Printer Friendly

Overcoming Success.

Jakob Dylan gets more personal--about his childhood, his music, and his famous father

It is now necessary when mentioning a "Dylan song" to specify whether one means the work of Bob, hero of the Woodstock generation, or of his youngest son, Jakob, lead singer and Grammy-winning songwriter for the Wallflowers.

The younger Dylan, 30, was born in the year of Woodstock, 1969, when the elder Dylan was harnessing rock's drive to a sense of moral outrage and fomenting a cultural revolution. The nation Jakob Dylan inhabits, by contrast, is one in which revolution is a fashion label, teenagers are a market force, and musicians align themselves with record executives against supporters of free, online music delivery systems.

Asked if he could pinpoint the moment in his childhood when he became aware of how the world viewed his father. Jakob says jokingly, "Yeah. While promoting my last record. I really had no idea up till then. They sure kept it a secret around the house."

In truth, he says, "I think I was always aware. More than anything, I remember the way people reacted when they were around him. Most kids think their parents are really fantastic, so it made perfect sense. But as I got older, watching musicians who were my heroes, guys who are very cool, very tough, literally sweating and shaking to be around him--I imagine that effect is everlasting. The moment kind of gets stolen, of allowing your heroes to be larger than life."

Himself a father of three, Jakob is healthily lean as opposed to rockstar skinny, and his manner is good-humored, even wry. So many interviewers want to talk about his father that occasionally he has to remind them that the Wallflowers have a new record out, Breach. It is the band's first since the multi-million-selling Bringing Down the Horse in 1996, which established Jakob as a star.


Breach seems, oddly, the work of a younger man, despite the gruff foghorn of Jakob's voice, which is eerily reminiscent of his father's. The arrangements are sparer, with a single guitar line edging toward styles that Jakob likens to the Delta bluesman Mississippi John Hurt.

Writing the songs, he says, did not come easily. Bringing Down the Horse was successful enough to keep Dylan and the rest of the Wall-flowers--Rami Jaffee on keyboards, Greg Richling on bass, Michael Ward on guitar, and Mario Calire on drums--on the road for two-and-a-half years. The long tour left Dylan feeling "thoroughly unimpressed with myself."

"When you're in the middle of writing a song, you can come up with this whole web of stuff only you know how to get through," he says. "That's very entertaining for me to do that. But two years later I have to sing the song, and I've forgotten how to get through the web, and it becomes frustrating. Because if I no longer really understand what I'm talking about, I don't know how anybody else could."

The songwriters he admires--Tom Waits, Dan Penn, Lefty Frizzell--make a personal connection with the listener. Jakob has questioned whether his own songs could do the same. "I started to wonder if anybody was ever going to gather that from the songs I was writing, because they felt very impersonal," he says.


Some of the desire to conceal himself was instinctive. "When I had grown up," he says, "there was a lot about: `We're not a celebrity family, we're not available. People want to know those things, you walk away.'" His reserve only brought more attention. He was "accused of being aloof and grumpy," he says.

With Breach, Jakob has clearly made an effort to write more personally. While the songs refrain from outright confession, many, like "Hand Me Down" or "Baby Bird," contain images of vulnerability, or the agonies of self-identification engendered by sudden acclaim. He fears that the effort to open up may come to haunt him; that another long tour may lead him to "passionately dislike" the songs. "But," he says, "that's better than feeling nothing."

And above all, he does not want to appear ungrateful for his success. Midway through a complaint, he catches himself:

"I liked getting the Grammy more than not getting it," he says, grinning. "Make that clear."
COPYRIGHT 2000 Scholastic, Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2000, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Publication:New York Times Upfront
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Nov 27, 2000
Previous Article:The Big Choose.
Next Article:Cleaning Up the Movies.

Related Articles
Lots of color, strong heads and short, targeted articles give Small Business Edge the edge.
Editor's Note.
Design competition winner The Wire reflects both strengths and weaknesses of tabloid format.
Police State vs. Posse Comitatus. (Insider Report).
From Dr. Janice Campbell. (Letters to the Editor).
The inside line: tracking PR results: how to determine if your campaign is working.
Information for authors.
Issue brief touts success of follow-up with drinkers.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters