Jakob Dylan Writes About Journey


Wednesday, October 18th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6


NEW YORK (AP) — The first two Wallflowers discs were made in a vacuum, the songs essentially written to impress friends or win a contract after the first record failed miserably.

So when Jakob Dylan sat down to write the songs on ``Breach,'' he realized for the first time that a lot of people would be listening. After all, his breakthrough album ``Bringing Down the Horse'' sold 4.1 million copies.

And the thought freaked him out.

He tried writing what he thought people would want to hear ``and I was miserable,'' he said. ``It's completely dishonest and you feel horrible doing it.

``So I just took five months to forget about it.''

He didn't really want to write about becoming a success, or complain about life on the road. The trouble was, he had just spent most of 2 1/2 years on a tour bus, achieving many of his life's dreams. They were hard subjects to avoid.

Dylan broke his creative logjam with the metaphor-laden ``I've Been Delivered.'' The song's narrator seems to learn, through a long journey, the importance of remembering why you got into your life's work. The realization becomes a form of rebirth.

The success of ``Bringing Down the Horse'' allowed Dylan to experience many of the milestones that were on his personal list while growing up. Appear on ``Saturday Night Live''? Check. Opening act for the Rolling Stones? Check. The cover of Rolling Stone magazine? Check. Grammy Award? Check.

Then he put rock stardom on hold to go home to California.

``I just kind of forgot why I wanted to do it in the first place,'' he said. ``Those (milestones) can't be the reasons. Once you satisfy those things, you have to find really valuable, truthful reasons for why you do it. Otherwise, you're kind of done at that point.''

His search essentially became the theme of ``Breach,'' a darker and less catchy album than its predecessor. The opening track, ``Letters From the Wasteland,'' is about a man disconnected by life on the road. ``Sleepwalker'' is a cynical take on the machinery of stardom.

``I hear Jakob coming to terms with success and its meaning and its value on a very human level,'' said Andrew Slater, the Wallflowers' manager.

Dylan has never overtly addressed his family legacy on disc, so it's no surprise that many listeners were immediately drawn to the song, ``Hand Me Down.'' (Jakob's dad, Bob, also writes songs. You may have heard of him.)

In the lyrics, Dylan describes the weight of expectations in terms that go beyond self-deprecation to self-flagellation. He sings ``you won't ever amount to much'' and ``you won't ever make us proud.'' The singer describes himself as ``living proof evolution is through.''

``If somebody else had written the song, you'd probably never assume it was about your parents,'' he said. ``You would never jump to that conclusion. You would think that it's a song about someone trying to defy something.''

So what's it about, Jakob?

We asked — twice — but it appears being cryptic is a family trait. Either that, or he shares with his father the stubborn insistence that songs should say to fans whatever they want them to say.

``I could say that I'm directly in the song,'' he said, ``but it's not necessarily a family issue.''

Dylan wrote more about himself on ``Breach'' than he ever has in the past, although a listener will hardly be able to say they know this 30-year-old, married father of three when it's done.

It's a little surprising to see Dylan, who hasn't let people pry into his family life, discuss it more openly in a Rolling Stone article that was even illustrated with his baby pictures.

``Anytime anybody gets recognized on his own — and Jakob clearly got recognized in selling all those records and winning the Grammy Awards as having his own voice as a singer — it makes it easier to deal with a lot of things,'' Slater said. Understandably for someone with his own thriving career, family history is still not his favorite subject.

``It appears to people like I'm a lot more open about it and a lot more comfortable,'' Dylan said. ``I've never said that. Some of the stuff I've read is about how I've confronted my family issues. There's really only one song that could be perceived that way and I haven't confirmed that it is or isn't.''

He resisted talking about it in the past because many of the questions were ``gossipy or dumb.'' He's only felt the need to discuss it now to help people understand where he comes from as a songwriter.

``I'm by no means more comfortable about it now than I was then,'' he said. ``I just find it more relevant.''

Dylan, who grew up a fan of the Clash and Replacements, realizes one dream on ``Breach'' by dueting with Elvis Costello. He's an example of the artists Dylan appreciates, those who grow and develop throughout their careers and take fans along for the ride.

To that end, Dylan was particularly excited about writing ``I've Been Delivered'' because it was a talking blues-style song without an obvious structure. It was unlike anything he had written.

``I did try other things, but I always knew that I was going to do this — play music,'' he said. ``I expected it to be a challenge, but I don't really pretend that my situation is a lot harder than a lot of other situations out there. I was prepared to not have to do it for people. I can write a song and record it with just a guitar and listen back to it.''

He can, but doesn't really want to. He's never understood artists who say they don't care who listens to their music or whether they like it. Music isn't really a private thing, he said.

It makes it easy to understand why Dylan spent a couple of years as one of the hardest-working road warriors this side of, well, his dad. The Wallflowers performed just about anywhere they could get an audience, then came back and did it again.

``I just devoted my early 20s and mid-20s to doing it in the hopes that I could be paid to do it for the rest of my life,'' he said.