(Brewer’s note: Joyride will be releasing a 5 part Bob Dylan beer series over the course of the next month, all based off individual albums. The first release will be “Bringing it All Back Home Sour IPA” on Wednesday, May 13th)
I should start by expressing that I am not a music critic, or even a major music buff. I am a beer nerd, through and through, who also happens to listen to and enjoy a lot of music. While I was drinking in Costa Rica two months ago, I got this idea that we should try to fuse them together in some form or fashion. And then it hit me. Do an artist showcase. Showcase different albums from an artist’s history to highlight how different each one can be. For the artists I had in mind, one album or one song didn’t define them. Just as people will do, artists change, and with them goes their tone, their message, their sound and the effect they will have on the listener.
For my first musical series, I felt that this type of change was no more evident than with an artist like Bob Dylan. Dylan’s early works, like The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, were performed in the folk rock tradition, with only Dylan, his acoustic guitar and harmonica on the record. With songs like “Masters of War”, “Blowing in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”, the lyrics resonated with members of the anti-war and civil rights movements. Dylan eventually felt these movements were using him for their own devices and grew to distrust them, accented with the song “It Ain’t Me Babe” on his next album.
By early 1965, Dylan had decided to change directions, dressing more mod than working man, and incorporating electric music into his recordings. The release of Bringing It All Back Home caused division in several ways, with the album cut in half between electric rock and roll and unaccompanied acoustic guitar and harmonica. The folk rock scene felt betrayed, labeled Dylan a traitor and lambasted his move to electric sound as well as a shift in his lyrics away from political and protest themes to more personal and surreal images. These changes are easily heard in songs like “Maggie’s Farm” and “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
The summer of 1965 brought Highway 61 Revisited. The album’s opening track, “Like a Rolling Stone” (named by Rolling Stone magazine as the best song of all time in 2004 and 2011), opened with a snare shot that, in the words of Bruce Springsteen, “sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind.” Unlike Bringing it All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited was all electric, except for the final song. The album’s name refers to the highway that starts near Dylan’s birthplace and travels through more well known musical hot spots in the south, and the music on the album fused blues-rock with Dylan’s lyrics, which had become more poetic and touched on cultural themes.
The following May, Dylan released Blonde on Blonde, which Dylan once said was “the closest I ever got to the sound I hear in my mind was on individual bands in the Blonde on Blonde album.” One of the first double albums in rock history, the album contained many of Dylan’s masterpieces with sound that was grand and lyrics that were inspired and inventive. Songs like “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”, “Just Like a Woman” and “Visions of Johanna” are widely considered to be among his best works.
A few months after the release of Blonde on Blonde, Dylan was involved in a motorcycle accident and didn’t tour for almost 8 years after the incident. Dylan used this time to relax and take pressure off of himself while making very few public appearances. Dylan released several albums during this time, but none approached the commercial or critical success he had reached with “Blonde”. He resumed touring in 1974, and became estranged from his wife shortly thereafter.
The songs he wrote and recorded during this time eventually became 1975’s release, Blood on the Tracks. Although Dylan has said that the album is not autobiographical, the pain, sorrow and bitterness you feel on the album are very real, evident in “Idiot Wind”, “Simple Twist of Fate” and “You’re a Big Girl Now”. The album changed how many people perceived him, as it had now been a full decade since the release of Bringing it All Back Home.
Since the release of Blood on the Tracks, Dylan has continued touring and recording, as well as writing and painting. He may not agree, but he will always be regarded as “a spokesman for his generation.” He has influenced music and popular culture in so many ways, it would be foolhardy for a brewmaster to try to list them.
On a personal note, Dylan has always been one of my favorite musicians. It is an honor for me to pay homage to him through my craft, but I am also apprehensive about trying to encapsulate so many images, emotions and themes from a collection of songs into a single beverage. “When I Paint My Masterpiece” has been immensely inspirational to me during many periods of my life, especially when we were just opening the brewery. Hopefully, I have created works that deserve their names, and will be as varied as the albums were. In a lot of ways, Dylan represents change, and an optimistic outlook within that change, as long as you’re willing to accept it. Before we get into the beer, I’ll close this section with some of my favorite lyrics, from “The Times They Are a-Changing”:
Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’