Skip to comments.Not dark yet (Happy 68th to Bob Dylan))
Posted on 05/24/2009 10:46:29 PM PDT by pissant
Today is the birthday of Minnesota native son Bob Dylan; he turns 68. He is a remarkable artist, self-invented, deep in the American grain. Tribute must be paid.
A few years back I visited Dylan's old house at 2425 7th Avenue East in Hibbing. The house is a small two-story residence with a one-car attached garage on the side. The house is exactly two blocks from Hibbing High School, Dylan's alma mater. A Dylan fan must own the house. The garage door has the cover of Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks" album painted on it.
Howard Sounes's Dylan biography Down The Highway does the best job of capturing the Hibbing period of Dylan's life. Sounes's research is impeccable, including his discussion of Dylan's teen-age friendships with Larry Kegan and Howard Rutman in the Twin Cities.
How could Dylan have absorbed all the strains of American popular music in a town as remote as Hibbing? The radio was apparently Dylan's indispensable source, but the development of his gifts seems incredibly unlikely. How could he have formed the ambition to become "Bob Dylan" from his roots in Hibbing? The town must have provided some encouragement, even if it also provided the impetus for him to move on and not look back. The people he left behind there remain incredibly nice.
In his outstanding City Journal essay on Pete Seeger ("America's most successful Communist"), Howard Husock placed Dylan in the line of folk agitprop in which Seeger stood at the head. Husock's essay is an important and entertaining piece. Dylan is only a small part of the story Husock has to tell, however, and Husock therefore does not pause long enough over Dylan to observe how quickly Dylan burst the shackles of agitprop, found his voice and tapped into his own vein of the Cosmic American Music. Looking back on his long career, one can discern his respect for the tradition and his ambition to stand at the head of it as its preeminent songwriter.
On 1964's "The Times They Are A-Changin'" album, Dylan foreshadowed his break from the folk movement in "Restless Farewell," the album's closing song. Later that year he turned in a more personal direction with "Another Side of Bob Dylan," his last folk album. Ben Macintyre notes:
Dylan set words to music in a way that no one had done before. He refused to be pigeon-holed by the folkies, the protesters or the rockers. He borrowed and synthesised from the literary, artistic and actual worlds like a musical magpie, and he skilfully evolved his own mystique. And he kept going, even when his listeners booed or complained or, like the enraged Pete Seeger in 1965, threatened to chop off his sound cable with a hatchet at a folk festival in Newport because he had defected to electric sound. At a British concert, we see a furious folkie leaping to his feet and shouting "Judas!" Dylan is defiant: "You're a liar...Play it ****ing loud," he instructs the band.
That last moment comes from Dylan's legendary concert of May 1966 documented on volume 4 of Columbia's Dylan Bootleg Series (and can now be viewed here on YouTube). The concert was misattributed to the Royal Albert Hall when it surfaced on bootleg albums in 1970, though it has now been identified as having taken place in Manchester's Free Trade Hall -- in the interest of history, of course.
Macintyre briefly sums up Dylan's self-education:
In 1960 Robert Zimmerman, a gawky Jewish boy from Minnesota, hitch-hiked to New York City. He came to join the burgeoning folk music circuit, but he also came to read, hunkered down on the sofas of his bookish new friends in Greenwich Village. "I read all of Lord Byron's Don Juan and concentrated fully from start to finish," he wrote later. "Also Coleridge's 'Kubla Khan.' I began cramming my brain with all kinds of deep poems. It seemed like I'd been pulling an empty wagon for a long time and now I was beginning to fill it up and would have to pull harder. I felt like I was coming out of the back pasture.
Gogol, Balzac, Hugo, Dickens, Thucydides ("a narrative which would give you chills"), Tennessee Williams, Bertolt Brecht, Jules Verne, H.G. Wells: all were piled into the wagon, alongside the music of Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams, and the films of Marlon Brando and James Dean. He spent nights studying the American Civil War at New York public library and consuming newspapers: "What was swinging, topical, up to date for me was stuff like the Titanic sinking, the Galveston flood, John Henry driving steel...this was the news that I considered, followed and kept tabs on."
