Friday, June 3, 2011

Gathering No Moss


So Bob Dylan has turned 70. Given his track record that is a cause for celebration. We almost lost Dylan literally and figuratively a few times over the last five decades so I for one am glad he's still around. I made my piece with Dylan and now take everything he offers with the same old sense of joy and awe as the old days. Hit and miss, but what isn't.
In honor of this occasion Rolling Stone Magazine has published a piece called The 70 Greatest Dylan Songs. The picks are described with detail in short paragraphs and some have rather well-known authors. Bono weighs in on the #1 pick "Like a Rolling Stone." (What else!) David Crosby and Mick Jagger have their say as well as Lucinda Williams and Sheryl Crow. Along the way of this 22 page feature are little tidbits and features. I especially like the sidebar called Dylan's Most Inscrutable Lyrics...Five cryptic classics that keep Dylanologists guessing. Relieved to find Gates of Eden at the top of the list.
Two things jump out at me from reading this piece. First, Rolling Stone has remained a constant source of excellent commentary and information over the years. As a publication that documents popular music and all its incarnations over the years, they really have done a wonderful job. Their production ethic is solid and the magazine has always been aesthetically pleasing with outstanding journalism.
The other thing that resonates is how many of the various Dylan songs, for me, are connected to specific times, events, places, and people in my life. They form a sort of chronicle of my youth. But make no mistake, I listen to this music today and have consistently done so over the years.
Like a Rolling Stone came out in 1965, the year I graduated high school. I remember going to a graduation party and touting the virtues of Dylan as the greatest poet of our time all night. Like a Rolling Stone played all night long much to the dismay of many Beatle fans. Of course, the anti-war songs of the 60s and early 70s take me to rallies and class discussions. I still see the kid putting out the trash with his transistor radio plugged in listening to The Times are Changin' because it only came on the radio when the top ten in England was played on my AM pop music station did that feature. Nashville Skyline came out when I lived in Houston, Texas as a 22 year old VISTA Volunteer.
Going through relationship drama? Have I got a Dylan song for you. From Just like a Woman to Tangled Up in Blue, those tunes could get you through the night. If there was anger, just did out Positively 4th Street.
In my classroom I used pieces that didn't make the top 70 but still hold strong memories. From Who Killed Davy More? to Hurricane, to the Ballad of George Jackson, Dylan was ever present in my curriculum. Not surprisingly, a few of the people who were given the privilege of making the selections chose older, lesser known songs. A real shocker is Keith Richards selection of Girl From the North Country for it's Anglo-Celtic roots and what Richards calls the "absence of Bob's later cutting edge. There is none of that resentment."
Sometimes when I think of Dylan over the years I see the album covers. The first few I easily recall in order. It gets foggy after that. I remember buying many, but over the years, especially after living in a few communal settings between 1969 and 74, a few albums just floated into my record box. Now and then I just like to look at the album covers. It brings it all back home.

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