Thursday, September 18, 2008

Bob Dylan - Wigwam

(Columbia, 1970)

Yes, I am one of those people who unapologetically enjoys the much-hated Self-Portrait, but I can’t and won’t engage in a passionate defense of it; I’m neither a Dylan mind-reader nor a Dylan garbage-picker, so I refuse to concern myself too much with the mobius-strip mindgames that the record might or might not play. I just like the thing… it’s a bizarro, tossed-off, living-room relaxathon that is at the same time carefully and lavishly arranged, somehow pulling off what the Beatles wanted to do with the “warts and all” Get Back concept while still retaining Let it Be’s Phil Spector overkill. A lazy musical raspberry, perhaps, but an utterly charming one. “Wigwam,” the only single lifted from the album, is a syrupy – yet evocative – brass-laden piece that features a “la-da-da-da” semi-vocal crooned in Dylan’s froggy Nashville Skyline voice. Coming across less like a pop single than a musical link track, it prefigures his soundtrack work on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid and ably proves his aptitude for stirring schmaltz. Tear-jerk strings come to the fore on “Copper Kettle,” an old-timey booze ballad that walks a fine line between delicate and over the top; a strong vocal grounds it. Both songs rather bravely abandon any rock or progressive trappings and manage to sound – even now – oddly detached from any easily identifiable time period. While the album from which these tracks come has enough overt jokiness to make one conscious of some larger artistic artifice behind the whole thing, this single is simply a strange, compelling coupling of two examples of free-floating, era-condensing, pure American sap. If it’s a joke, it’s a good one.


Donald Brown said...

"Wigwam" never made much impression on me, but I've always loved "Copper Kettle": the way he sings, "we ain't paid no whiskey tax since 1792" just sounds so authentic, somehow. The album is the work, no matter how much slandered and derided, of a real maverick. The sheer nerve of the guy, the sheer chutzpah. What I can't understand is how anyone who was watching Dylan at the time (and weren't all the hipsters?) could not grasp that it's got nothing to do with rock'n'roll, which he had been strategically exiting from since 1966.

Anonymous said...

Wigwam is a masterpiece.