Thursday, March 23, 2017

Throwback Thursday: Ishiguro On Dylan

Like most avid readers I read when I can, and never as much as I'd like. A lot of my reading occurs in snippets during my lunch hours. This week I carried around with me a borrowed Spring 2008 edition of The Paris Review, chiefly with the purpose of reading a fascinating interview with Kazuo Ishiguro, author of Remains of the Day which I recently wrote about here.

In this excerpt Ishiguro speaks of his early influences.

INTERVIEWER
What was your next obsession, after detective stories?

ISHIGURO
Rock music. After Sherlock Holmes, I stopped reading until my early twenties. But I’d played the piano since I was five. I started playing the guitar when I was fifteen, and I started listening to pop records—pretty awful pop records—when I was about eleven. I thought they were wonderful. The first record that I really liked was Tom Jones singing “The Green, Green Grass of Home.” Tom Jones is a Welshman, but “The Green, Green Grass of Home” is a cowboy song. He was singing songs about the cowboy world I knew from TV.
I had a miniature Sony reel-to-reel that my father brought me from Japan, and I would tape directly from the speaker of the radio, an early form of downloading music. I would try to work out the words from this very bad recording with buzzes. Then when I was thirteen, I bought John Wesley Harding, which was my first Dylan album, right when it came out.

INTERVIEWER
What did you like about it?

ISHIGURO
The words. Bob Dylan was a great lyricist, I knew that straightaway. Two things that I was always confident about, even in those days, were what was a good lyric and what was a good cowboy film. With Dylan, I suppose it was my first contact with stream-of-consciousness or surreal lyrics. And I discovered Leonard Cohen, who had a literary approach to lyrics. He had published two novels and a few volumes of poetry. For a Jewish guy, his imagery was very Catholic. Lot of saints and Madonnas. He was like a French chanteur. I liked the idea that a musician could be utterly self-sufficient. You write the songs yourself, sing them yourself, orchestrate them yourself. I found this appealing, and I began to write songs.

INTERVIEWER
What was your first song?

ISHIGURO
It was like a Leonard Cohen song. I think the opening line was, “Will your eyes never reopen, on the shore where we once lived and played.”

INTERVIEWER
Was it a love song?

ISHIGURO
Part of the appeal of Dylan and Cohen was that you didn’t know what the songs were about. You’re struggling to express yourself, but you’re always being confronted with things you don’t fully understand and you have to pretend to understand them. That’s what life is like a lot of the time when you’re young, and you’re ashamed to admit it. Somehow, their lyrics seem to embody this state.

The Paris Review
The Art of Fiction No. 196
Issue 184, Spring 2008

The rest of the interview is a good read, though I don't believe you can find it in its entirety online. Once your appetite has been whetted you'll have to make a purchase to get the rest.

In the meantime, if you were being interviewed today and were asked about your own early influences and interests, what would you say?

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The above story originally appeared on this blog in 2010.

Here's a quick reminder: DULUTH DYLAN FESTIVAL will kick off on May 20 with a concert featuring Robby Vee, son of the great Bobby Vee whom our local Nobel-prize winning Bobby Z (later Bob D) performed with once. 

Stay current with details on Duluth Dylan Fest. Follow us on Facebook.

Meantime, life goes on all around you. Get into it.

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