The First Classic: Freewheelin’

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I needed to return a library book, buy some new walking shoes, get a haircut, and retrieve my bike from work (it rained like hell yesterday), so I cued up Freewheelin’ and got on the train. Within four stops Dylan had me sufficiently moved.

Holy shit this album. When was the last time you listened to it through? Right from the opening “how many roads” Dylan has this surety of voice, provides this critical window into post-WWII society. Unlike the first album, the vocals here are always measured, always expressive, like the contained wail of “Bob Dylan’s Blues.” The lyrics are brilliant. I mean, “Blowin’ in the Wind” didn’t become the voice of a movement for nothing. The compositions fluid and dynamic, lending variety to a collection which contains all but two originals. Even within the album we sense some artistic development–the first accompaniment in the Dylan catalogue a snare drum on “Corinna Corinna.” Compositions range from protest song to lover’s lament to dark humor. It’s wide-ranging; it’s great.

“Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright” takes me to a north Florida farm with my friend @toftwillingham having mastered the picking but imploring us, What’s the last verse‽ It’s “So long, honey babe / Where I’m bound, I can’t tell,” Toft buddy. “Goodbye is too good a word, babe / So I just say fare thee well.”

And when “Talking World War III Blues” comes on, I’m heading into Copley Place Mall. Dylan’s post-nuclear fallout pits us floating between our dream worlds and our militant, red-scare society. It’s a lonely continuum, existential and unstable, propelled by a major progression, repetitive, circular. “I’ll let you be in my dream if I can be in yours,” Dylan concludes, and I can’t help but search the faces of these mall walkers for a glint of recognition.

Do I get this album? I’d say so. Do I need to have listened to the self-titled album to get it? That helps me see how dramatic a pivot Dylan has made from folk cover act to original artist with a complete songwriting package. Do I like it? Come on, hell yeah.

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