Thursday, January 06, 2005

What's so great about Bob Dylan?

I’m 26 and have just discovered Bob Dylan. As cliché as the phrase is, it feels like I’ve opened a window inside myself. Of course, inescapably, I’ve known who Bob Dylan is since I was a teenager. My parents didn’t listen to his music so I went through most of my youth unaware of him, but I have a vague memory of someone mentioning him in school, and when I didn’t know who Bob Dylan was the person was rudely shocked. Rudely shocked, in case you don’t know, is like this, “Bob Dylan. You don’t know who Bob Dylan is?” They say, with disgust dripping from their voice, as if to suggest, “You barbarian.”

To say I’ve just discovered Bob Dylan doesn’t mean I suddenly stumbled across his name and decided to listen to his music. I’ve had several run-ins with him throughout my quarter of a century on this earth. About four years ago I bought Highway 61 Revisited on the recommendation that it was his best album. I listened, but wasn’t impressed. Highway 61 Revisited settled on my shelf, unmoved because I wasn’t moved.

Later, I fell in love with the movie High Fidelity and subsequently the song “Most of the Time” from the Oh Mercy album. And then, working at an independent cd store, I ordered a copy, but never finished the purchase because the one that came was the too-expensive hybrid SACD cd (too expensive for a minimum wage job).

A year later, I was watching The Big Lebowski with my housemate, Anna, an enormous Bob Dylan fan (metaphorically enormous. Her adoration is enormous. She’s not enormous), who informed me that the great song playing during Dude’s psychedelic trip over LA is a Bob Dylan tune. Now you find me here, a month later, working as a copywriter, listening to Blood on the Tracks from the itunes network, in love with “Buckets of Rain.” This is the beginning of something great. It’s the only light through the gloom of winter, the city’s heavy inversion, and the feeling of losing control of my life’s direction.

What’s so great about Bob Dylan? I don’t know. I want to figure it out. Anna got Chronicles for Christmas so she can unravel the mystery of his greatness. There’s something in his voice. Something about the simple tunes. Something very Fields of Dream-ish, as in, “If you build it, they will come.”

I’ve had similar affairs with musicians—Van Morrison, Smashing Pumpkins, Radiohead—where I discover how sweet and great their music is years after the hey-day of their careers. I can remember the first time I heard one of their songs and it moved me, recall where I was and how I felt.

It’s very much like love affairs, as in real-life, intimate relationships (to distinguish them from chat-room relationships, or love affairs with movie stars that exist in someone’s head). Like the one I’m in right now with my boyfriend. Similar in how I can retrace my steps—point A to point B—reciting the moments I heard his name the first time, to the night I was on a walk with someone else and we stumbled across him sitting on a front-lawn with two of his friends at one in the morning. How I didn’t know how great he was then, but discovered it later and the surprise I feel at having missed it once upon a time. Similar in how I come close to naming the feeling that continues to draw me to him, and the feeling that draws me to the music of artists like Bob Dylan and Van Morrison, but how it still eludes me. Perhaps it is that mystery and the desire to solve it that keeps me returning to great musicians, and this love I have now.

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