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Cerys Matthews: Bob Dylan and Me

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Cerys Matthews 15:26, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Bob Dylan

Editor's note: Bob Dylan's 70th birthday is on 24th May. There are many Dylan-related programmes on Radio 2, Radio 4 and 6 Music. To help mark the occasion the Radio 4 blog asked Cerys Matthews what Dylan means to her.

When I was a child, my father would make me mixes on cassette tapes. He was a huge Bob Dylan fan, so naturally Dylan's songs featured heavily. I fell in love with his music then.

And as I started to collect folk songs from around the world - Ireland, Scotland, America - I started to recognise some of these musical references in Dylan's songs.

Dylan is an explorer, a magpie. Like Elvis Presley, he took what was marginal and brought it into the mainstream: you can hear a hint of a traditional melody, or an echo of a familiar turn of phrase, reworked into an amazing contemporary new song, which crosses boundaries.

You can recognize the dialogue structure of the traditional ballad, 'Lord Randall' ("Where have you been all day Henry my son?"), in 'A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall', for example. It's part of the folk tradition for songs to travel and evolve and be made more local to where you're singing them. Have a listen to Odetta's version of the old spiritual 'No More Auction Block', and you'll find its melodic traces in 'Blowin' in the Wind'.

And to my ears, when I hear that most Dylanesque style of delivery on 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' - a list of words tumbling relentlessly over the melody - I'm also hearing Memphis blues man Frank Stokes's talking blues style, from the 1930s.

When Dylan started his reign as a radio DJ on his Theme Time Radio Hour, his wealth of knowledge about the roots of music became even more apparent, as he played artists like Ruth Brown, Geeshie Wiley, Henry Thomas and the Memphis Jug Band.

So I see Bob Dylan as a map - no matter where he leads you it's bound to be somewhere magical.

Happy Birthday Bob!

Cerys Matthews presents Cerys on 6: Sunday 10:00 to 12:00 on BBC 6 Music


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