“My Back Pages”

February 23, 2021 • 3:00 pm

Until I read a bit about the history of “My Back Pages”, written by Bob Dylan, I hadn’t realized that it was about abandoning one’s youthful ideals. I always paused at the refrain, “Ah, but I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now,” but never listened to the words that closely or read the lyrics. I guess that refrain refers to the faux wisdom of the young and the adoption of the Socratic “I am not sure of anything” stand of the old.

Truth be told, I’m not a gung-ho Dylan fan in the sense of liking more than half of what he’s put out. I like the early Dylan, up to “Nashville Skyline”, and some individual songs since then, but as for the later Dylan, well, meh. (Yes, I know there’s no accounting for taste, and your mileage may vary.)

At any rate, by 1964, when this song was released, Dylan was apparently already disillusioned with the Sixties’ “we’re gonna change the world” mentality. (It took me decades longer.) One sign of that is although Dylan recorded the song in 1964, the first time he performed it in public was in 1988. Since then he’s played it publicly many times, and one of them was this performance at the Bob Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert (celebrating three decades since his first album) in 1992.

I found this on YouTube and hadn’t heard it. So when I got into the shower, I took my laptop into the bathroom and blasted this song on high volume. I hadn’t looked at the participants, but when Clapton soloed, bending notes right and left, I thought to myself, “Damn! That’s Eric Clapton.” And then I identified several voices, the easiest being the plaintive whine of Neil Young, and then Young’s guitar solo, too. Dylan’s voice is unmistakable, of course, and if you want to test yourself, close your eyes and guess who’s singing or playing. You may have trouble with Roger McGuinn, but Tom Petty is easier.

This is a splendid live performance, and it’s clear that everyone’s having fun and enjoying jamming with the other greats. One thing’s for sure: regardless of his voice or his playing or his later, unmemorable songs, Dylan was one of the greatest songwriters of our time

50 thoughts on ““My Back Pages”

  1. My favorite track from that awesome video/album. It does sound quite appropriate for these woke times. A lot of talent on that stage that night.

  2. I cannot disagree. He was one of the greats of our generation even if one of the worst musical disappointments in my life was a Dylan concert ten or so years ago.

    1. I saw him probably around the same time. At one point he sang “Like a rolling stone” and it took me three-quarters of the way through the song to even figure out what song it was.

      1. Agreed. UNbelievable not to recognize Like a Rolling Stone. He just “called it in.” Yet he apparently loves to tour and does/did something crazy like 300 concerts/year.

  3. What a line up! I thought it looked like Joe Walsh playing in the background, but someone posted the crew as this: Dylan, McGuinn, Harrison, Clapton, Young, Petty, Steve Cropper and G.E. Smith on guitar, Jim Keltner and Anton Fig on drums, plus Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Booker T. Jones on keys.

    1. If you don’t know who Steve Cropper, Duck Dunn, and Booker T. Jones are, look them up. With the late Al Jackson, they were Booker T. and the MGs (Memphis Group) und their own name, but, like Jim Keltner, some of the best and most prolific session musicians, on a huge number of records.

  4. A great version; so many great singer-songwriter/guitarists. And the much-missed George Harrison and Tom Petty amongst them. I love the way that Neil Young (and Eric, too) can take a guitar solo like that and make it true both to the song itself and their own inimitable style, seemingly effortlessly.

    “So when I got into the shower, I took my laptop into the bathroom and blasted this song on high volume” – surely you should have been listening to “Rainy Day Women ♯12 & 35” or “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall”? (Shower-based listening – there’s probably a whole discussion thread….)

    1. The sheer number of rock guitarists on one stage guarantees a performance like this should be atrocious – but astonishingly, the performance is beautiful! I think G. E. Smith is the arranger with the skills to direct these rock icons – who each are amazing *in their own groups*. Ensemble playing though – that takes a skillful arranger/director.

  5. “Plaintive whine” indeed. In my estimation, Neil Young has the best voice and had the best guitar there, notwithstanding Clapton’s presence. I prefer Young’s style. Young chose to do All Along the Watchtower in the 30th Anniversary concert because no one else wanted a comparison with the Hendrix version. I recommend the four record set of the 30th Anniversary concert. I really like hearing other people performing Dylan’s music.

    1. Me too. I like Peter, Paul and Mary’s version of “Blowin’ in the Wind” better than Dylan’s, myself. But he sure could (can?) write a great song. I need to listen to Young’s “Watchtower”…I’ve always REALLY loved the Hendrix version, but Neil Young is great, so it ought to be good.

        1. You should also hear Chrissie Hynde’s version on the the 30th Anniversary Concert. I made it the temporary name of the name of my third play. The play is about feeling finally released, and Chrissie Hynde made me feel it.

