For anyone living under a rock, May 24th is the birthday of Mr. Robert Allen Zimmerman, better known to the world as Bob Dylan. I love him. He is my favorite person I have never met. I see him as the father of my imaginary rock and roll family. The love is obvious to anyone who knows me or spends any time at my house. From the stacks of books, CDs, and bootlegs, to the concert posters and t-shirts, this chick is officially a Dylanite. I even have the eye of horus tour logo tattooed on my back. George was my favorite Beatle because he quoted Bobby the way some people quote the Bible. This could go on in an epic form Isis would appreciate.
"Isis" is a fantastic song from the 1976 album, Desire. It has nothing to do with some shitbag terrorists. Isis was a goddess of Egyptian mythology who was viewed as the perfect wife and mother. The song is about a dude splitting from his wife and how he can't get her off his mind, even as he's off searching for treasure in a wide, unknown country.
I didn’t really get into Bob until I was in college. I’d heard the big songs on the radio and understood that he had an important place in the musical history of the 1960’s, but if I am going to be completely honest, the young me thought he sounded like a bug and I never really gave him a good listen. Then I one of my writing workshops introduced me to the nuttiest poet professor I’d met. To this day, I don’t know if he had a Ph.D., we never called him anything but Greg. I don’t know how many classes he taught or how he fit into the faculty, but he left an impression. There was no syllabus or rubric. It was about creativity and brainstorming and doing away with the rules. We just wrote and talked and disagreed and wrote more. The group had a weird synergy that fed off this oddball, ragtag leader and it was one of those classes that no one wanted to skip. I still have a folder full of scribbles and workshop notes from that class.
All this thinking about Bob today naturally led me to think about Greg since he was the one that turned me on to Bobby. I went digging in my files, found the folder, and dug out the first poem I brought to that workshop, the one Greg dubbed my “Positively 4th Street.”
The Poem I Forgot to Share with My Old Roommate
You acted like you were so deep,
a true intellectual,
the last great philosopher.
More like a hippie wannabe for my tastes
but you were my slacker,
the chain-smoking, caffeine swilling man
of my 1993 dreams. The one
who quit working so he would have
the perfect spot on the couch
when the parents’ monthly allowance
was delivered. Your lack of hygiene
wasn’t alternative, if cleanliness is next to godliness,
you were Satan.
Your drug stories and dirty t-shirts
might have been interesting
last summer, but your big words
never were, the way they
lack… a… dais… i… cal… ly
rolled off off your
con… de… scen… ding
tongue made me want to vomit.
I can now say,
without the slightest trace of guilt,
how happy I am
that you moved to Idaho.
I know it’s not Dylan, it’s not even that great, but the feedback was laced with Dylan references and I left the workshop wondering what this 4th Street nonsense was all about since that Dylan guy was impossible to comprehend and only sang about rolling stones and shit blowing in the wind.
Thus began the first great Bob overdose of my life. I started going to live shows almost immediately and realized that being moved like that must be the way church made other people feel. I was blown away by this tiny dude from Minnesota and started to see his influence everywhere. I contend that “Subterranean Homesick Blues” was the first rap song. And I will forever fight the battle that if there had been no Bob Dylan, there would have been no punk music. He couldn’t sing, wasn’t pretty, and gave them the musical finger at Albert Hall when all those people were pissed he went electric. “Play it fucking loud.” If that wasn’t punk, what the hell is?
Bob going electric is such a great example of someone following his gut and doing what he felt was right as an artist. I will always admire him for that. He’s been making music for decades, so of course there is some shit in the vault. Personally, I am not a huge fan of his late 70’s or early 90’s stuff. But I love the fact that he keeps going. He’s written some great stuff in the last 15 years. Sure, some may say that the voice of their generation has lost his hero status because he isn’t so political or whatever anymore. Even the political stuff holds up, though. Take a listen to "Only A Pawn in Their Game" and try to tell me you can't see this playing out in the socioeconomics of America today.
That's a 22 year old kid in that video. That's my patron saint of music and poetry.
I like the old man Bob who is a bit more country but still rocks it out live. He’s just a song and dance man, after all. I love how he tells the truth without trying. I love that he’s on a never-ending tour. I love how the more I have tried to learn about him as a person, the more mysterious he became to me. He’s taught me that the art should be more interesting than the artist.
In another Dylan nerd move, I named Joey after a Dylan song. She is really “Visions of Johanna.” Show bitches shouldn’t be the only bitches to get the fun names.
Happy Birthday, Bobby!
Art cred on the cover photo to Shaine. The original hangs on my wall.