Bob Dylan turns 70 years old today, and it just about blows my mind. After all, Dylan has been, for me, the standard by which all good music has been measured since I was in my early teens.
Thinking of him as 70, therefore, makes me feel really old.
To call myself a fan of Dylan’s is a massive understatement, and yet I’ve never been someone who saw him as some kind of prophet.
Perhaps it’s a shortcoming of the term fan. The other night I watched the movie Hereafter, starring Matt Damon, and at one point in the film Damon’s character says that he’s a big fan of Charles Dickens. That just struck me as odd, in the same way, I suspect, that it would strike Dickens himself as odd.
Fitting, then, that I think of Bob Dylan as more of a literary figure, like Dickens, than just a musician or rock star. To me, Dylan is an American roots musicologist, poet, and memoirist.
Volumes have been written about Dylan, making the odds of saying anything original rather slim. And yet, none of those volumes were written by me about my experience of his music and writing, so here are just a few personal reflections:
- When I first heard the lines, “Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, and don’t criticize what you can’t understand. Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command…” I felt thoroughly understood and thought of those words as a permission slip.
- When I got my first guitar, the first book of songs I bought and learned from was Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits.
- Soon after, I took a wire clothes hanger and bent it into a harmonica holder so that I could play the harmonica while playing the guitar a la Bob.
- I agree with Rolling Stone magazine that Dylan’s Like A Rolling Stone is the greatest song ever recorded, and every time I hear that opening snare tap, following by that rush of electric guitar, bass, piano, and Hammond organ, I literally get chills.
- After listening and analyzing Dylan’s lyrics for, gulp, 30+ years, I still don’t know what the hell the song Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again is about, but it’s one of the greatest acts of stream-of-consciousness word play ever.
- Knowing how to play and sing as many Dylan songs as I do has had an unfortunate consequence, making it difficult to think of non-Dylan songs to play at the hundreds of jam sessions I’ve participated in over the years.
Thanks, Bob, for all of the amazing music you’ve given us over all those years.
I hope you have a great birthday!
(Note: Check out this cool slideshow put together in honor of Bob at an unlikely website.)