By the time of "Highway 61 Revisited" in 1965, Dylan was singing: "I need a dump truck to unload my head."
Dylan on hippies (from an ‘04 interview):
“I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of,” Dylan says. “I was fantasizing about a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard. Roadmaps to our homestead must have been posted in all 50 states for gangs of dropouts and druggies. I wanted to set fire to these people,” Dylan recollects.
Very good call.
I watched the 1973 western Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid (2005 version) last night. Bob Dylan plays a knife carrying outlaw in the film.
One of my favorite Peckinpah films. Classic scenes abound. And what a cast!
Bounty hunter: “What’s your name, boy?”
Bounty hunter: Alias what?
Dylan: Alias anything you please.
Bounty hunter: Then what do I call you?
Fellow member of Billy’s gang: Hell, just call him Alias.
Dylan: That’s what I’d do.
Bounty hunter: Alright, Alias it is.
...and then Billy (Kris Kristofferson) proceeds to tell a story about a mean, drunk old guy by the name of “U.S. Christmas” just before his gang kills every last bounty hunter. “Alias” took one of ‘em out with a knife throw through the neck.
Do you blame him because others misinterpreted him? Do you blame Kant and Hegel for Marx?
HOW DOES IT FEEEEEEEEL?
The National Post ^ | 5/24/01 | Mark Steyn
Posted on Friday, April 18, 2003 12:33:51 PM by Paul Ross
HOW DOES IT FEEEEEEEEEEL?
From The National Post, May 24th 2001
I first noticed a sudden uptick in Bob Dylan articles maybe a couple of months ago, when instead of Pamela Anderson’s breasts or J-Lo’s bottom bursting through the National Post masthead there appeared to be a shriveled penis that had spent way too long in the bath. On closer inspection, this turned out to be Bob Dylan’s head. He was, it seems, getting ready to celebrate his birthday. For today he turns 60.
Sixty? I think the last time I saw him on TV was the 80th birthday tribute to Sinatra six years ago, and, to judge from their respective states, if Frank was 80, Bob had to be at least 130. He mumbled his way through “Restless Farewell”, though neither words nor tune were discernible, and then shyly offered, “Happy Birthday, Mister Frank.” Frank sat through the number with a stunned look, no doubt thinking, “Geez, that’s what I could look like in another 20, 25 years if I don’t ease up on the late nights.”
Still, Bob’s made it to 60, and for that we should be grateful. After all, for the grizzled old hippies, folkies and peaceniks who spent the Sixties bellowing along with “How does it feeeeeel?” these have been worrying times. A couple of years ago, Bob’s management were canceling his tours and the only people demanding to know “How does it feeeeeel?” were Dylan’s doctors, treating him in New York for histoplasmosis, a fungal infection that in rare cases can lead to potentially fatal swelling in the pericardial sac. If the first question on your lips is “How is histoplasmosis spread?” well, it’s caused by fungal spores which invade the lungs through airborne bat droppings. In other words, the answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.
He has, of course, looked famously unhealthy for years, even by the impressive standards of Sixties survivors. He was at the Vatican not so long ago and, although we do not know for certain what the Pope said as the leathery, wizened, stooped figure with gnarled hands and worn garb was ushered into the holy presence, it was probably something along the lines of, “Mother Teresa! But they told me you were dead!” “No, no, your Holiness,” an aide would have hastily explained. “This is Bob Dylan, the voice of a disaffected generation.”
It is not for me to join the vast army of Dylanologists who’ve been poring over his songs for 30 years. As Bob himself once said, “They are whatever they are to whoever’s listening to them.” End of story. But it does seem to me that, while most rock stars pursue eternal youth, Dylan has always sought premature geezerdom. The traditional elderly rocker look is best exemplified by Gram’pa Rod Stewart: peroxide hair with that toss-a-space-heater-in-the-bathtub look, tight gold lame pants with extravagant codpiece, pneumatic supermodel on your arm. By contrast, Bob, barely out of his teens, consciously adopted an aged singing voice and the experience it implied, a quintessentially Dylanesque jest on pop’s Peter Pan ethos.
