Folk icon and Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan has a new book out, The Philosophy Of Modern Song, compiling some 60 of his essays on music and its impact on culture. As you would hope, it contains some straightforward and uncompromising opinions.
Some people in the music industry have taken umbrage as Dylan’s critical lens scans the horizon. As reported in Rolling Stone, Talking Heads drummer Chris Frantz was not best pleased at how Dylan framed his approval of Elvis Costello’s output, that Costello and the Attractions were “light years better” than any of their peers, i.e. Talking Heads.
“When I read that, I just thought, ‘Jesus, Bob,’” said Frantz. “‘I understand you dig Elvis Costello, but did you have to put it that way?’”
Others were more philosophical, such as guitar god and teacher of guitar gods Joe Satriani. Satriani’s talents were the subject of what you might call a casual diss.
Certainly, no great shade, but he is mentioned in passing in Dylan’s essay on the country great Hank Williams and his 1952 hit, Your Cheatin’ Heart. It’s a classic. That is beyond controversy.
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But Dylan draws Satriani into its orbit with the aspersion that the spare arrangements of Williams’ composition would not survive contact with Satriani’s playing, that somehow their artistic sensibilities were so diametrically opposed that it could not work.
“Each phrase goes hand in hand with the voice,” writes Dylan. “[But] if Hank was to sing this song and you had somebody like Joe Satriani playing the answer licks to the vocal, like they do in a lot of blues bands, it just wouldn’t work and would be a waste of a great song.”
Rolling Stone reached out to Team Satch for comment, and, well, he actually sounded a little delighted. “Bob Dylan knows my name?” came Satriani’s response. With two Grammys to his name, some 15 nominations and collaborations with the likes of Mick Jagger and Deep Purple to his name, Satriani’s great fault might be modesty.
But furthermore, Satch liked the idea of this collaboration. In his writing, it is often fictional collaborations that inform the feel of the song, as on Ali Farka, Dick Dale, an Alien and Me – a track from 2020’s Shapeshifting that imagined him in a jam with the godfather of desert blues, Ali Farka Touré, and the godfather of surf rock, Dick Dale. Stylistically, Satriani had it all make sense.
Satriani, ever the diplomat, disagreed with Dylan, reasoning that he and Hank Williams would have made sense of each other and found some common ground, telling Rolling Stone, “I think the great Hank Williams and I could have sorted things out and made some great music together.”
That would be quite the collaboration, but it could absolutely work. If Dylan’s Satriani playlist is populated by Satch Boogie, Ice 9, et al, he might be getting the wrong impression. Maybe he needs to check out Sleep Walk from 2002’s Strange Beautiful Music, a cover of Santo & Johnny’s 1959 hit that pairs Satriani’s guitar with Robert Fripp’s Frippertronics. Satriani should definitely cover Your Cheatin’ Heart.
The Philosophy Of Modern Song is out now via Simon & Schuster.