrics are probably nothing compared to Bob's drowsy-electrifying Keatsian quatrains and who is probably ridiculed in Dylanologist circles for being nothing but a wan copyist. He even has an adenoidal voice of the sort I said I don't like. I can imagine Dylan weeping in frustration (actually I can't imagine that but the I can imagine the imaginary Dylan doll I have in my head weeping tears of frustration): what do I have to do to get your love? Die and come back as one of the three tenors? To me, of course, Mattson sounds only a little bit like Dylan. He's got a higher range for one thing, and holds a tune more lustfully. And that drowsy-electrifying timbre, so much like a head cold in Dylan's case, sounds sharp and penetrating, contrasting beautifully with his guitar to the point where they sound like a duet between two twinned but unlikely instruments — a double bass and flugel horn, say. Which is rubbish of course, since singers sing over guitars all the time; and yet he sings with such urgency, as if hurling his words from a rooftop at low-hanging cloud, that he makes it sound like he's the first person to ever think of it. I'm going to go now, talking of clouds. I can feel the storm of musicological disapproval gathering as I type.