Bob Dylan. He’s more than a song-and-dance man, more than poet and more than an icon. Since 1962, his way of words, his exclusion from the media and his robust and seemingly endless vocabulary has turned everyday emotion into an ever-changing, one-step-ahead musical journey twirling around as much as the voice itself. Coming to grasp with even just one line of one song in his 36 album discography is striking enough, but what about just getting what he says that no other artist can seem to communicate?
I’ve often wondered what it is with him that is so entrancing. Growing up, I heard Bob Dylan’s work left and right from my dad. In the house, in the car and in the bookshelf, Mr. Zimmerman sat omnipresent whether or not I had a say so. Of course, I knew of Like A Rolling Stone and lines of All Along The Watchtower, but I was okay with that. I always liked hearing his voice and his instruments. In fact, I was lucky enough to see him in 2006, and boy do I wish I cared just a bit more because looking back, that setlist was something else.
The key sign of great artistry, in my eyes, is being able to speak a line that you, the listener, now see in new light on a subject far from foreign to you. Take Visions of Johanna for example. Let’s look at the first verse:
Ain’t it just like the night to play tricks when you’re tryin’ to be so quiet?
We sit here stranded, though we’re all doin’ our best to deny it
And Louise holds a handful of rain, temptin’ you to defy it
Lights flicker from the opposite loft
In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind
Blonde on Blonde has long been my favorite Dylan album, and my love affair began with my first listen of this beauty. Never before had I heard such a drawn-out, simplistic and realistic description of the solemn solitude of complete silence. Sitting in the moment brings out an unfound emotion, but could you describe it like this? I know I couldn’t. I know Springsteen couldn’t it, and I know Neil Young couldn’t. That certainly isn’t a bad thing, but good Lord, Dylan did and continues to.
Tell someone you’re writing a book, and the general assumption is, “Oh, that’s nice.” Tell someone you’re in a band, and the general assumption is, “Oh, that’s nice.” Telling someone you write poetry, and the general assumption is, “…oh. Nice.” As much as I adore the process, trials and errors of writing, I also understand the stigma of it. Anyone can write, George Constanza might argue, but who can stand out? Who can speak for the crowd of those not listening? To be humble is respectable, and in my opinion, ideal. Writing seems to be one of the few fields where your attitude reflects published work, or at least, to a degree. As much as I love writing fiction, I understand there’s a line you simply cannot cross without looking like the world’s largest fathead.
Bob Dylan, from his debut, did not care about his image nor his reception. In many ways, Bob Dylan’s interviews are the equivalent of Tim and Eric’s ‘characters’ while doing interviews. Answers will be vague and without any real depth, but media outlets simply eat them up. (And who can blame them? You’re with the Dylan himself.) If I’m ever faced with the task of speaking to Bob for an official interview, you can bet money I will be unable to sleep the night before, making sure what I ask will be something he hasn’t heard before. Much like they say nothing new is under the sun, Dylan has been asked every question in the novel of his life — and we’re doomed before we even shake his hand.
And yet, I wouldn’t want it either way. When I can’t shake a feeling, his music is the remedy. When I’m filled with anger and unable to cope, Idiot Wind is there to back me up and saddle along. His lack of caring speaks volumes and his poetic ability to fill the void of things you never thought twice about carries with you like a parrot for the rest of your journey.
Yes, I received your letter yesterday
(About the time the doorknob broke)
When you asked how I was doing
Was that some kind of joke?