Bob Dylan was always a name in the background there, among the music and musicians flying in one ear and out the other. Country singer? Folk singer? Guitarist? Songwriter? Yeah, something like that. In the mid ’70s there’s a radio ad about “a profoundly changed Bob Dylan,” for his then-new album Blood on the Tracks. Once in awhile I hear the lead-off track, “Tangled Up in Blue,” and think he’s saying “Tangled Up in Glue.” In college I room with a folky guy who’s idol is…guess who. And he plays/sings upbeat Dylan numbers like “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right.” He even thinks I look like Dylan. I think he’s got Dylan on the brain.
Then in 1983, as I’m introduced to the ‘right’ stuff to listen to, courtesy of the band I’ve suddenly formed with drummer and rock ‘n’ roll mastermind Roger R, Bob Dylan is actually good, and songs like “Positively 4th Street,” “From a Buick 6,” and “Desolation Row” are front-and-center. A couple of years later the magical “Mozambique” from Desire is one my favorite tracks ever. And talk about some schizomusical instrumentation – how about that wacky slide whistle on “Highway 61 Revisited” or the drunken trombone that drives “Rainy Day Women #12 & 35” right down Bourbon Street?
On into the nineties and the ’00s, as ol’ Bob turns 60 and beyond, I find solace in wise-old-guy lines like “It’s not dark yet, but it’s gettin’ there” from “Not Dark Yet” on Time Out of Mind and “It don’t bother me, time’s are hard anywhere, we’ll just have to see how it goes” from “Floater (Too Much to Ask)” on Love and Theft.
Now whenever I hear Bob Dylan and his stream-of-consciousness lyrical rollercoaster rides, I ask, “Does he make that stuff up as he goes along?” Take a song like “Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts” from Blood on the Tracks. What is it, a novel? What does it mean, who are all those characters? You should be able to take a class on that song, and write a thesis about it! Likewise with “Tombstone Blues,” “All Along the Watchtower” (my intro to that one, around 1976 on FM radio, is the Jimi Hendrix version), the hit “Like a Rolling Stone,” and the semi-hit “Hurricane.” Ok, that last one is more obvious as far as theme, storyline, and characters, as it speaks out against boxer Ruben “Hurricane” Carter’s murder conviction. And just about all his song lyrics could be considered, well, poetry. Whoa, listen to some of the stuff on his 1963 album The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – it’s downright hilarious poetry! So it’s no wonder then that Mr. Dylan, now 75, has won the 2016 Nobel Prize for Literature. Yay Bob!
Hey, one other thing about Bob Dylan – that harmonica. In most cases, when you hear it, it means the song’s over. Ok, cue the harmonica! Post’s over!