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March 18, 2009

Dylan vs. Oberst (Bright Eyes)

Filed under: Music — Robert John Ed @ 5:15 pm

Watching my last.fm page, it’s apparent how much Bright Eyes/Conor Oberst & the Mystic Valley Band a lot.  My tendency with music is to gravitate toward the good writers.  The lyrics of a song or album often mean as much as the music and more.  So it’s no surprise that Oberst gets so much play.  Same goes for Elliot Smith, John K. Samson (Weakerthans), Ian Bavitz (Aesop Rock) and the holy of holies Bob Dylan.

I’ve listened to roughly 3x more Dylan than any other artist according to the site, which began recording a year and a half ago.  Dylan is not only one of the best musical acts I’ve ever heard, but he’s one of the greatest writers I’ve ever come across.  I say that having read a great deal of American literature over the years.  His writing is obviously a great deal different than novels, but his span of work more than makes up for it when you consider longevity.  Phenomenal writers often will put out a few great works and anywhere from 10-50 others.  The the prolific of the prolific just keep churning out works (Christie, Shaw).  Most writers don’t get that much done, Fitzgerald for instance only had a few transcendent pieces but offered a great deal of other things (such as shorts, like The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.)  I could go on about authors for some time, but the point is that Dylan made his mark initially by captivating a nation, but his writing lives on.  He has five decades of work.  Five decades.  So he really is on the same level as a Ginsberg or a Frost (my favorite traditional poet).  His work is different, certainly, but prolific and impressive none the less.

Oberst has been prolific as well.  He started writing and performing music at 13 and consistently has music coming.  His writing is incredible as well.  I don’t think that his writing is on the same level as Dylan in most instances.  Dylan has a timeless feel to so many of his works, people will listen to them as long as music exists.  Oberst, while great, doesn’t have nearly so many songs that I’d classify as age defiant.  He is a special artist of our time though, and this is his time whereas Dylan’s was the 60’s/70’s.  There is a good reason that so many meaningful indie bands today cover Dylan, many exist as an extension of his work.

I buy a lot of albums.  I like whole albums because they paint a time period of an artist and his works then.  The biggest difference that I say Dylan is transcendant and Oberst isn’t on the same level is albums.  The songs alone can’t tell a full story, though that story skews toward Robert Allen Zimmerman too, but albums are how an artist is judged.  Not songs.  Dylan has Blonde on Blonde, Bringing It All Back Home, Freewheelin’, Highway 61 Revisited, Desire and Blood on Tracks (for the love of everything sacred…those are only the absolute best of his albums, others like Nashville Skyline, John Wesley Harding (!), Another Side are things most artists would kill to have made).  He’s about as close to musical deity as possible.  Oberst just doesn’t really have any albums I’d put on that level…other than “I’m Wide Awake, It’s Morning” which ridiculously good.

Last thing that needs to be said is that Dylan truly switched up his style over and over.  He reinvented himself consistently to the point where people really didn’t know what to expect from him.  They were anxious to see his next work because they really didn’t know where he was going.  Oberst has stayed the course.  His music is variant and incorporates different sounds and ideas consistently, but there are some overaching themes that one can pick out.  I’ve heard people say they just got tired of his sound.  His latest album seems to have found a little bit of a different sound though, it will be interesting to see what he does over the years.  Oberst as a writer is potentially as good as anyone I’ve listened to in modern times, but the Dylan comparisons don’t quite ring true.  Take nothing away from either of them, both truly remarkable.  I’ll leave it at that, with a few videos.

Bright Eyes:  Four Winds (Amazing, read these lyrics)

Bob Dylan:  Abandoned Love (Well written and just one gem in his lyrical treasury)

I see my light shining, from the West down to the East.  Any day now, any day now, I shall be released…

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