From a 21st century standpoint, it is almost impossible to hear ‘worried blues’ as anything other than a moment in amber. There is a certain sort of spark in the early material of great artists, as if you can almost feel the surge of fame, glory, and music that is waiting in the wings. To some degree, that “spark” has to be hindsight. Certainly for fans of American music, the nut-shell history of Dylan’s storied career is ingrained like the fable of George Washington cutting down a cherry tree, or the tale of Paul Revere riding through town. It is a folk legend for the modern era.
Even if the idea of “spark” only works as an explanation looking backwards in time, audiences in 1962 must have felt something, as Dylan’s career was on a powerful trajectory.
Compared to much of the other popular music available in 1962, it is easy to see why. America was a nation in waiting. Many of the rockers who had changed music just a few short years prior were either gone, absent, or had fallen from grace. The world of popular folk music was in many ways little more promising-often dominated by campfire style sing-alongs led by chipper, collegiate pseudo-choirs. In this context, Dylan’s strange voice and simple approach must have cut like a knife through a veritable mountain of fluff.
‘Worried blues’ on its own, is an odd vessel to possess such power. It is a simple number, with Dylan very much in Woody Guthrie mode. It is a quiet and thoughtful tune, with nothing but finger-picked guitar and calm vocals. No brash harmonica, no wildly witty lines, just a simple, straightforward song. The most moving aspect of ‘worried blues’ is the inescapable sense of weariness in Dylan’s performance. He sounds like a voice from the past, albeit one looking clearly toward the future—at the turbulent decade with which his career would become so inextricably intertwined.
He sings, “I’ve got the worried blues, I’m going where I’ve never been before…”
There would be no turning back.Posted: November 14, 2012