When he emerged in the early Sixties, he was supposedly a drifter who had spent years on the backroads of America picking up folk songs from wrinkly old-timers, and who provoked Robert Shelton of The New York Times to rhapsodize about “the rude beauty of a Southern field hand musing in melody on his porch.” Actually, he’d toiled instead at the University of Minnesota — a Jewish college boy, son of an appliance store manager. The folk songs he knew had been picked up not from any real live folk, but from the records of Ramblin’ Jack Elliott. Ramblin’ Jack had rambled over from Brooklyn, dropping his own Jewish name — Elliott Adnopoz — en route. “There was not another sonofabitch in the country that could sing until Bob Dylan came along,” pronounced Ramblin’ Jack, with a pithiness that belies his sobriquet. “Everybody else was singing like a damned faggot.” It’s one of the more modest claims made on Dylan’s behalf.
His first album was composed almost entirely of traditional material. But by the second he was singing his own compositions, pioneering the musical oxymoron of the era, the “original folk song”: No longer did a folk song have to be something of indeterminate origin sung by generations of inbred mountain men after a couple of jiggers of moonshine and a bunk-up with their sisters. Now a “folk song” could be “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” or “The Times They Are A- Changin’”. I’m reminded of that episode of, appropriately enough, “The Golden Girls”, when Estelle Getty comes rushing in shouting, “The hurricane’s a-comin’! The hurricane’s a-comin’!” “Ma!” Bea Arthur scolds her. “A-comin’?” With Dylan, the songwriting styles they were a-regressin’, the slyly seductive archaisms and harmonica obbligato designed to evoke the integrity of American popular music before the Tin Pan Alley hucksters took over. “Without Bob the Beatles wouldn’t have made Sergeant Pepper, the Beach Boys wouldn’t have made Pet Sounds,” said Bruce Springsteen. “U2 wouldn’t have done Pride in the Name of Love,” he continued, warming to his theme. “The Count Five would not have done Psychotic Reaction. There never would have been a group named the Electric Prunes.” But why hold all that against him? If rock lyrics wound up as clogged and bloated as Dylan’s pericardial sac, that’s hardly his fault. Bob, for his part, has doggedly pursued his quest to turn back the clock. He’s on the new Sopranos soundtrack CD, singing Dean Martin’s “Return To Me”, complete with chorus in Italian. Just the latest reinvention: Bob Dino, suburban crooner.
Visiting America a few years ago, Dave Stewart, of the Eurhythmics, said to Dylan that the next time he was in England he should drop by his recording studio in Crouch End, an undistinguished north London suburb. Dylan, at a loose end one afternoon, decided to take him up on it and asked a taxi-driver to take him to Crouch End Hill. Cruising the bewildering array of near-namesake streets — Crouch End Hill, Crouch End Road, Crouch Hill End, Crouch Hill Road and various other permutations of “Crouch,” “End” and “Hill” — the cabbie accidentally dropped him off at the right number but in an adjoining street of small row houses. Dylan knocked at the front door and asked the woman who answered if Dave was in. As it happened, her husband was called Dave, so she said, “No, he’s out on a call at the moment,” and asked Bob if he’d like to wait. He said he would. Twenty minutes later, Dave — the plumber, not the rock star — returned and asked the missus whether there were any messages. “No,” she said, “but Bob Dylan’s in the front room having a cup of tea.”
It’s a sweet image, compounded by the subsequent rumour that Dylan had been seen with local realtors looking for a house in the area. Perhaps deep inside his southern field hand persona is a suburban sexagenarian pining for a quiet life in a residential cul de sac, dispensing advice over the fence to the next-door neighbour on how to keep your lawn free of grass clippings: “The answer, my friend, is mowin’ in the wind.”
Happy birthday, Mister Bob.
There are certainly better singers, and there may be better songwriters (I don't know of any), but there's no one who put it all together better than Bob.
If you don't agree, you're musically ignorant and certainly worse than Hitler.
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