So Dylan is 70 today, what’s the big fuss then?

Enough has been written about Dylan over the past years, and even more in the last few weeks and months about the fact that he turned 70 today. Intellingent life, i guess was the the first one off the block with their reportage on Dylan at 70. And I may be the last! Feels nice to close the loop and momentarily exist in the same stratosphere with one of the few truly refined and intelligent journals today. But this piece is about him, not them – so let’s move on.

Anyone interested in music, has to have had a brush with his music at some point in time. And since Dylan’s music is such a polarising object, it can only inspire emotions of the two extremes in people – either you love it or hate it, there is no middle ground. Even mentioning this brings me goose pimples! And it seems appropriate to call his music an ‘object’. His music is so physical in its manifestation, that one can see it in front of you and has perhaps taken different forms over the years. From the rough un-cut diamond in the early sixties, to a sharp razor-edged knife with a encrusted rubies in the mid sixties. It then morphed from an electric saw in the early seventies to a faceless mouldy piece of stale cheese in early eighties. While it may have been in the danger of being thrown into rubbish, it turned into a nicely aged bordeaux during late nineties & early 2000s. And some people are complaining that now the bottle has been left uncorked for too long.

So maybe that’s what the fuss is about? Not the fact that he is 70, and still rambles on that jolly bandwagon of ‘The never ending tour’. That he is not to everyone’s taste. But then, he never was supposed or wanted it to be that way. Or is the fuss about that each time, a new image (much like the one’s I described) is created and labelled on to him, he puts on his leopard skin pillbox hat, takes the tunnel that the jack of hearts dug, and emerges in a place that no one except him could have thought of. He has been doing this for 50 years, and probably sees no reason as to why he should not continue to do so, till his visibly frail frame and his croaky voice allows him to.

I can vividly recall the first memories when the Dylan bug bit. It was in 1996, sitting on a rocky beach in Pondicherry (southern India), gazing into the ocean while the Sony walkman earphones belted out the (almost) violent Hurricane from his album Desire.  This, the first Dylan album that i had bought, is not the most typical initiation as most people would argue. As the last notes of Isis faded into the background, drowned by the sea waves and noises around me, I had sold my soul to him.

After owning everything that he had ever sung (or recited in many cases), the first ‘live’ Dylan experience was also an atypical one, 2004 in a town called Stra (near Venice in northern Italy). The concert stage was set in the massive lawns of a beautiful Italian mansion. Having driven from Budapest to Stra to listen to him, me and wife (carrying our then 9 month old son in a child seat to the concert – we were crazy !) had these visions of him coming on to the stage, greeting the crowd and speaking to us. Then picking up his guitar and harmonica and belt out a beautiful rendition of Desolation row. But the expectation were shattered by a wall of sound that emerged from a stage where 6-7 people banged into their instruments. “Which song is this and where the @#§* is Dylan” we asked ourselves. The violence of the music and the way he twisted the song To be alone with you, still rankles in my mind. To find him tucked away in the shadows, with a scruffy beard, his side to the audience, banging away on a keyboard and croaking inaudibly into a mike could not have been a greater contrast to the much publicised image of a clean shaven Dylan wooing the audience with his words, guitar & harmonica, which was stuck in my head. 5 more concerts later with musical renditions of his songs ranging from pristine revelations to having molten lead poured into my ears, my soul is still sold to him.

So is the fuss all about the fact that people who are more fortunate than me to see him in his so-called heydays of 60s, are still yearning for that image. They haven’t moved on from that place, while he has. Maybe the fuss will always remain and hopefully it does. His music in not mass produced McDonald burgers that will always come out the same way. It is a hand crafted sculpture. When reproduced on different days, in different setting and moods, it will be variations of the original. And like the pied piper, there will always be a beeline behind him, following his tunes hypnotically.

So how did I celebrate his birthday? In the most atypical way. By not listening to his music! Strange as it may sound, by having his favorite songs playing in my head, rather than via the beautiful Cadence Amayas, gave them a more Dylanesque touch. By imagining how they might sound if he were to sing it today, rather than hearing the version from 1978, made them more real and personal. Even though I own all the 4 recorded versions of Mississippi, the fifth one, which is my own and playing in my head right now, seems the most appropriate one to play today. And maybe that’s what the fuss is all about.

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There are strange rivers

It is truly one of life’s great mysteries how things pop out of the blue and connect with each other. Call it serendipity, randomness, luck, fortune .. whatever, but there are forces that are continuously at work, unknown to you. Joan Baez, the great folk singer of 60’s, put it so well in her song ‘Strange rivers’

“Have You Ever Turned the Corner and wondered Why You Did?
You Haven’t Been That Way Since You Were Just a Kid

Oh, There Are Strange Rivers, Rivers That We Cannot See
There Are Strange Rivers Who Know Our Destiny”

I am sitting here in Switzerland tapping away. 5 yrs ago, it started with one call from a friend on an autumn evening in Budapest – while we were getting ready to move back to India after a brief stint of 1.5 yrs –  mentioning an opening here, another follow-up call, and bang one lands up in Switzerland!

I just finished the mercurial Kafka on the shore by Murakami, and it

Kafka on the shore Haruki Murakami. Image courtesy Amazon.com

captures the essence of how things/people are connected by invisible strings. The central character in that book is a Mr Nakata, a shy old man, short statured, short cropped graying hair, always wears a gray coat and carries a black umbrella in his hand. He avoids talking to people as he finds it too complicated, cannot read and is always lost in his own world. A few days back coming back home on the train at around 9 in the evening, i see this man standing in the middle of the almost empty train compartment and i could have sworn he is Mr Nakata who has materialized out that book. As i got up from my seat and started towards the door, you could see the same  spaced out feeling on his face that Murakami describes, clutching his black umbrella tightly and wrapping his gray overcoat even more snugly around him, he starts to move back, his eyes scanning the scene around him, moving into a corner where he can be alone. He quickly crossed over into the other compartment, but still all the time watching me and the other people with a questioning, shy look on his face through the mirrored partition. Was he really the Mr Nakata (Or the Swiss version of him?), one will never know.

Today afternoon, while stacking that book back on the bookshelf, I remembered that i have a book written by the original Franz Kafka somewhere, but had no recollection of when or where i had bought it. A quick search and the book is unearthed. As i open the first page, a handwritten note stares back at me. It was a gift from 13 yrs back by a friend. Whom I have not been in touch with ever since we parted ways back in Chennai India, where we had spent a fantastic 3 months, getting to terms with a (then) strange city that seemed to fight back resolutely for the first couple of weeks to let us in. It started from the first day where we were mobbed by the taxi driver, the house where we were staying in was almost broken into, struggling to find a decent place to eat where we could get something recognizable and edible …. the list is endless. But suddenly one day it all snapped in together, perhaps thanks to that steward at the restaurant next door, whom we used to tip generously everyday as he served us copious amounts of our favorite curries. The city seemed to have dropped it’s guard, welcomed us in and we got to know it  like the back of our hands. So this friend – we recently got in touch again this year, thanks to a mis-spelt Google search that led me to his blog. And there it was today afternoon again, his writing starting back to me on the inner cover from a book that I haven’t touched in nearly 13 yrs.

Maybe there’s a message in here somewhere that I cannot decipher yet. The inimitable Joan did put it correctly … there are strange rivers.