The speed of hype

Thirty  some-odd years ago, if somebody had told me that Bob Dylan would be following up his masterpiece, Blood on the Tracks, with an album of songs mostly co-written with the director of Oh! Calcutta! . . . well, I might just have held back from buying the record, or even taken a pass. Lucky me – I knew next to nothing about Desire, which I snapped up as soon as it hit the racks at the Sam Goody in the Garden State Plaza, and thus ensured myself a nice stretch of time in which I could get to know the songs and judge them for myself.
That’s why I’m not terribly upset by the news that Dylan’s upcoming disc is largely a songwriting collaboration with Robert Hunter. A lot of Bobcats are very upset about this. Yes, Hunter’s fingerprints are on “Silvio” and “Ugliest Girl in the World,” but he also co-wrote all of American Beauty, including “Ripple,” my most favorite Dead song ever. I’m not quite ready to dismiss Together Through Life as, in the words of one blogger, Down in the Groove Revisited. Especially since the freakin’ record isn’t even out yet.
The Internet has made a lot of great things possible, but it’s also exacerbated one of the worst aspects of our hype-sodden culture: our ability to screw ourselves out of the chance to experience a new work of art with clear ears and fresh perceptions. It’s not simply a matter of fan sites and gossip sites getting ahold of things in advance; the record company is happy to use the Web to increase the already appalling speed of hype.  I’m not pointing fingers, either — I’ve had plenty of lapses on my resolve to avoid reading or listening to anything more on Together Through Life until I could bring the actual disc home and listen to it.

Maybe it’ll be great, maybe it’ll be terrible, maybe it’ll be off and on. Dylan has released many albums that fall into each of those categories. But I’ve promised myself to step back from the hype and, to the extent it’s possible, simply approach the record on its own terms. I owe myself that much, and if you’re a Dylan fan you might want to consider doing yourself the same favor.

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