It was an all input kind of day…not one for output. But I knew that eventually I had to get in here and write, so here I am finally.
My topic: Bob Dylan.
Never did I set out to write about Bob Dylan — he just kind of showed up today. A lot.
My relationship with Bob from the day I was born until now: I remember his songs like “Rainy Day Women” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues” being played on the radio when I was way too young to understand what the heck he was singing about. Then, when it came time for high school graduation, I remember my gifts from my parents quite well: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits LP and a book that was a collection of Dylan’s lyrics and drawings (the lovely Pepto-Bismol pink book pictured above). I was always fascinated by the lyrics; the drawings not so much.
Let me drink from the waters where the mountain streams flood
Let the smell of wildflowers flow free through my blood
Let me sleep in your meadows with the green grassy leaves
Let me walk down the highway with my brother in peace
Let me die in my footsteps
Before I go down under the ground.
No doubt in my mind he is a poet,and as I type the words above I wonder why I never used his work as poetry analysis with my high school students.
Yes, I have used Dylan in the classroom, and not in the Dangerous Minds way in comparing him to Dylan Thomas. I have used him as a connection to British ballads. Storytelling about romance and murders, weird growing bushes and mysterious travelers. We would study “Barbara Allen” or “Frankie and Johnnie” and I’d pull out Dylan ballads about Emmit Till and Hattie Carroll and John Brown and Oxford Town. It was a way to connect to something fairly present day, although for my students Dylan may as well be as ancient as the rest.
Still, I think I’ve underrated him in my mind, just a little bit, as in “just not for me.” Oh, I adore his song “To Feel My Love” but I’d much rather hear Trisha or Adele or Garth sing it than Bob. And unless he shows up with the Traveling Wilbury’s or The Band in a video, I don’t care to watch him much.
Today, however, Bob kept popping up, like the groundhog in Caddyshack. I was looking at a book I have here to read called On Highway 61: Music, Race, and the Evolution of Cultural Freedom by Dennis McNally. I expected to see chapters on Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters. But much to my surprise, an entire third section of this book is about “The Man Who Brought It All Back Home” — Bob Dylan. I haven’t read the book yet, but that got me thinking.
Dylan has an album called “Highway 61 Revisited.” I had never made the connection before to the Highway 61 I know from my travels to Mississippi and Memphis last year. In fact, I would have told you his song was called Highway 65. Didn’t he have a motorcycle accident on that road? I always thought that is what the song was about.
But looking at the lyrics today, I realized he was saying something about all things Mississippi — the music, the Civil Rights Movement, the politics, the racism, the lack of opportunity. The lyrics are esoteric as it can get. I couldn’t even find any kind of reasonable explanation and, of course, Bob ain’t talkin’.
Well Mack the finger said to Louie the King
“I got forty red white and blue shoe strings
And a thousand telephones that don’t ring
Do you know where I can get rid of these things?”
And Louie the King said, “Let me think for a minute son”
And he said, “Yes I think it can be easily done
Just take everything down to Highway 61″
Not exactly about a motorcycle accident.
Let me take a side trip here and share my latest Creative Whack Pack card. I like to pull these once a week and see how they work in my life. This week is was “Get out of Your Box.” It encourages me to be a “creative explorer.” I feel I am doing that with Bob today. Believe me. This gets weirder.
So, having read about “Highway 61 Revisited” (which, btw, I do have on my iTunes playlist) I went into iTunes and looked at Bob’s albums. I had been meaning to finish downloading The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, and then I decided to pick up Bringing It All Back Home as well. I noticed his new album there, but didn’t pay any attention.
As the afternoon wore on and I read and napped and lazed about, I knew eventually I had to write something. I thought about the recent AARP magazine with Bob on the cover. I thought, hhhmmmm, maybe I’ll read the article and respond somehow. It sounded kind of dull, so I just put it on the back burner.
Soon enough, I did pick up the magazine. I was glancing over the interview and noticed lots of references to Frank Sinatra and comments about the song “I’m a Fool to Want You.” I had no idea why the focus was there…until I finally got to the first page of the article: “Bob Dylan Does the American Songbook His Way” along with Bobby and his blue eyes in a suit and tie in front of one of those incredible old microphones, like the one Elvis would sing into.
Talk about creative exploring.
Honestly, we know pop and rock artists have been doing the songbook for years — starting with Carly Simon’s Torch album, proceeding through Linda Ronstadt and the Nelson Riddle Orchestra, Willie Nelson, and Rod Stewart who practically owns the franchise. How is this even possible?
So, back to iTunes. Click on Shadows in the Night and start listening. Oh, not so sure. Uh, hmmm, that one really has something. Well, I really like this last song. Click–Buy Album.
I’m listening now. And. Wow.
About the songs, Bob says, “There’s nothing contrived in these songs. There’s not one false word in any of them. They’re eternal.” I think many Dylan fans would say the same about his songs; so, takes one to know one. He also says that people shouldn’t be surprised that he recorded this album: “There’s a lot of types of songs I’ve sung over the years, and they definitely have heard me sing standards before. ”
Uh, no. Not me. Not to my recollection.
But as I write this and as I listen to this beautifully crafted and cared for album, I know now that something I knew at 17 got lost along the way. I knew there was more to Bob Dylan than met the eye. Somehow he didn’t hold my interest.
Well, he has my attention now.
This week, I challenge myself to continue to look to outside places for new ideas. This is the way to find aliveness and stay away from the fixed ideas. I think that this journey to Bob today was eye-opening. Especially this part. Bob was asked about his true calling. His answer:
If I had to do it all over again, I’d be a schoolteacher — probably teach Roman history or theology.
It was my love of American music and its history that brought me face to face with Bob today. Sometimes I think my true calling might have been to pursue something in that vein. To hear Bob say he might have been a teacher, well, that tickled me. It reminds me that we all live many lives. Let’s be creative explorers. There is still so much to know.