Every once in a while, I will be part of an audience made up of my own demographic. I'm very used to attending concerts and films with a much older crowd. For whatever reason, my tastes always seem to be out of step with what's hip at the time. Watching the Grammy awards is usually a grueling experience, but I continue to endure them for that one performance that I will actually enjoy. Shock. That's what I felt when I heard that Bob Dylan would be performing at the Grammy awards. For Dylan to grace the same stage as todays pop artists simply does not compute. Dylan performed as part of a tribute to acoustic music. Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers performed three minutes each before they all joined Dylan and his band on stage for one number. Mumford & Sons along with the Avett Brothers seem to have been the real winners from that night. Their record sales boomed, and internet searches skyrocketed. Mumford & Sons even outsold the winner for Album of the Year on iTunes. Groups like Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers really stand out when the rest of the acts rely on electronics, fancy lighting, props, costumes, and dance routines to sell their music.
Bob Dylan became a legend just by playing guitar and harp all by himself. My father grew up in the same town that Dylan grew up in, so I don't hesitate in referring to Dylan as a legend. He was on the road to becoming a legend in his early twenties armed with only a guitar and harmonica, his voice too. When I mention to people that my favorite Dylan albums are the more recent titles like "Love & Theft," they can't really understand why. "What's the single from that album?" Dylan seems to have a good handle on his fan base. Critics were evenly split on the Christmas album. Half appreciated what Dylan was doing, and the other half were quite harsh in their criticism. Some even though the whole thing was a huge joke. Dylan's most recent is entitled "Together Through Life." In an interview, Dylan was asked about how people would respond to the album. "My fans will enjoy it, but beyond that who knows," Dylan said. From the beginning Dylan's own songs were constructed with heavy influence from the songs he was consuming. I can listen to songs on "Together Through Life" and here lyrics that are rewritten from Robert Johnson. If you're not familiar with Robert Johnson, you can surely recognize the characters that Dylan writes about. Life and experience oozes from the material. Dylan's style is infuse life experiences with song structures from the past, and sprinkling in lyrics from works of literature. It's true that he doesn't make anything groundbreaking. If that's what you're expecting or looking for in a Dylan album, you just don't get it.
You can dig deep into Dylan's songs and find yourself listening to Bing Crosby records or reading James Joyce, you could even end up watching a movie like Touch of Evil. Francis Ford Coppola has a bit more freedom in his medium of film. Coppola will take directly from The Red Shoes to construct his films, but as he describes, film is still a relatively new medium. He believes there is still a lot of potential for growth and has even talked about how a director could act as a conductor and further develop storytelling on a nightly basis for different audiences. Coppola still considers himself a student and is constantly striving to learn more about his craft. He finances his own projects now, so you're not going to see them in the multiplex. I think that's a shame, because a movie like Tetro is quite intoxicating. Coppola is by far the most interesting of the filmmakers from the New Hollywood generation. Scorsese still cranks out solid movies, but the stories and characters are no where near as unique and interesting as Youth Without Youth. One of the reasons for this is because Coppola draws so heavily on his own life experiences in his work. Despite contemplating what the future of films has to offer, Coppola's films penetrate the viewer, tugging at your emotions - and a film is first and foremost an emotional experience.
Dylan and Coppola both take what they love about the history of their respective mediums and inject so much of themselves into their work that they create material that is, not so much revolutionary as, meaningful. Both of these artists strongly encourage younger artists to study those who came before, outright rip them off, while adding your own touch. What you can do is take pieces from what you like, and inject your own experience. It make take time and effort for a consumer to fully appreciate an album like "Together Through Life" or a film like Tetro; but, the work is overflowing with emotion and that will reverberate within you. As an artist, are you not striving to achieve an emotional reaction? People may like the pop hooks, the costumes, and the dancing, but if you show them something straight from life, something based on a grand tradition and filled with personal experience, people will respond.