Dylan: He’s 65, but his music is ageless
May 21, 2006
Bob Dylan is eligible for Social Security checks.
America’s poet laureate* turns 65 on Wednesday.
When you’re asked to write about Dylan at 65, you have to laugh. Books were being written about him at age 25. What am I going to add in 500 words? Made me want to tell my editor to paint his teeth and ride away on a chocolate Ferris wheel. Something like that.
Maybe I should let him reveal himself through his lyrics.
If I’d have thought about it, I never would’ve done it, I guess I would’ve let it slide,If I’d have paid attention to what others were thinkin’, the heart inside me would’ve died.I was just too stubborn to ever be governed by enforced insanity.Someone had to reach for the risin’ star,I guess it was up to me.
I’m not here to analyze him; that’s for pointy-heads who write journal articles like Bob Dylan as hero: rhetoric, history, structuralism, and psychoanalysis in folklore as a communicative process. Yes, that’s a real academic paper. But I am here to appreciate him; he’s one of a very few artists who’s set and survived trends for 45 years, all the while remaining a viable artist.
Some complain about his voice. No, he’s not Mariah Carey. But Dylan’s voice is the genuine article. I’d liken it to a piece of antique furniture: If you want pretty, go to Ikea; just don’t be surprised when you put it out for the trashman in a few years.
He was a protest singer before it was cool, and became T.S. Eliot with a Stratocaster before his folkie imitators caught up.
Well, I try my best to be just like I amBut everybody wants you to be just like themThey say ‘Sing while you slave’ and I just get bored
He retreated to Woodstock three years before the concert happened and did quiet country-rock when others were learning to make that Stratocaster wail.
In the ’70s, with new ex-Beatle John Lennon, he pioneered Confession Rock, creating the timeless and searing “Blood on the Tracks,” about his coming divorce. The next one, “Desire,” was on the charts for 35 weeks and contains “Hurricane,” about boxer Rubin Carter — later a movie with Denzel.
Rubin Carter was falsely tried.The crime was murder one — guess who testified?Bello and Bradley and they both baldly liedAnd the newspapers, they all went along for the ride.
How can the life of such a manBe in the palm of some fool’s hand?To see him obviously framedCouldn’t help but make me feel ashamed to live in a landWhere justice is a game.
He became a Christian at that point; three albums, one Grammy. In the ’80s, he somewhat lost his way, though “Infidels” and “Oh Mercy” are brilliant.
I gaze into the doorway of temptation’s angry flameAnd every time I pass that way I always hear my name.Then onward in my journey I come to understandThat every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.
In the ’90s, he embarked on The Never Ending Tour, playing some 200 shows a year. In 1996, Dylan received his first of five nominations for the Nobel Prize in Literature. There are more Grammys and Oscars, and he played for West Point and the Pope.
For his age, he is wiseHe’s got his mother’s eyesThere’s gladness in his heartHe’s young and he’s wildMy only prayer, is if I can’t be there,Lord, protect my child
Dylan remains everyone’s influence; he’s been covered by heavyweights Pearl Jam and U2, and newer acts such as Cat Power and the White Stripes.
College courses are built around him, and Oxford professors write books about his lyrics.
But none of that really matters. Check out the most popular downloads — or the ones on the list by Stripes’ resident Dylanologists (see inset) — and discover the man for yourself. You’ll find him funny, angry, spiritual, maddening and profound.
George Harrison once said that The Beatles’ music would still be around in 100 years, but that Dylan’s would be around in 500 years. Check him out. You’ll be glad you did. Until then …
May God bless and keep you always,May your wishes all come true,May you always do for othersAnd let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the starsAnd climb on every rung,And may you stay forever young.
* America’s actual Poet Laureate — and we do have one — is Ted Kooser. He’s never had a hit single.
If you’re not familiar with Bob Dylan’s work, we’d like to suggest 25 downloads representative of his long, storied career. Sure, you could just go to iTunes Essentials, but where’s the adventure in that? Without a sense of adventure, Dylan might never have left Hibbing, Minn., gone to Greenwich Village, gone electric, gone into hiding, gone Christian, or gone on the Never Ending Tour. Here are our 25 essential Dylan tracks, listed in chronological order:
Blowin’ in the Wind — The song that put the folk protest movement in the pop mainstream and secured his fame.
Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright — One of the first and best of Dylan’s bittersweet romantic farewells.
Masters of War — Perhaps the best indictment of those who would send young troops to war for the sake of profit.
Positively 4th Street — Blistering. “You got a lotta nerve …”
It’s Alright Ma, I’m Only Bleedin’ — A stand against greed and hypocrisy. “Even the President of the United States sometimes must have to stand naked.”
Like a Rolling Stone — Of course, but get the live version, from Bob Dylan Live 1966. “Play it loud, man …”
Highway 61 Revisited — A savage road trip from Minnesota to Mississippi with God, Abraham and a thousand telephones that don’t ring.
Just Like a Woman — An achingly beautiful breakup song, with a subplot about social climbing.
Visions of Johanna — A sprawling, seven-minute, folk-rock epic through the New York night about the unattainable.
I Shall be Released — Prison as a metaphor for isolation.
Lay Lady Lay — Dylan as Nashville crooner.
Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door — See the film “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid” to get the full effect.
Tangled Up in Blue — Cinematic, nonlinear and poignant.
Simple Twist of Fate — Master storytelling about meeting and parting, it’s notable for how close to home Dylan allows it to hit.
You’re a Big Girl Now — “I can change, I swear …”
Hurricane — The erstwhile protest singer returns with a vengeance.
Señor (Tales of Yankee Power) — The personal and political intersect on the road to Armageddon.
Gotta Serve Somebody — Clever wordplay, and a caution: “It may be the devil, and it might be the Lord …”
Every Grain of Sand — A simple prayer.
Jokerman — Is the Jokerman Dylan himself?
I and I — Mark Knopfler provides the atmosphere in this thunderstorm.
Blind Willie McTell — A tribute to the roots of the blues.
Most of the Time — Ever lost someone? Miss them? Don’t want to admit how much?
Things Have Changed — From the film “The Wonder Boys.” Dylan earned an Oscar for best song.
Not Dark Yet — Written after a serious illness, it’s a powerful reflection on a life nearing its end.
Stripes editors Sean Moores, Heather Benit and Dalton Fleming contributed to this report.