May 24, 2011

The Fine-Aging Bob Dylan

jbrown @ 2:20 pm

Today is singer/songwriter/musician/poet/enigma Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday.  Dylan’s music has been a vivid and present inspiration to me since stumbling upon it back in elementary school.  I continue to marvel at and be struck by about his imagery, his turn of phrase, his cutting delivery and his ability to report on life from a truly unique angle.  That the man himself often seems as mysterious and confounding as his music does universal and immediate is also fascinating.

Over the years, Dylan’s musical and literary voice has evolved, changing and refocusing to accommodate his various interests, passions and even the tell-tale signs of mortality.  Everybody has their own favorite version of Bob Dylan — wise beyond his years protest singer, arrogant silver-tongued troubadour, beaten and battle-scarred romantic, spiritual humanist disguised as winking nihilist, gravel-throated wasteland vagabond  — the list goes on.  Not every version is to every taste and most fans would agree that not every branch of Dylan’s body of work has born sweet fruit.

However, that process of discovery and tireless pursuit of the Muse is what places Dylan in the ranks of true artists.  The view of life as a never-ending process of discovery and rediscovery is what I find so refreshing  and rewarding about Bob Dylan music.  It is like making wine, taking common ingredients and raw materials, combining them with knowledge, experience, passion and a dash of ego then consigning the whole affair to the judgment of time.  Some vintages will reach the peak of their flavor at a certain age then dissolve.  Others will prove consistently sour and regrettable.  The best of the bunch will continue to refine their flavor and surprise the palate as they age.  These are the rare vintages.

My suspicion is that we are nearing the end of our travels with Bob Dylan, the Man but are just setting out on a very long and different journey with Bob Dylan, the Music.  One of my very favorite Dylan songs (and my wife’s as well) is an outtake from the “Blood On The Tracks” sessions entitled, “Up To Me.”  The songs from “Blood on the Tracks” are often referred to as containing some of Dylan’s most personal lyrics with “Up To Me” rumored to be so personal that Dylan couldn’t bring himself to let it be released until years later.

Yet, the notion of its personal content as pertains to Dylan himself  is not what ultimately makes this longish, twisting tune soar.  What keeps me coming back is the universal sense of confession and meditation that that song conveys — love tinged with regret, loneliness trumped by selflessness — all presented in effortless poetry that exists a world apart from these sawdust prose I’m slaving over.  It is a work of art that always inspires me as does its author, one of my few true heroes.  Happy Birthday, Bob!



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