Like all great things, Bob Dylan is an acquired taste. Some people don’t like caviar. Others will pay a fortune for it. Who is right? No one. You get out of it what you need, or you don’t at all. And that is cool. In the words of Dylan, “it’s all good.”
One of the most frustrating things about Art is none of us can agree about it. Look at the critics. They can’t even agree. You read some reviews about yourself and you’ve failed magnificently. You pick up another paper to read that you’re a genius. And again, who’s right? The truth is neither of them. What it is is what it is to each individual person based upon their own personal life experience. Some people can stand in front of the Mona Lisa and feel nothing. I say time is the only true judge of somethings’ worth. And after 50 years and at 73 years of age Bob Dylan is still going, God bless him, and we are all the better for it.
It always intrigues me when someone goes to a Dylan show and says “He didn’t perform he just stood there, or sat at the keyboards, and sang the songs.” Well, that’s all he’s ever done. Even when he burst onto the scene like a meteorite, he just stood at the microphone and played his songs on guitar and sang, with a shyness most of us found endearing. Like he was singing something so personal it was too revealing even to himself.
He now says those early songs he must’ve channeled from a higher being because he doesn’t know where they came from. And even he remains startled by some of the things that young boy wrote. “They had a magic to them. I can’t do that anymore. I do something else now.” The magic has been replaced by craftsmanship. And what a craftsman he is.
There are those who say they hate his voice and he can’t sing. Well, which voice are they referring to? He’s had about six different voices over the journey. You want to hear a pleasant voice that is an instrument? Go see Tony Bennett next time he comes to town.
Some people have voices that are technically brilliant, and I’m in awe of their gift. But after a few songs I find my mind wandering and it all becomes a bit boring. Just my personal opinion. I think that’s why I’ve always gravitated to the originals. People who sing with individuality. Perhaps it’s called passion. As Don McLean described Dylan in “American Pie” he sang in “…a voice that came from you and me.” And that voice sang songs about losers, drifters, hobos, dust bowl survivors, slaves, forgotten blues singers, Jewish prophets, misunderstood gangsters, a lawman who became Judas to his best friend, people who’d been shut out of society because of the colour of their skin, and men who’d been wrongly imprisoned for things they hadn’t done. His voice was their voice.
I one day played my son the song “Hurricane” about the travesty, or the pig-circus of justice that convicted Rubin “Hurricane” Carter to many years in jail and a nightmare he couldn’t wake from. I told my son, “Bob cared so much about this man that he wrote this song and the reaction to it led to a retrial for Rubin and his eventual release.” My son, Oliver, a wise old soul, looked at me and said, “But dad, Bob cares about everyone. Don’t you listen to his lyrics?” I told that story to P.F. Sloan who’d known Bob for many years, and P.F looked at me, smiled and said, “Oliver got that right.”
In many ways I think Bob’s gift has been a huge burden to him. At the heart I think he’s a shy, very sensitive man, and the fanaticism surrounding him embarrasses and probably sometimes angers him that it’s made him a prisoner. He once said, in answer to a question about why at his age he still tours, “The only time I know who I am is when I’m onstage.”
Many creative people know what that is like. It’s like we weren’t given this life for our own enjoyment, but rather to serve the gift. And this gift has taken us from our loved ones, our home, and the wheels that drive a normal life.
When I was young I was very shy, some find this hard to believe, but I learnt how to push through that. Or perhaps you get to an age where you don’t give a fuck what others think of you and with that comes a great relief. A liberation. In my younger days I could easily perform to 2000 people but was far more nervous having a one to one conversation with anyone. That is the ultimate contradiction of most performers.
I also love and admire Bob’s bravery. His guts to follow his own instincts without an eye on the box office or the record charts or even what his fans want him to do. To me that is a true artist. That boldness and commitment to follow your gift’s course at the expense of your own comfort and career safety.
There is a lovely and very revealing story about the young Bob Dylan. He was one of the few great artists of his time that didn’t perform on the Ed Sullivan Show, although he’d been booked to do it. He got as far as the rehearsal for the show and sang a new song, “The John Birch Society Blues,” a song about America’s paranoia of communists. He performed the new tune and the producer of the show came down from the control room and told Bob that the song was unacceptable for prime time viewing in America, and that Bob should do “Blowin’ In The Wind” instead. Bob went to his dressing room and thought about how his parents and all his uncles and aunts were excitedly gathered around the TV set in Minnesota awaiting his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. They were so proud of him. He then made a decision that would define the rest of his career. He put his guitar into his guitar case, put on his jacket, and quietly walked out of the TV studio onto the winter streets of New York and went home. What a huge decision for a young boy to make, and yet that decision determined who he was going to be. If he’d compromised then, how could he not compromise again in the future? Once you sell your integrity you don’t get it back.
I love Bob. He has inspired me most of my life. And like any bold artist he is not afraid of trying something and being laughed at. In fact, there were many times in the 80s when he was laughed at and, even more cruelly, dismissed as no longer relevant. But he stuck to his course and has, over the last 15 years, made one of the most stunning and unexpected comebacks in show business scoring 3 Number One albums, more than he’d had in his supposed heyday.
So many of the great ones are gone. And so sadly missed. Imagine, no pun intended, just what John Lennon may’ve done over the past 30 years. We are so blessed that Bob is still with us. And still bravely evolving, going where others are too scared or compromised to tread.
Long may you reign, Bobby.
(c) Frank Howson


  • Oceania Luxury Travel Co Luxury Travel Australia Banner 728x90 1