        2. My favorite cover of “I Shall Be Released” is by Nina Simone (who did an album of Dylan covers). She turns into one of the great all-time soul songs:

          1. I used to have 13 of Nina’s albums on vinyl. Saw her live at Berkeley Community Theater in maybe 1971. Went with my white roommate and I think we were the only white people there. It was during her very political Mississippi Goddamn period and we were a tiny bit nervous, but no problems ensued.

              1. Thanks for the reminder, Ken. I think I have it ✔️ed on Netflix, but haven’t watched it yet.currently watching the several-years-old miniseries, The Looming Tower, based on LawrenceWright’s book about 9/11. It’s quite well done

        3. Elvis took a brief impromptu stab at “I Shall Be Released” in the studio while waiting to record something else. It was tragedy that no one persuaded him to cut a full version.

  6. I’ve been listening to Dylan since I was a little kid (wether I liked it or not, haha). The old stuff is great, but I must say the later stuff is better imho. Even now he hasn’t lost his genius, and he’s investigated so many great genres of American music in his later years that are worth listening to. Try some of the newer albums!

    1. Dylan put out five great albums in the Sixties — Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, Blonde on Blonde, Highway 61 Revisited, John Wesley Harding, and Nashville Skyline.

      Then, after a half-decade exile, he came back in the mid-Seventies and put out three great LPs back-to-back-to-back in just two years — Planet Waves, Blood on the Tracks, and Desire.

      Then, much later in his career, he put out another three great albums in a row — Time Out of Mind, Love & Theft, and Modern Times — but that time around it took him damn near a decade to do it.

      That’s my Dylan take anyway.

      1. That seems to pretty well summarize the general critical consensus, and I agree those are all great records.
        For me, I’d also include Bringin it All Back Home and Infidels on the list.

  7. You may have trouble with Roger McGuinn …

    McGuinn’s not so hard for anyone who remembers The Byrds, and especially their numerous covers of Dylan songs like “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

    Or if you saw Marty Scorsese’s 2019 documentary about the 1975 Rolling Thunder Review tour, where Bob and Roger regularly shared a duet on “Knocking on Heaven’s Door”:

  8. Great stuff, thanks! Not only great musical talent on that stage, but the songwriters!

    Also good to hear one of the two verses left off of the Byrds’ “official” cover version of this song:

    “A self-ordained professor’s tongue
    Too serious to fool
    Spouted out that liberty is just equality in school
    “Equality, ” I spoke the word
    As if a wedding vow
    Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”

    One motif that Dylan always seems to pull off effortlessly is his rhyming schemes, as in the rhymes in this song with the final word “now.”

    1. Dylan’s been on superb form since Oh Mercy in 1989. I can’t think of any of the other greats of the 1960s who recovered from the awful 80s and came back to do some of their best work in their later years. In literature it would be Philip Roth

  9. Truth be told, I’m not a gung-ho Dylan fan in the sense of liking more than half of what he’s put out.

    For me, Dylan feels like family — he’s been there for as long as I can remember. The only other popular figure I recall feeling that way about is Muhammad Ali.

    Stashed in a closet somewhere, I’ve got some pages I once wrote about the parallels in the lives of the two, Dylan and Ali: born within a few months of each other on either side of the US’s entry into WWII with the attack on Pearl Harbor. Both achieving fame at an early age, at the start of the 1960s. Both changing their names. Both falling deeply out of favor with their fans in the mid-1960s — Dylan by going electric at Newport, Ali by embracing Islam and refusing induction into the US army. Both going into exile. Both then making big comebacks in the mid-1970s (even crossing paths in the effort to free imprisoned fighter Ruben Carter). Then both going into steep professional decline around 1980.

    After that, of course, their paths diverge. Unlike musicians, boxers don’t continue making comebacks in their 50s and 60s and 70s. Especially not when, like Ali, after 61 professional bouts (including 41 brutal rounds against Joe Frazier alone), they develop Parkinson’s syndrome. As Marsellus Wallace laid it on the line for Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, “Boxers don’t have an Oldtimers’ Day.”

    But both stand the test of time as great American originals.

  10. Truth be told, I’m not a gung-ho Dylan fan in the sense of liking more than half of what he’s put out. I like the early Dylan, up to “Nashville Skyline”, and some individual songs since then, but as for the later Dylan, well, meh.

    My thoughts exactly. Having said that, as others have mentioned above, there are probably a few more later-day gems, but as they stem from a time when he was not at the forefront of popular music, they have to be sought out.

    REALLY funny: somewhere there is a video of Joan Baez (cousin of the world’s first blogger, mathematical physicist John Carlos Baez) imitating Dylan’s speaking voice. Of course, having been his lover, her covers have an additional complexity which others don’t.

    I could never get into much the Byrds did beyond their Dylan covers, which are excellent.

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