The citation reads: “One of the most influential American musicians of the 20th century, Dylan released his first album in 1962. Known for his rich and poetic lyrics, his work had considerable influence on the civil rights movement of the 1960s and has had significant impact on American culture over the past five decades. He has won 11 Grammys, including a lifetime achievement award. He was named a Commandeur dans l'Ordre des Art et des Lettres and has received a Pulitzer Prize Special Citation. Dylan was awarded the 2009 National Medal of Arts. He has written more than 600 songs, and his songs have been recorded more than 3,000 times by other artists. He continues recording and touring around the world today.”
Which is a very competent 100 word encapsulation of an extraordinary career, but it doesn’t tell the half of it, does it?
What it doesn’t address is the very personal relationship which Bob has established with each of us. I will not be alone in acknowledging that I have measured out my life in Dylan albums, and more importantly, in Dylan performances. I have been lucky enough to see Bob at least once almost every year that he has toured since 1966, and each gig has been a revelation.
This is less to do with the nerd-ish stuff, although I’m happy to discuss set lists, new arrangements, occasional re-writing of lyrics, and the superiority of GE Smith or Larry Campbell over Robbie Robertson or Charlie Sexton. It is more to do with Bob and me. Each night, Bob and I have come together in a new way.
One can, of course, experience the same bond through the albums. Again, I am happy to discuss ad nauseam the recording sessions and Bob’s contrarian choice of takes. But the albums are spots of time. They are the raw material for the shows, and – like the Dead, to whom he owes the inspiration for the Never Ending Tour – Bob is primarily a performer, “a song and dance man” as he termed himself back in 1969.
Of course, this is typical Bob self-deprecation. He is more than that. He is all the ‘public’ things cited above and a master of masks, hinting and teasing at other lives, referring to himself as you, and to you as I.
He has always claimed that he writes only for himself, but who is that? Most times, it’s me.
Happy birthday, Bob.
Today’s listening: Right now, it’s a CD of outtakes from Freewheelin. Later, I guess we’ll have Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited, and Blonde on Blonde. Then maybe Infidels, Time Out of Mind, and one of the shows from Hammersmith last fall.