Photo: (cc) Heinrich Klaffs/Flickr, license from Creative Commons 2.0
I picked up the recent issue of Rolling Stone magazine that celebrates Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. I was in the airport, on a very long and unexpected airport delay, so I had time to spend. I was a bit miffed because the panel of Dylan experts picking his great songs was all men. And none of the songs listed was more recent than 10 years ago. The thing about Bob Dylan is that he may have lost whatever singing ability he ever had, but he hasn’t lost his songwriting ability. I think his more recent songs get overlooked because his voice is so ravaged by time, and probably too may cigarettes.
As my family knows, much to their chagrin, I love Bob Dylan. He is one of my top inspirations, role models, and just plain favorites of all time. That said, I am not obsessed or a stalker, just interested. And now I’ll tell you why:
1. He has never stopped creating, and challenging himself. So many musicians and artists live off their old hits or stay stuck in their heyday. Not Bob. He keeps on moving forward. Like a rolling stone!
2. While he is a famous icon, you rarely see him in the gossip pages—he remains a mystery. Where does he live? How many kids does he have? Is he or is he not married? I don’t know…and I read People magazine! To me, that shows he has a healthy sense of private versus public awareness. I like that about a person.
3. His satellite radio show—Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour—is smart, funny, educational, and truly bizarre in a good way. I learn things from him. Like the fact that the word “bookkeeper” is the only word in the English language with three sets of double letters…what is that called? He told his listeners, but I forget.
4. Some of his newer songs are truly great, and I think will go down as some of his best. My favorites: “Born in Time,” “Spirit on the Water,” “Beyond the Horizon,” “Thunder on the Mountain,” and “Dreaming of You.”
5. With one guitar riff he can capture a whole era for me. In the beginning of “Spirit on the Water,” there is a guitar intro that sounds EXACTLY like something I would hear at the Lehigh Country Club growing up in the ’80s at a Saturday night dance with my parents. It’s classic. It makes me laugh every time I hear it.
6. He can be played by Cate Blanchett—and it works. When she plays him in the film I’m Not There, it’s brilliant.
7. He doesn’t seem to really care, and yet he must. Anyone who writes songs like his has a deep sense of caring, and yet I get the feeling he could just walk away from anything. It’s kind of like rock ‘n’ roll non-attachment.
8. He’s a really good painter, too. I don’t know how I found his paintings online, but they all look like they could be amazing book jackets from the ’40s and ’50s—good the way book jackets used to be! Totally cool.
9. He brought Mumford and Sons and the Avett brothers onto the Grammys! Which again shows that he has not stagnated, nor remained overly attached to the past. Both of these new bands are the best there is out there right now. Seriously. The fact that Bob has anointed them proves it.
10. He’s just so damn cool.
Happy (belated) Birthday, Bob!
Good song…..why I’m sitting here blubbering is a mystery.
I completely agree with you Maria about Dylan’s later work, it often gets overlooked. People always talk about his 60s work, which admittedly is probably his best work. But albums like “Time Out Of Mind” and “Modern Times” are as good as anything Dylan has done since his 60s heyday if you ask me. Another great album is “Oh Mercy” which is my favorite album he did in the 80s, a true gem of a record.Nice tribute Maria. I love Bob too.
totally true…every word of it!!!
Personally, I think his voice sounds better than ever…everything he does is quintessential Bob…aka “the Master”
And anyone who enjoys GOOD music…varied, timeless, and not always well-known…or wants to educate themselves about GOOD music…definitely needs to listen to his radio show.
I have loved Dylan music and the man since I was 16…I am now 58. Perhaps it was the fact that a lost love introduced me, but over time his lyrical poetry and fluid response to the world have never left my mind. One can rely on his early music to get comfortable, and his later music to learn. I look forward to the next ten years of his work and celebrating 80!
TREMENDOUS article. I linked to it from my Facebook page. Hadn’t known of your website before, but I am now a follower!
I love this article. I’ve never been able to completely summarize into words all the reasons why I love Bob Dylan, but your article manages to capture many of them! Thanks!
Maria, I started reading your article eagerly as it appeared you wouldn’t do what every other pseudo-intellectual does when they write about Dylan, that is, knock him. “Can’t sing, voice ravaged, probably too many cigs.” Go you know what in your hat with the rest of them. How anyone, never mind any Dylan “fan” can write a piece that is not 100% complimentary is beyond me. Just say all the positives, that is all he deserves. I always think about why all of these writers find the need to bash. there are plenty of bash-worthy people and artists, Dylan isn’t one. In your defense, thank you for not saying he is a great “poet”, that one makes me crazy. Dylan is, far and away, the greatest rock and roll legend of all time, and no one will ever come close.
Maria, your Farm Country Kitchen continues to open my eyes to new things and ideas. And think about that– you’ve made Bob Dylan seem new! I had written him off as a caricature and sideshow, but I’m ready to give him another listen. I did see him on the Grammy’s and it was clearly the highlight of the entire evening. And now I know why.
very interesting… opens our mind to a world of everything..
thanks … please say how i can follow your blogs…
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all true, except i love his voice today maybe even more than his heralded 64-66 period. other recent songs that nobody should miss: the levee’s gonna break; when the deal goes down; things have changed; forgetful heart; this dream of you; i feel a change comin’ on; life is hard;summer days and summer nights; floater (too much to ask); AND THESE TOTALLY ESSENTIAL DYLAN MASTERWORKS: workingman’s blues #2; highwater (for charly patton);nettie moore; aint talkin’; sugar baby; po’ boy; tryin’ to get to heaven; mississippi; love sick; not dark yet; highlands…
“Born In Time”.
