Illustration by Lauren Tessmer
Welcome ladies and gentlemen to the main event in the category of heavyweight snobbery. We are here—with all the contempt, apathy and jaded nostalgia a person can stand—to settle the ultimate rivalry: the generational wedge of music. Which of these men will prove he knows it better and hates it more?
LET’S GET READY TO GRUMBLE…
In the left corner we have Mark “Malarkey” Henderson. From the golden age of music, owning hundreds of records when records were the only option, and attending the historic 1974 Dylan returns with The Band tour. Henderson, a world-class griper. The White Album, Pet Sounds and Steely Dan’s Peg were the only lullabies he sand to his child, a real heavy-hitter when it comes to having opinions.
In the right, weighing in at 400Lps, 300 CDs and the entire WYMS music library, Barney has interviewed dozens of bands, has been seen on stage with the Decemberists and was once called a “radio professional” by Ira Glass. A snob in the highest sense: Justin “The Nose” Barney
“Full Moon and Empty Arms” is a single from Bob Dylan’s latest album, “Shadows in the Night.” The album is a string of covers from The Great American Songbook. Many of these songs were popularized by Frank Sinatra.
Mark “Malarky” Henderson
Just when we think we know Bob Dylan, he does what he’s always done. He removes the mask we’ve gotten used to – in this case, the gravel-voiced elder sage – to reveal himself as a crooner of the Great American Songbook.
“Full Moon and Empty Arms” is full of the sentimental yearning and unapologetic emotionalism of the pre-rock era. At that time, this was popular music. To us young, musically-interested baby boomers, these were the songs that permeated stage and screen. So affinity for this music comes as no surprise.
He is not the first rock artist to explore The Songbook. Harry Nillson – an all but forgotten singer/songwriter of the 70s, broke ground with his nostalgia-laden, vocally glorious interpretations of some of the same songs on his album “A Little Schmillson in the Night,” (check it out – personal fav). Then there was Rod Stewart – the less said, the better.
In this rendition, Dylan eschews lush orchestration and backing vocals to highlight the simple pleasures of a voice, a lyric, and a melody. This allows him to dig down to the emotional core and explore the feelings inherent in the poetry of the lyric.
In “Full Moon and Empty Arms” candid emotion triumphs over tone. Dylan’s vocal connections bring new life to an aging canon. This version, on it’s own, is an acquired taste. It’s obscure, but beautiful and Dylan’s unique phrasing makes up for… the fact that he can’t hit a note.
In case we’d forgotten, Dylan brings us “Shadows in the Night” to subvert expectation. You think he’s a folk singer, you think he’s a rock n’ roll pioneer. But he continues to remind us he’s not there.
By the way Bob, I’m a little bummed I didn’t get my free copy though AARP.
Justin “The Nose” Barney
Bob Dylan is everything Frank Sinatra was not. Sinatra sang standards in a pressed tuxedo with a grin on his face, and a twinkle in those famous blue eyes. His voice was strong and clear. He was flawless. It was Sinatra’s culture that Bob Dylan is countering. With Dylan’s thin and strained voice, his music targets the imperfections of Sinatra’s America.
He succeeded. As Dylan, and others, took over the existing culture, standards singers were replaced by the singer/songwriter.
Dylan has become the standard.
Over the years Sinatra’s music has become its own kind of American folk music, representing a time gone by.
As a twisted irony, it makes perfect sense that Dylan would carry on the folk narrative, embrace Sinatra, and release an album of his covers. This song is frail, it’s understated, and it’s flawed. In this song Bob Dylan is Frank Sinatra, but he is also everything that Sinatra was not.