When Bob Dylan turned 70 last week, more than a few fellow fans got in touch. It continues. Each day at least one more ghost from Dylan past blows in off Highway 61. The contacts have come from as far away as Brooklyn, Paris, Woodstock, and Kauai.
One of the "Bobcats" who touched base the other day mentioned that the anniversary made her feel that time was passing her by. Quite the contrary, hereabouts! If there’s anything that separates me completely from the ticking clock, it’s those intervals spent immersed in Dylan’s artful dodging.
They rouse! Wrest you from the rut! Cause you to remain in a state of becoming rather than plodding through whatever "done deal" life may be trying to sell. Bob’s entire oeuvre has always had a way of nudging you toward the as-yet unimagined. I’m not sure what it’s a soundtrack for, but it works for me.
Entire bookshelves at my place are given over to others’ thoughts on the matter. I’ve come to the conclusion, however, that experiencing his recordings and performances in real time, rather than reading about the life that led to them, gets you closer to the center. Except, of course, for Bob’s own "Chronicles."
Not to say that there aren’t various aspects of the Dylan phenomenon that don’t beg analysis. Like what makes a 22-year-old kid from the Mesabi Range write stuff like "Crimson flames tied through my ears/Rollin’ high and mighty traps/Pounced with fire on flaming roads/Using ideas as my maps?" And this, during a time when The Beatles wanted to hold our hand.
I know about the French symbolist poetic influences of Arthur Rimbaud and, more than possibly, later dabbles into hallucinogens, but, still! Who was that masked man? And how could he so grasp and, at the same time, forge, the tenor of his times?
That’s what hooked us with Bob, you know. How early and how often the profundities rolled through his consciousness and off his tongue — highlighted, of course, during the summer of ’65, when "Like a Rolling Stone" burst onto the scene and changed pop-music radio forever.
The images have homesteaded large parcels of landscape within our memories: Bob, hands thrust into blue-jean pockets with girlfriend Suze Rotolo on his arm, sloshing down snowpacked Jones Street in the Village, from the cover of his second Columbia release, "The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan."
When, during the summer of ’70, just weeks after moving to Park City, we slipped "New Morning" onto the turntable the day of its release and heard Bob sing "Build me a cabin in Utah/Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout/Have a bunch of kids who call me ‘Pa’/That must be what it’s all about."
That goose-bump moment down at the Salt Palace in late May 1976 when, early in a nearly four-hour "Rolling Thunder Revue" show, he emerged from backstage wearing his "harp rack" and already strumming the intro to what would become an incredibly stunning solo-acoustic rendition of "Mr. Tambourine Man."
His seemingly incongruous yet perfectly realized 1995 appearance at Frank Sinatra’s 80th birthday bash when Bob sang "Restless Farewell," his own "My Way" and the sole non-Sinatra song of the evening. And Frank just sitting there totally riveted, eyes locked with Bob’s, as the lyric "I’ll bid farewell and not give a damn" hit its target.
And in early summer 1999, when he and Paul Simon performed that classic three-song mini-set of duets at the Delta Center: "Sound of Silence," the roots-medley "I Walk the Line/Blue Moon of Kentucky," and "Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door."
Many of those whose art caught his attention early on would either lose their muse or pass on before their time. Rimbaud stopped writing at nineteen. Hank Williams never saw thirty. Woody Guthrie would become debilitated by Huntington’s disease before Dylan ever met him.
Fortunately for us, our bard found a way to struggle through his own creatively infertile periods which included a couple of back-to-back stops at Park West with the first two "Never Ending Tour" bands at the end of the ’80s.
Currently riding a magnificently crafted 13-year four-album streak of startlingly original material that some say comes close to matching his historically creative ’60s output, Dylan is once again at the top of his form. And for those who "get it," his performance art shines brighter than ever.
Happy belated 70th birthday, Bob. How does it feeeel?
Jay Meehan is a culture junkie and an observer, participant, and chronicler of the Park City and Wasatch County social scenes for the past 40 years.
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