Beautiful song recorded first for “Shot of Love”, but left off record. It later showed up on badly produced “Under A Red Sky” where Don Was inexplicably, moronically, fades out the (reworked) lyrics. (Buy the way, Clapton has a really nice cover of original song.)
The original Daniel Lanois production of the song from “Shot of Love” is on the “Bootleg Series #8”, which is further proof that Dylan had NO fallow periods of any length. The body of work he LEFT OFF records is better than whole catalogues by other artists. Remarkable.
He never sang down to us, or patronized us, or was a phoney, or a poseur, and that is enough to make anyone great. He even treated women ( at least in his songs, I know very little about his personal life) well. That is a lot, then there is the poetry, the lyrics, the melodies, the rhythms. American Idol and such ilk have show us the banality of the artists that only have the pretty voices. Ultimately boring
I love your Dylan piece! I went to a wonderful gathering of about 120 Dylan fans in at a birthday party in a lovely restaurant in Philly all by myself this week, and never had a better time. I was amazed at how good the performers were (49 — and all for free) and the contagious enthusiasm of the crowd, always respectful but juiced by the occasion, was wonderful. I too regret his later work is not recognized more. I love “Forgetful Heart”. We in this special fraternity of Dylan-its are truly blessed. I’m so glad to have discovered your comments. I wish there were some organized way to let Sony know how horrible it is that they’ve taken him off YouTube. Any ideas?
Except for the fact that Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers both totally suck, I agree. Best song of the last ten years? Oh, I miss you Nettie Moore and my happiness is o’er …
Hey! No saying bad stuff about Mumford and Sons and the Avett Brothers on my blog! 🙂
I think that Dylan now has the kind of voice he always wanted to have, the voice that allows him to sound like Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf. Furthermore there is a difference between the “voice” you have and what you “do with it”, technically, as a singer. Dylan is a much better singer now, in terms of technique and using his voice as a tool of expression, than he was as a young man. His singing at the shows earlier this year in Asia and Australia/NZ was spectacular. The shows also demonstrated that Dylan often deliberately stresses the “broken” quality of his current voice, even though he is still able to sing clean and “melodic” high notes (e.g. “Forever Young” at the Shanghai concert). As to his newer songs, I think that they far surpass everything he did as a young man. Songs like “Most Of The Time”, “Man In The Long Black Coat”, “Born In Time”, “Blind Willie McTell”, “Series Of Dreams”, “Love Sick”, “Can’t Wait”, “High Water”, “‘Cross The Green Mountain”, “Ain’t Talkin'”, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin'” and “Forgetful Heart” mean more to me than everything he did in the 1960s. I am sick and tired of those old leftist journalists exerting some kind of interpretative sovereignty over Dylan’s work by constantly telling people what to like and what not to like. At a recent Dylan concert a sixteen year old kid stood next to me in the queue before the show. “Modern Times” from 2006 was as important to that kid as “Blonde On Blonde” had been to people 40 years earlier. Luckily there are people who do not listen to journalists and who make up their own mind. People who do not give a s**t about the 1960s, because they are quite happy to have the Dylan of today.
@Jack Tee: 100% right on the money, mate!!!!
Oops, right, thanks.
@John Carey: “Shot Of Love” should read “Oh Mercy” 😉
RE reason number 3: how about the word “committee”…?
Very nice to hear how good Bobs songs and voice is now . Lets not forget that his voice is the blood of the land. and to hear forgetful heart live will prove why. I love his old songs especailly the way he performs them now. And his new songs Wow who is writing anything better and so many of them and this is DYLAN NOW. And oh by the way how did when the ship comes in and love minus zero get lost in the top 70 list. Love Bob center stage crooning and singing like never before . Thanks MARIA AND thank you MR Dylan for your currant performances and the BAND also for playing and keeping up with you. They are truly the worlds best band.
Hey Deloney! Maybe it’s three double letters in a row. We need Bob to weigh in. Bob, are you out there? Do you know the answer?
(in my dreams 🙂
Great story, Maria.
I was disappointed by the Rolling Stone piece. I would have rather seen the 70 best songs (Isn’t it AMAZING you can argue over someone’s 70 best songs?) chosen by his contemporaries. Not critics, like Greil Marcus.
As far as the best covers; they stuck with the expected, even though they mentioned it in the article, Masked and Anonymous should have been represented.
I think it would have been an excellent opportunity to revisit Masked and Anonymous / Renaldo and Clara. I would like to see a critique of these movies by someone who likes them as much as I do.
Guess I was hoping for something unique and special for his 70th.
mr echo, i echo your sentiment. how does it feel to not be alone? bob dylan’s voice & recent songs are equal to, if not greater than ever. http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=10150203508952720
Hes just so damn cool!!!! I think that sums everything in one!!
totally in sync w/ “mr. echo” & “mymichael’s” comments about Dylan’s voice and his use of his voice as an instrument. a few yrs back, dylan began a concert in Connecticut with a cloudy arrangement of “leopard skin pillbox hat” and the crowd was stunned…the applause was light and a mumur went out ” can he sing anymore?” there was another song and that, too, was cloudy. then, when the next song began, the crowd was stunned: dylan suddenly shook several decades from his voice and he sounded like the dylan of 1969 recording in nashville. people yelled to each other “is he doing a lip-sync?!” then, he messed up the lyrics, paused, laughed and picked up mid song. i had goose-bumps coursing through my arms. through-out the concert, he switched back and forth in his vocals: clear to gravely to clear to country. it was a virtuoso performance unlike any i had heard from him in the 50 or so concerts i have attended. bravo!
I love Bob Dylan but “committee” has three sets of double letters as well.
^ Not consecutive though like they are in bookkeeper.
Another reason to love Bob is the Bootleg Series. So many great songs that never made it onto a studio album that any other act would kill to have written themselves. Only Bob could do that.