“I was so much older then; I’m younger than that now.” -My Back Pages
I can’t explain my appreciation for and fascination with Bob Dylan. Like a good IPA on a summer day, it was an acquired taste that came slowly and gradually.
I can’t explain why I have listened to over 100 hours of a Bob Dylan podcast by a guy who takes you through his albums song by song.
I can’t explain why I can’t read enough biographies of Dylan, and am halfway through another 26 hour long audio book at the moment.
I can’t explain how a guy who typically loves poppy melodies and happy harmonies of the Jayhawks and R.E.M. does occasional deep dives into Bob’s catalogue.
I can’t explain the effect 2006’s Modern Times and 2012’s Tempest had on me as I listened to them over and over on the lawn mower in the summer of 2015.
I can’t explain the creepy, stalker-like drives I made past his Minnesota property some years ago, just to see the landscape outside the window where he wrote his 1975 Blood on the Tracks. I can’t explain the feeling that came over me driving on Highway 61 north of Duluth some years back while listening to Highway 61 Revisited.
I can’t explain or defend the unlikely Christmas tradition I started with our kids of kicking off our Christmas tree decorating together by watching the music video of Bob Dylan singing the wild and raucous, “Must Be Santa” on YouTube (look it up, it’s hilarious, but hardly the most sacred way to kick off the season of Christ’s birth).
I can’t explain why going to see Dylan croak out songs with my dad several years ago was one of the highlights of my life.
I can’t explain why I am titling a sermon series I’m doing this summer and book I’m trying to write “Spirit on the Water” after one of my favorite recent Dylan tunes.
I just can’t explain my love for Dylan. And I won’t try. It’s just an orbit one gets pulled into, and once inside its gravitational pull, you’re in for good.
Most of it doesn’t make sense. Wrong music styles. Unflattering voice. And so on. Other Dylan fans will know exactly what I mean by how impossible it is to turn others onto the legend, the myth, the mystique, the unfathomable depths and hall of mirrors that is Bob Dylan until they are ready.
My friend Neil tried getting me into Dylan before I was ready. But Dylan waited patiently for me to get to the party, and his songs will be waiting for others when they are ready for the sacred ascent and accompanying descents.
There’s something simultaneously transcendent and earthy about the man. There’s both harmony and contradictions in his life and legacy. There’s sin and redemption. There’s a longing in his lyrics that is both carnal and holy.
There’s the many faces and phases of Dylan and his career, each a different sized and styled trap for snaring a variety of unsuspecting travelers. Early 60s folk prophet on solo acoustic guitar. Mid 60s electric Dylan screaming “How does it feel?” Late 60s Nashville crooner. The rolling thunder rocker in eyeliner of the 70s. Born again Bob singing about the apocalyptic judgment in the early 80s. The 21st century Bob in rhinestone suits and croaky Louis Armstrong voice, and most recently the jazz lounge Dylan covering Sinatra standards.
The best art is hard to define and impossible to confine; it just does what it does and you are swept up in its current. And while being pulled down stream over lyrical cataracts cascading toward the water fall, it’s hardly the time to be taking test samples of the water. Just hold on tight and enjoy the ride that is the artistic hurricane winds and ocean depths of Bob Dylan.
Thank you, Bob. Let’s raise a glass in honor of the small town boy from Hibbing, MN, who made it big and made us proud. Here’s a great song Bob wrote about growing old, or young?
Or, try a more recent favorite of mine: