Dylan neat or Dylan beat: Bob and Sandy, two giants clash again and she wins
Cover Story (2) and Dylan at 80: Don't Think Twice It's All Right. Dylan or Baez

Dylan neat or Dylan beat: when Eddie Vedder sings of war, the master is mastered

Sue Nicholson and I worked together as young reporters on a local paper. She later went successfully into PR, where the role in which I most remember her was as head of communications for Northumbria Police. Away from work, I knew she was a Bob Dylan fan and it came as no surprise when she offered to contribute to our Dylan at 80 series. I did not expect her to find fault. But she has no quarrels with the power of his words  ...

 

540px-Eddie_Vedder_and_Pearl_Jam_in_concert_in_Italy_2006
Image: Wikipedia


Watching Bob Dylan’s 30th anniversary concert recorded at Madison Square Garden in 1992, I don’t recognise the long haired singer who steps forward and begins: "Come you masters of war, you that build the big guns…"

I’m introduced to Eddie Vedder, lead singer of Pearl Jam. This was a band I’d never heard of until that moment; they’ve become a favourite.

Back to 1992. I’m stopped in my tracks by Vedder’s deep, soaring voice which gives Masters of War, a song written in condemnation of the Cold War arms race, a fresh vigour coming as it does after conflicts in Vietnam, Cambodia and the Gulf.

Having listened to Dylan since the mid 60s - I wasn’t a big fan until The Band arrived and he turned electric - I feel it’s his words that have made him a legend, not his voice.

In his youth he was earnest. You could sense the passion, but with age he merely croaks and is careless with melodies.

Vedder rekindles the intensity of the original, underlined with a mournfulness that nothing has changed in the three decades since the song was written.

It’s a powerful rendering and the version I most listen to,  one I hope scares the living daylights out of those who hide in their mansions ´´while the young people's blood flows out of their bodies and is buried in the mud’´.


Now, almost 60 years on from its first release (Freewheelin’, 1963), Master of War is more resonant than ever. The geography has changed but we still endure devastating atrocities fuelled by politics and greed.

 
 

Comments

Bill Taylor

Without doubting Eddie Vedder's abilities or sincerity, this could be just another Pearl Jam song. Which is a fine enough thing in and of itself but it brings nothing new to "Masters of War." His voice, always the band's most distinctive feature, is as good as always. But my feeling is that he's not really singing this from the heart.
Dylan's original has lost none of its desperation, frustration and quiet, intense anger. His repetitive guitar riff drives the message home. Vedder's accompanists embellish it nicely but at the same time dilute it.
I would listen - and have listened in the past - to Vedder's version for entertainment. Dylan takes it to a deeper, darker place.

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