There’s nothing I can say about Bob Dylan that hasn’t already been said. Analyzed, categorized, finalized or advertised. I’ve defended the man for most of my life against the accusation: “He can’t sing.” Whether you agree or disagree is not important. Whether you agree or not that he deserves a Nobel Prize (adding another weighty honor to his collection that includes a trifecta of Grammy, Oscar, Pulitzer) is not important. What matters is that it is important to me.
I’ve been listening to Dylan since 1971. I was 11, collecting UNICEF money for children starving in war-torn Bangladesh. A Beatles fan like everyone else, I continued to favor George Harrison’s music after the Fab Four split. So when he organized The Concert for Bangladesh – an event that set the precedent for rock charity – I could not wait to listen to the album, which I’m sure cost me a lot of babysitting money. And there was Bob Dylan, buried on Side E, singing A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall. I was instantly hooked, inspired by the poetry, the imagery and the simplicity of the ballad. I went back to discover nearly a decade of Bob Dylan’s music that I had missed, simply because I was born too late.
I might have been described as obsessed. I started taking guitar lessons – a budding folk singer in my own mind. I read Rolling Stone magazine, seeking out any reference no matter how insignificant about Dylan. I read Dylan’s own prose, Tarantula, and Anthony Scaduto’s An Intimate Biography. I wrote my 8th grade term paper about Bob Dylan: his life, his music, his impact on society. I quoted him like some people quote movie lines. He inspired me to make music my hobby, write poetry, become politically active, major in Political Science and writing and build a career in public affairs. He was the mentor I would never meet, but who was always there for me, growing, changing and maturing with the times.
I was fortunate to see Bob Dylan perform for the first time at Madison Square Garden in New York City during his Rolling Thunder Revue tour in 1975 and most recently at the Mann Center in Philadelphia, 2016. I was able to share that occasion with my middle son, Alex, another Dylan fan who had some catching up to do, but ultimately surpassed me in his knowledge of Dylan’s later works.
The day Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, I was ecstatic. The news propelled me out of a bad mood. I felt vindicated. Yet, 45 years later, I found myself defending the man to anyone who questioned his right to win.
Read Dylan’s lyrics as poetry. Listen to A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, Masters of War, Shelter from the Storm, The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll in Dylan’s own voice, delivering his songs like no one else can, complete with gravel, grit, spit and strum. In my mind, no one else does them justice. Whether insightful (Blowing in the Wind), inspirational (The Times They Are A-Changing), harsh (It’s Alright, Ma), spiritual (Not Dark Yet), or loving (Forever Young), it’s raw Dylan.
I’m sure I’ll be defending Dylan until I die, and when that day comes, someone will respect my wishes and play a recording of Dylan singing the five-and-a-half-minute version of Mr. Tambourine Man. With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves, I’ll be following still.