Now playing on Phawker Radio! Conor Oberst plays the Troc Aug. 11th
BY JONATHAN VALANIA The biggest cliche about Bright Eyes — aka 24-year-old indie-pop pinup Conor Oberst — is that he’s emerged as the latest “new Dylan,” a Mr. Tambourine Man for the O.C. Nation. Like all cliches, this one’s been worn meaningless by overuse. And yet it’s essentially true. Heck, Oberst already got props from the last New Dylan who amounted to anything: Bruce Springsteen.
Like Dylan in his prime, Oberst writes long, elliptical narratives — weaving word-clotted threads of angst and regret, anger and shame, ecstasy and joy, through a camel’s eye of symbolism, creating word circuses that fascinate even when they flirt with meaninglessness. As with Dylan’s songs, when you boil them all down, they’re essentially about one thing: the wonder of consciousness. Baby I’m amazed, therefore I am.
Both Bob Dylan and Oberst come from the Midwest — Dylan from Duluth, Minn., and Oberst from Omaha, Neb. (his dad actually works in that iconic Mutual of Omaha skyscraper). Both migrated to New York City to pursue their chemical fortunes, riding into town on a ribbon of personal myth and self-invention. Both are — or in Dylan’s case, were — J.D. Salinger’s Holden Caulfield incarnate: impossibly young, madly poetic and profoundly alienated.
Both mastered the art of courting attention while seeming to want to be left alone. Both have voices that are, to put it charitably, acquired tastes, and yet they’ve both managed to convert a laughably limited range and a very casual relationship with pitch into a remarkably expressive instrument. Finally, both have managed to express definitively what it feels like to be young and alive and trying to mapquest meaning with only an acoustic guitar for a compass. As a result, they’ve become existential weathermen for large, loyal followings eager to know which way the metaphysical winds are blowing. MORE