Happy Birthday, Bob

Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan turns 69 today. Snickering aside, it seems like the right moment to address my affection for this complicated genius.

I once got into an argument with a friend who challenged my love for Dylan, telling me I was wrong to ignore the horrible way he’s treated women. Being stubborn, I resisted, pointing out that Picasso was also a terrible womanizer, and that we should be able to separate the art from the artist.

My friend was right, of course. One need only watch Don’t Look Back, D.A. Pennebaker’s documentary of Dylan’s 1965 concert tour of the U.K., to be reminded just what a jerk he was to Joan Baez. The same message of Dylan’s misogyny comes through loud and clear in reading various biographies like Positively 4th Street: The Life and Times of Joan Baez, Bob Dylan, Mimi Farina Baez, and Richard Farina or Howard Sounes definitive bio, Down The Highway: The Life of Bob Dylan. There’s also plenty of debate on the Internet about Dylan’s wayward ways.

It’s an undeniable fact that Dylan has a lot to reflect on as he reviews his past. But there’s also the music, the words, the poetry, which, to me, are equally undeniable. Blood On The Tracks, for example, the album chronicling the break-up of his first marriage—a break-up that was caused by Dylan’s philandering—is astounding in its depth, and arguably is one of the finest records of all time.

In the 2001 film Moulin Rouge, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec avers that “One should never meet a person whose work one admires; What they do is always so much better than what they are!” In my line of work, I’ve certainly had that experience of being let down by artists whose work I admire—let down by the fact that in real life they’re capable of being such assholes. I’ve never met Dylan, which is fine by me. I don’t put him on pedestal anymore, but it’s just as well. I’d probably get into an argument with him about franchising “Blowin’ In The Wind” for a television commercial!

He’s more sinner than saint, but who among us ain’t?  It’s enough for me that Patti Smith, the punk poet who never let gender define her or restrict her entry into the boy’s club that is rock ‘n’ roll, reveres Dylan the poet and, it would seem, Dylan the man. At least that’s what I sense in this video of her singing one of my favorite Dylan tunes, “Dark Eyes”:

Happy Birthday, Bob.

-Tag Evers

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3 Responses

  1. Great piece, Tag.

    Dylan is my favorite artist of all time, and his body of work means so much to me. I’m sure I’d heard his stuff many times before, but I really started to listen intently to his music when I was about 13 or so. I can remember long nights in my parents’ basement spinning my dad’s old Greatest Hits record and being completely in awe of what I was hearing.

    “Positively 4th Street” has long been my favorite song of his and holds a special place in my heart, as I got to perform it live at the annual BobFest celebration in Spring Green a few years ago—-the first time I’d ever publicly performed with my guitar. (The 2010 ‘Fest is coming up this weekend and I encourage all Dylan fans to check it out. It’s a fun time for performers and spectators alike! http://www.springgreengeneralstore.com/events_dylan_10.html )

    His was the first concert I ever attended. The anticipation and excitement I felt before that show is something that I don’t think I’ve quite been able to experience at a show since then.

    There’s a lot about Dylan’s personal life that I can’t say that I support—-it’s only been recently that I’ve been able to admit that to myself without feeling like a “bad fan.” I now realize how silly of a mindset that is. He’s not an awful guy either—-just not without fault. And yes, like you said, who among us ain’t?

    I’ll forever be indebted to him for the gifts he gave me with his music. He inspired me to do many things, including pick up a guitar, learn how to play, and develop my own style of writing.
    I continue to be in awe of his talent—the way he puts words together is rivaled by very few.

    I could probably talk about Dylan for days. Faults or not, the man means the world to me.

    Happy birthday, Bob!

  2. I just listened to a really interesting radio show that touched on something called the “Advanced Genius” Theory and there was a really great discussion about Dylan as well as Lou Reed, Steve Martin and other artists that have always followed their own muse and no one elses.

    http://www.wfmu.org/playlists/shows/35913

    Dylan has never been afraid to alienate large portions of his audience (going electric, his Christian phase, the recent widely reviled Christmas album), which is a trait that I’ve always admired as much as his actual song-craft.

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