Bob Dylan is marketing his new studio album, the 36th of his long and winding career, to the biggest retirees organisation in the US. His first interview in three years, the only one for his new album of Frank Sinatra covers, was not in Rolling Stone. Dylan gave the exclusive to the monthly magazine of America’s biggest lobby for over-50s, AARP.
What’s more, Dylan is giving away 50,000 free copies of Shadows in the Night to AARP members. On CD, of course – that near-obsolete format still beloved by over-50s. Delivered by snailmail, packaged inside the hard copy magazine – how else would it get to veteran Dylan fans? Talk to most of Bob’s age-mates about MP3s and downloads and their eyes glaze over.
Why is Dylan targeting baby boomers, and even those older than him? The fact that he still spends so much of each year on tour shows how much he cares about his audience, and AARP’s 36-million members are the demographic of his Sinatra tribute album.
There’s another reason for Dylan’s marketing strategy. It’s kind of obvious. As well as audible. Dylan is old now. Why shouldn’t he reach out to people his age? And those 20 years younger and older.
“He thought that this record would be more appreciated by people who have more wisdom and experience in life.”
– AARP magazine edit0r-in-chief Robert Love, former editor of Rolling Stone
Are you flattered enough to buy Dylan’s new album? (If you’re not one of the lucky AARP members who gets it in their mailbox.)
AARP: A lot of your newer songs deal with aging. You once said that people don’t retire, they fade away, they run out of steam. And now you’re 73, you’re a great-grandfather.
DYLAN: Look, you get older. Passion is a young man’s game. Young people can be passionate. Older people gotta be more wise. I mean, you’re around awhile, you leave certain things to the young. Don’t try to act like you’re young. You could really hurt yourself… Life has its ups and downs, and time has to be your partner, you know? Really, time is your soul mate.
– AARP magazine interview
Whatev’s, Bob. Thanks for sharing those poetic thoughts about aging. Now back to the music. Seen in the context of Dylan’s recent career moves, his latest album may just be its most improbable moment. That’s the argument of this review.
Dylan has latterly made a career out of doing the exact opposite of what most of his peers do. They dutifully tour their big hits, or perform classic albums in order; he takes to the stage and either brilliantly reinterprets his back catalogue or wilfully mangles it beyond repair, depending on whether you’re the kind of critic who gets whole paragraphs out of a change of syllabic emphasis in the lyrics of All Along the Watchtower or an audience member who’s heard three-quarters of Like a Rolling Stone without realising it’s Like a Rolling Stone. They make albums that cravenly attempt to conjure up the atmosphere of their best-loved classic works; he makes albums that conjure up a world before Bob Dylan existed – filled with music that sounds like blues or rockabilly or country from an age when pop was as yet untouched by his influence.
– Exystence music blog, 30 January 2015
This whole Dylan-Sinatra thing is indeed improbable…
Bob Dylan covering Sinatra? wake me when it's over.
— Betty Aberlin (@bettyaberlin) February 5, 2015