- The Washington Times - Monday, November 27, 2000

Originality is prized by bands both younger and older than the Wallflowers. But Jakob Dylan, the leader of this classic-rock-inspired quintet and the son of one of rock 'n' roll's most imitated legends, is convinced originality is overrated.
"I think people make a huge mistake by denying tradition," says Mr. Dylan, whose famed father continues to salute and extend various stylistic traditions on a nightly basis. "Everything lasting around you is based on tradition, whether it's architecture, pottery or whatever.
"The idea of inventing something original is pointless, and it's often unattainable. Being original either happens or it doesn't. That's why groups who spend a lot of time when they are young playing cover songs (by other artists) are so powerful. You have to learn what you're doing first, before you can invent something of your own."
Besides, originality isn't the point, at least not for this 30-year-old singer, songwriter and somewhat-reluctant rock star.
"The point is to be inspired," says Mr. Dylan, who led the Wallflowers in a recent concert in San Diego.
"Early on, people asked me a lot about my inspirations, and I mentioned the Clash. But my point was never to imitate them; I was not a middle-class guy from England. The same could be said of [singer-banjo great] Ralph Stanley, [because] bluegrass doesn't have relevance to my music. But it's thrilling for me to hear [him], and part of what's thrilling is that [his music] is totally unattainable."
For his part, Mr. Dylan and his band's thoughtful, no-nonsense brand of heartland rock has proven very attainable and appealing to a large audience. That despite (or, perhaps, because of) its stylistic debt to such artists as Tom Petty, the Band, Van Morrison, Elvis Costello (a guest musician on the Wallflowers' new album) and others, including Bob Dylan. The Los Angeles-based group's second album, 1996's "Bringing Down the Horse," sold more than 4 million copies and yielded such memorable hits as "One Headlight," "Three Marlenas" and "Sixth Avenue Heartache."
The Wallflowers' new album, "Breach," finds Mr. Dylan and his band crafting a sound and style of their own. It entered the national Billboard album sales charts at No. 13 with a bullet, buoyed by a media blitz that included a lengthy profile in Rolling Stone magazine. The video for the album's first single, "Sleepwalker," is in regular airplay on both MTV and VH1, while the song is also on Billboard's Modern Rock, Mainstream Rock and Adult Top 40 charts.
"We've released all our records at the wrong time," Mr. Dylan says. "What other people are doing is irrelevant; you can't allow yourself to pay attention to it. A lot of people have made records compromising themselves in order to be 'current.' By their next record they backtrack, and say that they're 'getting back to their roots.'
"You have to see who's been around a long time, and what they have and haven't done," he says.
Mr. Dylan knows he need look no further than his own father to learn what to do to achieve musical longevity.
But his dad has been a taboo subject, both in interviews and in the younger Dylan's songs, which went out of their way not to mention anything about his personal life in general or even to write lyrics in the first person.
"I definitely didn't want to spend much time giving people answers to stuff that wasn't relevant to what I was trying to do," he explains from Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and three young children. "It wasn't that I was avoiding it, as much as I was finding lots of other stuff in my life to write about. [Parents] are one part of a person, and there are many other parts."
"Breach" boasts Mr. Dylan's most straightforward lyrics to date. Directly addressing personal topics in his songs proved liberating, he says.
Mr. Dylan's newfound directness is a large reason why "Breach" is the best of the Wallflowers' three albums. Another is his increasingly assured songwriting, which suggests he has the potential to transcend his well-known influences.
But the song on "Breach" that has attracted the most attention, "Hand Me Down," deals with someone who may be his biggest influence of all (musical and otherwise) his father.
It finds Mr. Dylan facing the challenge of trying to follow in the footsteps of a world-famous parent. Witness such stinging lines as:
You could never make us proud … it's not your fault you embarrass us all.
"The lyrics have been exaggerated," Mr. Dylan admits. "But I've never felt the need to defend them or to deny what people are saying. That's the point the songs are supposed to be interpreted by the listeners. I knew people would think this was a coming-out song that had me addressing the obvious, but it's not the case as much as they imagine."
And what of Bob Dylan? Does Jakob Dylan hope to one day get to a musical destination figuratively or literally his father has not yet reached?
"If you could find a place he hasn't been," Mr. Dylan replies with the slightest hint of a chuckle, "let me know."

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