Bob Dylan has always been one of my favorite old-school musicians, probably because my dad owned all his records on vinyl and was still playing them well into the 80s. Albums like "Bringing it all Back Home" and "Blonde on Blonde" were and are some of the best music made in the past 50 or so years, and his recent efforts like "Love and Theft" were right up there with them.
During the 80s though Zimmy lost his way. Big time. Maybe he was hitting the bottle too hard, maybe he just got bored. For whatever the reason Bob Dylan didn't produce much during the 80s that was worth listening to, much less paying money for.
It started in the late 70s and carried over into the early 80s with his ill-conceived gospel albums. Apparently he felt he couldn't lose if he followed in the footsteps of Elvis. But he wasn't Elvis and he'd never be Elvis (hell, he was Dylan, wasn't that good enough?). Elvis bled gospel music. It was in his Mississippi veins. For Dylan, a good Jewish boy from Minnesota, it wasn't quite the same thing and you could hear the difference between the two if you were a deaf dog sleeping a hundred miles away. Suffice to say the gospel period was a lost weekend. Problem was, it didn't get any better after that.
While "Infidels" wasn't a complete disaster it wasn't what anybody would call compelling either. This was followed by a rogue's gallery of increasingly hard to digest albums: the headscratcher "Empire Burlesque" (the title being the best thing about the record), the hideously awful "Knocked out Loaded" and the incomprehensibly terrible "Down in the Groove". By this time even my dad, a life long defender of the D-man, had had enough and stopped listening; not to the old stuff, but to anything new that was being plopped onto the shelf under the Dylan brand.
Luckily, at the very end of the decade Dylan saw the light. Able to sink into the background of the enigmatic Traveling Wilburys, he seemed to find new purpose and old inspiration and snapped out of his daze. Since then he has reverted back to the Dylan of old: creating interesting, mysterious, haunting, wry, tortured American music like only he can.
The 80s though will always remain, like a wine stain on the white shirt of an otherwise stellar career.