Dylan revisited, the French take on Bob
Visions of a multi-faceted icon
Until 15 July, the Cité de la Musique in Paris is showing Bob Dylan, l’explosion rock – a sixties-centred exhibition on the legendary singer, including a series of concerts this March entitled Bob Dylan Revisited. A clutch of French songwriters gave us their take on Dylan and an idea of how they see music.
A few years ago, the film I’m not here (1) portrayed facets of Bob Dylan’s life through different persona, including a young lover, a solitary cowboy and a rock icon. It was that same rocker with black glasses and untidy hair who first emerged in France in May 1966 and who offers one of the faces featuring in the exhibition Bob Dylan, l’explosion Rock 61-66 at the Cité de la Musique until 15 July. Yet as the movie spelled out, there is no one and only Dylan, and a series of concerts from 6 to 10 March describes the before and the during, and sketches out other visions of the singer. The line-up features musicians Moriarty, Herman Düne, Sophie Hunger and Syd Matters.
The programme includes Syd Matters on 6 March performing “a Bob Dylan story” that gets to the core of the Dylan puzzle. The performance features Johathan Morali with his group and guests like Bertrant Belin, who dig deep “into the immensity of the works”. “I mostly discovered Dylan through the musicians I used to listen to,” explains Syd Matters’ lead singer, “and for this concert, I rediscovered him by listening to cover versions on You Tube. I really like it when women sing his songs. Nina Simone’s version of The Times They Are a-Changing almost has a universal quality.”
Whether its his classics (Blowin’ In The Wind, I Want You, All Along the Watchtower) or the less catchy numbers in a repertoire that alternates great albums with more forgettable ones, the solidity of Dylan’s writing never fails to impress these French songwriters. David Herman Düne observed that, “You can’t go wrong with Bob. The flavour varies from album to album but his writing style remains constant, like Roy Orbison, or the Everly Brothers. There’s a little gem in every one of his records, whether it’s the sixties albums like Blonde on Blonde and John Wesley Harding, the 80s-90s albums, or 2000s releases like Modern Times.” Herman Düne, who does a version of Shot of Love in his concerts, will be performing the album of the same name on 10 March. “Shot of Love marks the end of his Christian period in the early eighties and a return to the Dylan of before.”
Didier Veillault, director of the Coopérative de Mai venue in deepest Auvergne, will definitely be making his way up to Paris for the concerts. “I might be wrong, but in Clermont-Ferrand Dylan had more impact than the Beatles,” explained the man responsible, along with a few others (Murat, etc.), for putting his provincial town on France’s rock map. At 58, Veuillault is still pursuing his unrealistic dream of having Dylan play at the Coopérative de Mai, but his words wield weight. The town, which got itself noticed thanks to folk and the explosion of Cocoon, takes good care of its rock hopefuls, like Mustang, and fosters songwriters’ poetry from home and abroad.
Kütüfolk, formed in 2006 by four Clermont-Ferrand musicians, is probably one of the best illustrations of the phenomenon. The tiny label, producing “folk that isn’t sterilised” signed up Zak Laughed, the 17-year-old prodigy highly inspired by Dylan, not for his acoustic debuts in line with protest singer Woody Guthrie, but for his freedom.
“I discovered Dylan late,” recognises François Régis-Croisier, better known as St. Augustine. “I love his lyrics and especially that negative mindset that meant he could avoid being pigeon-holed. He has this notion of not staying still. I’m thinking of the images from the Newport Folk Festival on 25 July 1965, where Dylan moved from acoustic to electric and created a scandal. That’s quite a legacy for a musician. The period of Highway 61 Revisted, Bring It All Back Home in 1965 remains THE period for me. Nowadays it’s unthinkable for a song to have the kind of impact that Like a Rolling Stone had.”
North Country mixed with Mali
A few hundred kilometres south-west, Sean Bouchard, who runs the independent label Talitres, modelled on Kütüfolk, readily admitted that he was only familiar with the major Dylan hits. The former food engineer, who is based in Bordeaux, also said that he liked the story of Bob Dylan as told by the writer François Bon(2), and that he only really got to know Dylan through French and American songwriters since 2000 like The National, Walkmen, Frànçois & the Atlas Moutains, etc.
One of the biggest surprises at the event is Yann Tambour, whose Stranded Horse project is a mix of kora and Anglo-Saxon folk, as inspired by Mali as it is by the North Country in which Dylan grew up.
That Dylan movie, with its telling title I’m Not There, is a reminder that the legendary musician’s ability to change persona goes a long way to explain his continuing influence on rock music.
Exhibition: Bob Dylan L’explosion Rock 61-66, from 6 March to 15 July, at Cité de la Musique, Paris.
Concerts: Bob Dylan Revisited, from 6 to 10 March. 6 March, Syd Matters A history of Bob Dylan; 8 March, Moriarty Before Dylan; 10 March, Herman Düne plays the album Shot Of Love; 7, 8, 9 March, Sophie Hunger Bob Dylan-Be part of my dream, at 8 pm at the Cité de la Musique.
(1) I'm not here, film by Todd Haynes (2007)
(2) François BON Bob Dylan Une biographie (2007)
Translation: Anne-Marie Harper