Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

In Defense of Dylan



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.

It’s personal.

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.

It’s personal.

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.



Flying into the Fourth Part

By 1:30 in the afternoon there is only a corner of sunlight warming the deck that only a few weeks ago was filled with outdoor furniture, including umbrellas to shield us from the direct sun. Today I realized that it isn’t going to get much better than this for quite a while. The shadows are falling earlier since we turned the clocks back one hour. I’m fighting the urge to go inside and hibernate, but I want to enjoy this patch of sunlight while it lasts; it’s the one spot where I can keep warm while I throw the ball to the dogs. The thought occurs to me that this is the last fall I will spend at this particular house — the house we have rented for almost two years while we renovate our forever-home in North Carolina. Bob Dylan lyrics ran through my head, “I feel a change coming on. And the fourth part of the day is already gone.”

If life is divided into fourths, according to U.S. government estimates I’m approaching the last stretch. The odd thing is that I’m moving toward it with a strong sense of urgency that I don’t fully understand. Instead of running away or bracing myself, I am initiating the big change in my life. So why do I feel a tiny flutter of fear in my gut – the kind that comes from leaving the familiar behind?

I’ve spent more than a half-century living in New Jersey, mostly in places that live up to the Garden State moniker. It’s where I got my education — formal and informal. It’s where I gave birth to and raised my sons – who all now live out of state. It’s where I fell in love, built my career and cultivated friendships. Looking back, it’s hard for me to believe that I have spent more than a half-century of my life in one state (five counties). I didn’t plan it that way; it’s just the way it happened. Now, I’m getting ready not only to change my address but also start a new business venture with only superficial ties to what I’ve done for more than 35 years. Why am I running toward something that scares me?

I confessed these feelings to a friend — one of the most Zen-like people I know — who recently quit her job to focus on the “what’s next” part. She listened intently, nodding, and nearly jumped out of her chair in agreement when I described feeling propelled by a sense of urgency that I couldn’t quite articulate. Talking through it, I realized that I was standing on the south side of mid-life, counting my accomplishments against the time remaining on the clock.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI thought about the time I took my sons zip-lining over the jungle in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The last part of the canopy tour involved climbing a fire tower. I’m not fond of vertical heights, even less so when the wind is blowing. I couldn’t turn back, as there were people on the ladder behind me. Worse yet, my sons never would have let me forget it. By the time I got to the top, my knees were shaking. We were 456 feet in the air. I looked down and observed that no one would ever find me if I fell into the jungle below. I looked out over the expanse to the next platform 2,525 feet away. I could barely see it. There was only one thing to do. I hooked up my harness, curled my body into a cannon ball and zoomed. The faster I flew, the sooner I’d land. When I got to the other side, the guides had to physically stop me. “Wow!” they exclaimed. “We’ve never seen a woman fly like that.” “You’ve never seen a woman that scared,” I replied.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI was younger then, but I’m stronger now. If I can bundle up my nerves to fly across a 2,525-foot cable, I can throw everything I’ve got at a new challenge 430 miles away. It’s time to get a jump-start on the fourth part. I feel a change coming on, and when it does, I’ll be waiting at the front door to greet it.