“Don’t criticize what you can’t understand.”
Bob Dylan remains an enigma to this day. He infuriated some literary purists when he was awarded the highly prestigious Nobel Prize for Literature and then reportedly angered the Nobel Prize judges by making an ambiguous excuse for not attending the award ceremony in person. He certainly wasn’t going to make things too easy for his foes or his followers! Like Frank Sinatra, whose repertoire he has covered in recent times, Dylan likes to do things his way.
“A lot of people can’t stand touring but to me it’s like breathing. I do it because I’m driven to do it.”
Indeed, Dylan has been on his “Never Ending Tour’ since 1988. As a young man, Dylan had a fondness for marijuana and “cheap red wine.” Though a very acquired taste, he has perhaps become like a somewhat special vino that is arguably getting better with time. He is not just a singer, he is undoubtedly a living legend and part of that myth is somebody who is bigger than any fad or fashion. He is the words and he is the music. After 38 official albums, for all his musical weaknesses, his strengths are many and the whole remains greater than the sum of its parts. While so many ageing bands and singers get written off in old age as mere nostalgia trips… his reputation as an artist continues to grow through films, awards, poetry, new album releases, radio shows, box sets and touring.
“The land created me. I’m wild and lonesome. Even as I travel the cities, I’m more at home in the vacant lots.”
Dylan never lost the will or need to morph and adapt to his surroundings. He was born Robert Zimmerman in 1941, the Minnesota son of Jewish parents of Ukrainian & Lithuanian descent. Indeed, his paternal grandparents had escaped the pogroms of Odessa in what was then known as the Russian Empire. Perhaps his restlessness comes from way back…
Bob grew up with the exciting sounds of rock’n’roll as a teenager in the 1950s with Elvis, Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis blasting on the radio. However, he was turned on even more by folk music around the time he got to University… reflecting that “the songs are filled with more despair, more sadness, more triumph, more faith in the supernatural, much deeper feelings.”
Describing his decision to change his name to Dylan, he has sometimes justified it with a love of Dylan Thomas’ poetry as well having the “wrong name and the wrong parents…after all, this is the land of the free.” After a year at college, he dropped out, visited a dying Woody Guthrie in hospital and moved to Greenwich Village where he quickly enveloped himself in the local folk scene.
As his star grew, an increasingly interested press and public were drawn to Dylan’s music and words. These were lyrics so different to what had been expected and accepted in popular music before…
“And take me disappearing through the smoke rings of my mind
Down the foggy ruins of time, far past the frozen leaves
The haunted, frightened trees, out to the windy beach
Far from the twisted reach of crazy sorrow
Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free
Silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands
With all memory and fate driven deep beneath the waves
Let me forget about today until tomorrow”
He was the archetypal angry folk protest singer with ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’ and ‘Masters of War.’ Then he was the insolent, druggy electric poet of the highly productive ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ era and then the contented family man of ‘Nashville Skyline’ and ‘New Morning’ as the sixties came to an end. His separation from his wife Sara (‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’) in the mid-seventies brought a creative burst with “Blood on the Tracks”, which many see as one of his finest albums. He surprised many when he turned to Evangelical Christianity in the late 1970s and released the albums ‘Slow Train Coming’ and ‘Saved’, which related to his interest in the Born Again movement.
Over the last 30 years, he has released some acclaimed albums including ‘Love and Theft’ and ‘Time Out of Mind.’ More recent albums have seen him revisiting the ‘Great American Songbook’ covering pre-rock’n’roll genres not generally associated with him, bringing a more jazzy and swinging feel to his music in concert. Bob Dylan still divides opinions to this day. He just wouldn’t want it any other way!
Text by Will McCarthy
Bob Dylan plays Valencia on May 7th at Plaza de Toros
For tickets go to https://www.ticketmaster.es/event/bob-dylan-tickets/15051?language=en-us