In Praise of Bob Dylan
What will you be doing at 69?
Touring the country in the world’s best cowboy band, putting out chart topping albums, playing in the vicinity of one hundred gigs a year?
Bob Dylan is a man of singular accomplishments. His career is littered with a string of ‘firsts,’ and true to form, and until recently (bumped
by Neil Diamond) he held he honor of being the oldest living person
to ever have a number one album on the Billboard charts. This was merely one more notch in the belt of this curious man, who, birthed in the nowhere of Hibbing, Minnesota, left and found himself somewhere, at the forefront of American song, a vagabond commenting on the mysteries of love and life, a constantly roaming soul ruled by restlessness and endless search for new experience. For beauty.
And truth, let’s not forget truth. Dylan never does.
I first heard of Bob Dylan when I was eleven years old, in 1963.
His second record had come out, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,
and “Blowin’ in the Wind” was making its way into everyone’s consciousness via the bland but reassuring version Peter, Paul and Mary had riding the radio waves. Even then, before he’d barely begun his career, Dylan was mythic. He was like a holy man, a great wise prophet of twenty-one years who you had to make a pilgrimage to, even if the pilgrimage was only down to the local Woolworth’s when you’d scrounged up enough change to buy the album.
A friend of mine, Billy P. was the first on our street, in the white bread little suburban town of Reading, Massachusetts, to own it. Billy and
I were opposites – he didn’t have much to say about anything, was pragmatic, the most athletic of a neighborhood full of baby boomer boys. He was a clear-eyed boy, no nonsense, a natural leader. Think Clint Eastwood at a year older than me at the time – twelve. We all looked up to him, he commanded respect, but secretly, I considered him to be somewhat dull and unimaginative. He wasn’t interested in reading much, as far as I knew, not even comic books.
So when I heard he had Dylan’s album, I was taken aback, but excited that he owned it. I asked him if I could come over and listen, and he said sure. That was where I first heard the voice of Bob Dylan in earnest, other than a snatch of him singing Blowin’ in the Wind on the radio. Down in Billy’s basement, around a little mono turntable usually used to play pop 45’s, a tinny, single speaker a voice across that room, a voice that would come to shape my life, guide me, test me, haunt me through all my days.