A Well-Aged Voice

by Matt Sitman

Stephen H. Webb takes on Bob Dylan’s detractors – and finds a broader lesson about beauty in the aging rock star’s singing:

Complaining about Dylan’s voice is like complaining that your scotch tastes too peaty. If you want something sweet, get a colorless spirit that easily surrenders to the overwhelming invasion of fruit juice. Otherwise, let his voice burn your ears just as it sounds like it is blistering his throat when he sings.

Since it is little more than decayed vegetation, peat is actually not a bad metaphor for Dylan’s voice, which has never sounded fresh and youthful. It was old when he was young, and now that he is old, it sounds ancient. Just as barley dried on a mossy fire adds flavor to whisky, creaky and rusty vocal folds (or so I imagine what a laryngoscopy would find) add timbre to Dylan’s singing. Would anyone really want a doctor to smooth the fibrous tissue or remove the bumpy nodules on his vocal cords in order to make his voice sound “better”?

What I have said about Dylan can be said about beauty generally, but that does not make it less true. Both scotch and Dylan are reminders that beauty emerges out of and redeems, rather than opposes and destroys, the ugly. A little bitterness makes the scotch taste sweeter, and wavering off key makes the difference between a good singer and a great performer.

Recent Dish on Dylan here.