Yesterday I realized that I’d missed Bob Dylan’s birthday. What do I mean by ‘missed’? Don’t know. I guess I didn’t get to stand back in reflection and think about him for a good five minutes or so. Play a song of his off my library or something.
Just the idea of that strikes me as strangely ironic somehow; that is, thinking of Bob Dylan and digital music libraries in the same tune. Maybe it’s because as I write this, I am currently looking at the current edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ lying open on my lap commemorating his 70th birthday, showing an early black-and-white picture of Dylan rolling a tire tube across the street, scarf blowing in what is surely a very cold New York City wind. It’s not an image I would readily associate with my generation.
He’s got to be 22 or 23 then. Amidst what is soon to become an extraordinary time for this country and the world, on the eve of assassinations, war, protest and ultimately riots; here is Bob, rolling this tire in the calm before the storm with an innocence that fits at least my interpretation of the term “‘Freewheelin’”, about to become what will henceforth be referred to, regardless of his own wishes, as the voice of a generation.
As “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands” now serenades this winking morning, I think now about his directional change merely a year later from folk to rock–at least that’s one easy way to describe it–and how it came just as the chaos of the era was unfolding. Just as people began clamoring for more prophets and leaders, heroes and spokesmen to take the place of the fallen Kennedy, and echo their own voice; Dylan turns his back on the folk scene and toward what is viewed as the self-indulgent and commercial pop genre, joined only by the Beatles in re-inventing rock and roll and changing music forever.
Thus began, nonetheless, a long period of contradictions and elusiveness in the seemingly enigmatic Bob Dylan. He would no doubt leave many critics and other listeners frustrated in their constant inability to pin the man down under one style or genre, as Dylan would constantly be on the move from rock hero to a country singer, from gypsy bandleader to some kind of Gospel preacher.
I never felt the overwhelming need to understand the man himself. It’s not really any of my business, though I admit to being pretty attached to ‘Chronicles: Vol. 1’; in which Bob gives us a selection of anecdotes from his life in generous detail. Regardless of whether they were true, it proved that he could tell stories on almost any level with an unchanging and really remarkable degree of eloquence and concision.
Furthermore, the music is enough for me. It is always there for me not only in getting even a brief understanding of Bob Dylan, but more so in understanding myself–being young and trying to make sense of the world around me. And when I’m an older man, it will still be there as I continue learning about the person that I am and the life that I lead; and for that, I am in Bob Dylan’s eternal debt.