When you set personal goals for yourself, you have to identify just how high the bar has been raised in your chosen field.
This is why we have "heroes", or "influences"... however you want to define role models, or more specifically, the output of your role models.
I love Bobby Darin, but if I'm looking at the level of the bar, I'm looking at Elvis and his career path. I'm forensically digging up every little bit of information I can find, and still do to this day. I want to take that watch apart, and really see what made it tick.
But the point where the narrative of "Elvis" connects and becomes a feedback loop is the music... that's where the journey of study begins, and at the end of the narrative, all that we are truly left with. Learning factoids about Colonel Tom, midnight impromtu flights to Denver to feed the Memphis Mafia burnt peanut butter and bacon sammiches, psychotic acts of generousity, waving guns in front of TV's, and sadly dying on the throne in a bloated mess way too early, is useful information...but it started with getting emotionally gassed as kid listening to my Mom's copy of "50,000,000 Elvis Fans Can't Be Wrong", transfixed by that cover of a multiple Greek God Elvii in a gold lame suit, accompanied by the unfathomnable number of fifty million.
My Mom was always a hipster and still is to this day. She started poppin' out babies when she was just shy of the age of 21. I was born in 1960, and I can pretty much tell you that my in utero background music had a much higher probability of being "Hound Dog" than anything by Mozart.
When I was a toddler, maybe three or four, Mom was tooling around with me in her ultra cool white Falcon with red leather interior. I used to sit in her lap and hold the wheel, she'd smoke cigarrettes and listen to the radio full blast as she ran her errands... we all know about tobacco and car seats now, but back in the day, that's how it was done.
We were coming back from the P & C grocery store, and "I Want To Hold Your Hand" careened out of the radio speakers. She pulled over... because it was so good, we had to bop to it, instead of drive. Instead of going home, she pulled a u-turn, drove eight miles in the opposite direction to the Auburn, NY, pulled into Nicholl's parking lot, and walked out of the store with "Meet the Beatles".
I guess I'm entering into Freudian territory here. The music was just the soundtrack to a special shared moment between a mother and her son. I was totally aware of how important, and how special, that moment was. In retrospect, it absolutely shaped me in a core way. Maybe even being a musician...making that choice...is a my subconscious mission to feel that moment again with my first love: my mother. A holy grail moment that I know is real; I was there... but can never be captured again.
But if you make the choice to study popular song, and study the bar at the highest level, especicially in the avenue of lyricism, all roads lead to Uncle Bobby.
Dylan is the gold standard of pretty much everything for me, in terms of creative output and career choices. I'll never reach that myself, but when writing songs yourself, you can't approach the craft with a defeatist attitude. You'll be dead before you leave the gate.
But when you're done with one? You have to ask yourself that dreaded question:
"What would Bob Think Of This?"
The answer, more times than not, sends me back to the drawing board, and sends the work ultimately into the back of the file drawer... maybe to be seen again in another re-formed version, but usually just to hang and rot there, forgotten.
Its just a litmus test to keep me honest about my own work, one of many. When trying to conceptualize an end statement of any future project, I also ask myself "What would Orson Welles think of this idea?", but that's another story.
In the end, you just have to keep plugging, even if failure is pretty much assured. The songs that I release for public consumption pass that personal muster...and probaly the main reason why my personal out put remains as low as it is.
Dylan's recorded output is a testament to a very simple principle: "You are what You Eat".
If you really stopped to think about just what this man has absorbed in terms of knowledge, to be able to do what he does... it takes your breath away.
He sets the bar high, but he also leads by example. And dares you to follow that pathway as an artist, because no one in the history of popular art and culture has done it better, or made that type of commitment so completely. Being Bob Dylan must be utterly exhausting.
On May 24th, Uncle Bobby turned 70. I was invited to celebrate the occasion by performing at a revue style show, and cover a a couple of his tunes. My choice.
How to you pick out 2 songs from a massive catalog of genius?
I went back to my "Meet The Beatles" criteria... It didn't matter if it was a popular, or a defining Dylan song from his catalog. "Positively 4th Street" might be the greatest "Fuck You" song ever, but I'm not in a "Fuck You" kinda place right now. I tried to pick songs that changed me when I first heard them, and match my personal life experience now. If I couldn't connect with them in a fundamentally spiritual way, than performing after three years of hiding would have been a waste of energy for me, and for anybody else involved in the process of performing, including the audience.
And I guess that is why I set that "Dylan" bar. First its got to please me. I have to amaze myself, and get out of my own ego to pull off that mental trick. I have to connect in a way beyond words. I have to resonate and vibrate, or its all just another pile of horseshit to me... and I have very high standards.
So I chose "Watching The River Flow", and "What's a Sweetheart Like You Doing In A Dump Like This?" They matched my personal narrative when I first heard them, and the match the current narrative now.
There is very little video that exists of me performing. I know it seems archaic, but I think music still needs to flower in the theater of the mind. I was never really a big fan of MTV, even in its heyday.
Now with the advent of digital technology, its impossible to control the flow of video... another reason for the current low profile that I seek to maintain.
But a friend of mine, Jack O Bocchino caught me and my beloved friends on digital video at this Billion Dollah 70th Birfusday Bash.
Jack works tirelessly to document the shenanigans of Central New York musicians, and is a pretty under appreciated community resource... so adding that part to the algorithic equation involved in decision making, I agreed to let him post it.
It's not a pefect performance by any means, but it does have its moments. When you hear a grunt and the words "Snap out of it Baby"... that's the sound of someone letting go of what he knows, and instead, nakedly exhibiting what he feels.
But ultimately, it illustrates someone connecting with a childhood hero in a core way. And there is no shame attached to expressing that sentiment, openly.
Happy Birthday, Uncle Bobby.