This song randomly popped into my brain this morning, as songs are wont to do since I got my first ipod a few years ago; my brain seems to be permanently set to shuffle these days. I feel like there was some sort of train of thought that led to this song, but I can’t quite put my finger on what I was thinking.
The Byrds were the greatest Bob Dylan cover band of all-time. They had some fine originals, and did some other really great covers, too (“Turn! Turn! Turn!” comes specifically to mind). But some of the best music they performed were otherwise mediocre Bob Dylan songs. (I’m going to throw Dylan’s version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” under the bus here as virtually unlistenable; The Byrds really made that song what it was.) “My Back Pages” was one of their better reclamations.
Really, early Dylan seems tailor-made for The Byrds. They were a semi-psychedelic country rock band from SoCal, not quite trippy enough for the Jefferson Airplane-Moby Grape crowd but a little too soft for harder rock audiences. They took Dylan’s stream of consciousness poetry, and set it to jangling guitars and easy harmonies. It gave a group that might’ve gotten lost among all the other great music of the time an identity and voice. What was most interesting is that it wasn’t Dylan’s voice anymore: The Byrds made the songs their own. Along with Buffalo Springfield, The Byrds created the prototype sound that became California Soft Rock, as personified by acts like the Eagles, Linda Ronstadt, and Jackson Browne. In this form, it’s not slick or commercial. The Byrds sound young and alive, sweetly hopeful and free. There is no cynicism here, even though Dylan’s lyrics are kind of cynical. “My Back Pages” is about shrugging off the tradition and values you’ve been raised with and finding your own way in the world: “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.” It seems a little naive to me now. Only the really young think they know more than the rest of the world. But the sentiment is right in a lot of ways, too. You shouldn’t just accept things that are wrong just because that’s the way things have always been. Question every assumption, challenge every convention. That’s how the world changes.