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.