Jakob Dylan is trying to discuss which elements of his new album might be autobiographical. But he keeps getting sidetracked by something he sees out of the corner of his very blue eye.
”I wrote all these songs within the same six-month period,” he’s explaining over iced tea at an alfresco café table in L.A.’s Fairfax district. ”And if you’re writing out of a certain block of time, out of experience, and not just making up stories, the songs are gonna have a theme, whether you like it or … ” Now he can’t help being distracted. ”This guy is having the best time!”
He nods in the direction of the sidewalk across the street. Jiggling distractingly down the block is a tubby, Walkman-wearing jogger, apparently so overcome with musical joy that he’s skipping spastically along the pavement, making almost no forward progress. You’d swear it was Richard Simmons on crack. ”That never happens to me when I put a Walkman on. Never,” says a bemused Dylan. ”I hope that’s not a new exercise, because that’s horrible!”
I suggest that we find out which oldies this deranged jogger is sweatin’ to. ”Yeah. I hope it’s not my new tape,” Dylan offers.
Not bloody likely. Even if Mr. Happy Pants had managed to download an MP3 of Breach, the soon-to-be-released third album from Dylan and his band the Wallflowers, he might be running more … meditatively. The new collection (due Oct. 10) is a much more personal, possibly more pensive set of Dylanology than we’ve heard from this branch of the family before, and, while it rocks, it feels considerably less celebratory than 1996’s 4-million-seller Bringing Down the Horse. In other words, it’s not real skip-to-m’lou music.
If you had to pick someone at the opposite end of the scale of demonstrativeness from the exuberant nutcase across the street, you might pick the handsome man in black on this side of the boulevard, who, until recently, could have served as the poster boy for impenetrability. But Breach represents a serious crack in the wall of opacity Dylan has put up since the Wallflowers’ self-titled debut in 1992. His singing has become more expressive, and the lyrics contain some surprisingly candid stanzas. One song in particular, ”Hand Me Down,” is a startling evocation of just how insecure it might feel to be Bob Dylan’s son — the sort of subject matter he’s heretofore avoided like the plague. This is the first album in which Dylan fils doesn’t come off like a wallflower.
”I think all my songs have been personal,” he says, rising slightly to his own defense, ”but I just made them a little more dense before, made ’em real thick so that I didn’t feel exposed. A lot of younger writers do that.” Especially younger writers born to bards and poet laureates. ”Before, I haven’t really wanted anybody buying my records looking for information about myself or my family,” he allows. ”But at this point, the group has a lot of people buying the records who aren’t interested in that, so it gives me more freedom.”