When I was a kid, news that a new Bob Dylan or Rolling Stones album was about to come out gave me chills. For an entire summer, I played Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited all day long, day after day after day. That album was like a window on another world. It let me leave the suburban house where I grew up, and enter a place that was mysterious and obtuse, dark and bohemian. You just had to look at the cover picture of Dylan -- shades, a head of curly long hair, an outrageous Hawaiian shirt, that motorcycle -- to know this was a place I had to get to, one way or another.
The Stones' December's Children was sexier. The Stones mostly seemed to be singing about girls and sex. Girls they couldn't get; sex they wanted, but couldn't have. But they were also singing about "Mother's Little Helper" (pills) and that 19th Nervous Breakdown. And it all made sense.
Now, decades later, with entire books devoted to the songs and recordings of these artists, their work has been analyzed to death. What they were trying to write about, who they were writing about, what they actually said, and on and on and on.
Sure I care about all that on a certain level. But the bottom line, then and now, is how a song touches me. Not even a song. Just a turn of phrase. A sneer in Dylan's voice. The sadness when Jagger sings, "When blue turns to grey."
All of which is to say that there was a time when I awaited a new album... No, not even an album. Just word that a new song from Dylan or the Stones was coming would have me glued to my transistor radio hoping that the damn DJ would play it.
Earlier this year, I reacted to news that new albums were coming from Dylan and the Stones in a very different way. Frankly, I could care less. I don't know Bob Dylan, nor do I know the members of the Rolling Stones. Yet I feel like they made a pact with me all those years ago. They promised they'd deliver albums that would change my life, and I promised I'd listen to those albums.
But they lied. They started making albums like Street Legal and Dirty Work. Mediocre albums. Albums with lousy songs. Albums that meant nothing to me. Albums that from the first or second song I knew I'd never listen to again. Or rather, I'd try and try to like them, to get something from them, to be moved, to be transported to that place that these artists once took me so effortlessly.
Still, when the advance copy of the Rolling Stones latest arrived, I put it on. And somewhere inside me, despite me, I felt a little of that anticipation that I'd felt as a kid, playing Beggars Banquet for the first time.
Bob Dylan and the Rolling Stones, after years and years of seeming to lose it, are back. I can give no higher praise than to say that their new albums, Bridges To Babylon and Time Out Of Mind, move me. When the final track finishes, I press play again. There are songs on both albums that I just can't get enough of. The Stones' "Might As Well Get Juiced," a late '90s blues will stop you dead in your tracks, if you let it. Dylan's "Dirt Road Blues" shows that he never lost the key to that pink house up in Woodstock where some of The Basement Tapes were recorded a long, long time ago.
A lot of words will be written about these albums in the coming months. Hell, reviews are already showing up here and there. If I were you, I'd be skeptical. After all, how many reviews have you read in years past, where the writer declares that Dylan has finally returned with a masterpiece, that the Stones have made their best album since...
All I can say is, I've been listening to these two albums over and over again, as anyone working in the Addicted To Noise office can tell you, since they arrived. Maybe that means something to you, maybe not. Think of it not as the editor of a rock 'n' roll magazine making a big statement, but more like when a friend calls you up and says, "Dude, check this out. It's cool."
Oh, and I've been listening just as much to Peace and Noise, the new album from another veteran. Patti Smith. It's fitting that Smith, too, is back with an album I just can't get enough of. She arrived on the New York scene in the early '70s the bastard child of Dylan and the Stones. When she returned with last years Gone Again, it was after eight years of silence and the death of her husband, Fred "Sonic" Smith. Gone Again is great, but Peace and Noise, which has the feel of Horses, is even better.
Hey, don't take my word for it. When these albums hit the street at the end of the month, go to a record store with a listening post and give 'em a listen. Make up your own mind. I mean, you know that summer when I listened to Highway 61 Revisited every day? That was the same year a lot of people bought Dean Martin's "I Will." [Sun., Sept. 21, 1997, 9 a.m. PST]