Bob Dylan, Wilco, My Morning Jacket, and Bob Weir: Their Influence on Culture Extends Way Beyond Music
Climb high enough on the tree of American rock 'n' roll history and you will reach two branches, one marked Elvis Presley, the other Bob Dylan. Every band since these two titans first strummed a guitar has been influenced by one or the other.
Climbing higher up Elvis' side, you find rhythm and blues and gospel; higher on Dylan's side is country and folk. One could say the very white Elvis' musical forefathers were black and Jewish Dylan's quite vanilla. Elvis brought the theatricality and showmanship, whereas Dylan brings the soul-baring authenticity.
As polar opposite as these two legends seem, choosing between them is not an either/or proposition; sometimes the branches intertwine. Elvis was also influenced by country and Dylan by the blues. It is easy to forget that the Bob Dylan who seems so confessional is really hiding behind a stage name phonier than any of the dance moves Elvis learned during an impoverished youth in Tupelo and Memphis.
Their truest difference is that Dylan wrote his own songs, whereas Elvis never did. This shouldn't be a black mark against the Elvis sector. Some of rock's most iconic songs were written by people other than the performers themselves, from Janis Joplin singing "Me and Bobby McGee" to Led Zeppelin's "Dazed and Confused."
But there is a fascination reserved for those who write their own lyrics. Whereas Elvis entertains, Dylan inspires. Elvis gets you dancing; Dylan gets you creating. Nowhere is this more evident than in the works of art inspired by the bands coming to town with the Americanarama Festival of Music hitting Cruzan Amphitheatre on June 26. My Morning Jacket, Wilco, and Bob Weir (cofounder of the Grateful Dead) all share a direct lineage to the headliner of this tour, the former Robert Zimmerman himself, Bob Dylan.
Each of these folks has a worthy collection of music and lyrical poetry that will stand at least through our lifetimes. What is most amazing, though, is how many times these acts have been the subject of another's art, music, film, and prose. Here are the many creative products of Dylan's sonic ancestry and ever-growing future:
My Morning Jacket
The junior members of this tour are 15 years and six albums into their run as the preeminent rock band from Louisville, Kentucky. Cameron Crowe chose this quintet to play the role of the band Ruckus in the 2005 film Elizabethtown. Sure, the role called for a band residing in Kentucky, but Crowe knows about music. Before becoming a screenwriter and film director, he was a music journalist for Rolling Stone. He bottled those experiences to create what is probably the greatest rock 'n' roll movie of all time, Almost Famous. And while, by any standard, Elizabethtown was mediocre (especially when compared with its direct predecessor, Almost Famous), it is still a worthy notch on My Morning Jacket's belt that Crowe -- who portrayed the spirit of rock 'n' roll as well as any nonmusician ever has -- would cast them as the prototypical Southern slacker rock band.
The most dynamic lyricists of the 2000s, Wilco members found themselves unlikely movie stars in 2002 when they starred in a documentary titled I Am Trying to Break Your Heart: A Film About Wilco. The movie used the band to rep the Zeitgeist of the changing of the music business. The album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, which a decade later is by consensus an out-and-out classic, got the band dropped from its record label. Under no contractual obligation, Wilco made the album available free to download on its website. This mounted enough attention that the band was signed by another record label, the irony being that both labels were owned by Warner Music Group, meaning that Warner paid Wilco twice for the same album.