As part of the University of Chicago’s Humanities Day, associate prof and musicologist Steven Rings gave a talk on Bob Dylan, his voice, where it comes from (one of my friends did a great investigative piece on Dylan’s accent awhile back), how it’s changed over the years, and the meaning of that. At the end of the talk (it’s cued up), Rings presents a spectrographic analysis of Dylan’s voice at three stages of his career: early yowly Dylan, smooth countrified Nashville Skyline-era Dylan, and late career gravelly-blusey Dylan, demonstrating the actual components of his voice and how they blend together, or not. His surprising conclusion? Dylan, as an old man, finally has the voice he’s always dreamed of having.
It’s a wonderfully wonky, technical way of looking at a musician who people don’t always think of from a technical perspective; I hope Pitchfork eventually factors spectrographic analysis into its numeric ratings. And if it seems like way more than anyone needs to know about Bob Dylan, the answer is there’s never too much people need to know about Bob Dylan. Writing about Bob Dylan is like writing about the Civil War—if you have something new, there’s an audience.
More to come: Rings has an in-preparation paper entitled “A Foreign Sound to Your Ear: Bob Dylan Performs ‘It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),’ 1964–2009.”