Bob Dylan’s son, the musician and performer Jakob Dylan, has urged young people to get together in person to make music and not to rely on technology, after fronting an elegiac film about how the ageing “giants” of rock gathered together to share ideas and refine their sounds.
Digital files now allow singers and musicians to hear each other across great distances, and even to collaborate on new songs, but it should never replace the habit of playing together, Dylan argues.
“It is not required to play with people any more,” Dylan, 50, told the Observer this weekend from his home in Los Angeles. “It has already altered the way people make and record music before the lockdown. They send files to each other, and they are not even in the room when they make a record together.”
The singer, whose new film about the fertile Californian music scene of the 1960s and early 70s is released in Britain next month, added that his experience of interviewing many of the towering artists who once gathered in the music haven of Laurel Canyon has strengthened his sense of the value of collaboration.
The film, Echo in the Canyon, was directed by former Capitol Records boss Andrew Slater and features Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys, Graham Nash, Michelle Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas, Eric Clapton, Ringo Starr and a final screen interview with Tom Petty. Its release follows Dylan’s album of cover versions of hits from the era, performed alongside leading musicians of later generations such as Beck, Norah Jones, Regina Spektor and Cat Power.
Dylan – whose father was famously heckled by folk fans at a concert at Manchester’s Free Trade Hall in 1966 for playing with a loud, electric band – is not opposed to all use of new technology. “There are a lot of good things about technology, it has made some things much easier,” he said. “But I think if you want to play music with someone in your neighbourhood, you should go around and play together.”
In the film, Dylan speaks to former members of influential bands such as the Byrds and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, and he also talks to Wilson about the famous creative nudge he received when he listened to the Beatles’ album Revolver. He and the Beach Boys responded with Pet Sounds, and the Beatles returned the favour with Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967.
“There was a friendly sense of competition in the late 60s, but it was still competition,” said Dylan. “People shared ideas partly because they were not aware how the business would change and of the importance that would be placed on these things now. If they had been, they might have behaved differently.”
As the son of an internationally revered musician, Dylan has an especially clear perspective on modern admiration of “the gods of rock’n’roll”. “I am not sure that gods are walking on this Earth, but there are giants,” he said. “They are walking among us still and they are real people. I’m lucky that they made time to speak to me because I don’t think they all enjoy looking backwards. It is a burden to them. Brian Wilson must be tired of talking about the 60s. But we are not getting artists quite like this again. It will be different.”
The lockdown due to the Covid-19 outbreak has caused a period of mournful reflection for the musician, as well as for all fans of the music of the 1960s. “I feel horrible that this is the last phase of these musicians’ lives and they are living like this and not able to play to people,” said Dylan.
“Many of them may not play again to a big audience. You would have wished that by the time they reached this age they should be just coasting and not dealing with this.”
The future of music, Dylan believes, is inevitably going to be reset, along with the rest of society. “It is not yet clear when or how. But it is down to young people what they will do. They might do it through tech now but they should not turn their back on an era when people jammed together,” he said.
“And if you like someone’s music, you should always take the opportunity to find out who it was they liked. That is how I started to follow this story.”
Echo in the Canyon is released digitally in the UK on 8 June