It’s a momentous day. A day for rejoicing. A day for happiness and song. And reflection
It’s Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday.
Bob Dylan has been, for me, the most influential artist of my life. I’ve listened to his music for 35 years. I’ve read countless books about him. I’ve seen him a number of times in concert.
He is, as a human being, one deserving to reach this milestone and still be performing to adoring fans on his Never Ending Tour around the world.
I say, as a human being.
However as an artist? As a Rock Icon? As a historical monument of greatness?
This I want to explore. It may be the wrong day to explore this. It may well be the exactly the right day. So I’m going ahead.
Would it have been better for Bob Dylan (the artist, folk/rock icon, poet) not Bob Dylan, human being, to have died back in the mid 60’s?
Let me ask you this. What do you think of when you hear the name Jimi Hendrix? A young vibrant exciting, amazing guitarist playing to ecstatic audiences at Woodstock or Montreaux. Died at his creative peak aged 27.
Janis Joplin? Exhilirating soul singer and wild woman of rock mixing grit and beauty in her classic songs. Died aged 27.
Jim Morrison? Sexy, flambouyant sensational singer with The Doors. Died aged 27.
I could make similar cases for other young creative geniuses like Buddy Holly, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding and many others. Awesome singers/songwriters who left us legacies promising much, much more greatness.
And what do you think of when you hear the name Bob Dylan?
Ageing rock star who has ceased to produce anything of any relevance for the past 35 years or so, who, if you thought couldn’t sing when at his peak, well… you should hear him now?
Ok, I know this sounds unfair – but, please, I am only talking about Bob Dylan – the brand. Bob Dylan as he will be remembered in history books in a hundred years time.
Look, Bob released many classic albums throughout the 60’s and indeed the 70’s (Planet Waves, Blood On The Tracks, Desire), before turning a stranger shade of patchy.
His live performances were hit and miss (oh, how I would have loved to have caught one of the mid 70’s U.S. only Rolling Thunder concerts). His albums became good with the odd duff track, before being duff with the good track – Slow Train from Slow Train Coming is great, Covenant Woman and Saving Grace from Saved, even Shot Of Love had the absolute classic Every Grain of Sand. And of course Infidels had Jokerman. Great tracks from patchy albums.
And there followed the nadir of the mid 80’s – nuff said. Since 1991 there have been sporadic periods of joy – Oh Mercy had its moments, Time Out of Mind too, but then we really are scratching the surface. You can pick out a few songs from the past 15 years as being good songs – but wither the world is such a better place for having them or not is open to question.
But, I hear you cry, is Bob’s body of work and influence not sufficient for one man’s mortal creative output?
Well, yes indeed, it would have been more than sufficient had we been deprived of a future after 1966. Y’see, we would never have known what the future would have held had that occurred. We could only have imagined.
But, as in the cases of Holly, Cooke, Redding et al we would have felt the pain, cruelty, and injustice of a life taken so young with so promise.
I don't wish you dead - I wish Bob Dylan a Happy Birthday
Bob Dylan would have become as immortal as the great artists mentioned above – forever trapped in his youth and promise and for whom death would not have been the end.
But that did not happen. Happily for Bob, he is today celebrating his 70th birthday – and I will raise a glass (of water, natch) to him. The history books in a hundred years time, however, will probably suffix his name with something like “protest/folk singer of the sixties” and not “arguably the most influential and significant folk/rock/poet/icon of the 20th century”.