They ain't him, babe: 10 'New Dylans,' from Bruce Springsteen to Bright Eyes
It never fails: Every time a young, literate singer-songwriter with a … let’s say, unique voice debuts on the scene, he or she is labeled a New Dylan — as in the new Bob Dylan, a modern voice of a modern generation.
Inevitably, the hype is overblown. There can never be a New Dylan, just as there can never be a New Beatles or a New Elvis or a New Wham!.
As the freewheelin’ Dylan comes to Tampa’s USF Sun Dome on Thursday -- click here for tickets -- let’s look back at 10 New Dylans past and present — and explore why so few of them lived up to the label.
Lou Reed: If Dylan was the bard of America in the ’60s, the cantankerous Reed was the bard of New York in the ’70s, crafting poetic paeans to the City that Never Sleeps. We have to say, though, “Everybody must get stoned!” is more fun to sing at parties than “Heroin, be the death of me / heroin, it’s my wife and it’s my life.”
John Prine: Part of a class of ’70s singer-songwriters (Cat Stevens, Loudon Wainwright III) who made up the inaugural class of New Dylans, Prine is the guy for whom the term seemed to be invented. Dylan himself has called Prine one of his favorite songwriters. “Prine’s stuff is pure Proustian existentialism,” Dylan once said. “Midwestern mindtrips to the Nth degree.”
Patti Smith: Of the handful of female New Dylans (Lucinda Williams, Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman), Smith is the closest to Bob himself. They met in Greenwich Village in the mid-’70s, and remained friendly, though Smith is now seen as more of a punk-poet than a folk artist.
Bruce Springsteen: He’s the closest anyone’s ever come to delivering on the New Dylan hype — so much so that he’s spawned his own cottage industry of New Springsteens (Arcade Fire, The Hold Steady, The Gaslight Anthem).
Tom Waits: Grating voice? Check. Bluesy, vaudevillian leanings? Check. Penchant for curious hats? Check. But Waits seems content to remain on the fringe of the pop world — and that’s how his fans seem to like it, too.
Steve Earle: He’s got the nasally, gravelly tone down pat, and was a forefather of renegade country. And somehow, we wouldn’t have been surprised if Dylan had turned up on The Wire, either.
Beck: Depending on how broadly you choose to define “folk,” he’s arguably the most iconic folk artist of the past 20 years — and he definitely encapsulates the outsider-art point of view Dylan espoused in the ’60s. But if you can look us in the eye and convince us, with a straight face, that Bob Dylan would ever record a song called Sexx Laws, we’ll buy you a two turntables and a microphone.
Ryan Adams: Hyperprolific and talented enough to write anything he damn well pleases, the troublemaking Adams comes across as more entitled than the genteel Dylan. But like Bob, he’s shown a penchant for throwing common sense to the wind and veering wildly from persona to persona (see his black metal side act, Werewolph).
Bright Eyes (above): Like Dylan, Conor Oberst was a wordy Midwestern outcast who had the indie-rock world at his doorstep when Bright Eyes debuted in the late '90s. Nine albums later, his cultural impact seems to be regressing.
Jakob Dylan: C’mon. Please.