Monday, October 17, 2016

Like A Rolling Stone

When I heard the news, I gasped.  Breathtaking.  Bob Dylan has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. I fact checked lest I had been tricked by the artifice of the internet.  There it was in the New York Times.
I let it
           sink
                      in.

By the end of the day I brought myself back to my high school graduation weekend.  The Saturday night following my speech at graduation, in February of 1965 I went to a party with and for my classmates.  The Beatles were hot and hotter that month.  But a specific memory came to me of standing in a circle talking about music with my friends.  I was defending a particular singer, an unusual performer I'd recently learned about through my best friend.  Bob Dylan...the guy who wrote some of the Peter Paul and Mary songs and the guy with the very folkie sound who recorded my favorite song of the previous year, "The Times are Changin.'"  On Thursday nights when I put  out the trash cans for the next morning's pick up, I'd time my chore to begin at a few minutes before 7 pm.  That way I could stick the tiny earphone of my transistor radio tuned to KFWB and hear the countdown to the top ten songs in England.  Dylan was always near the top.  That's when and where i first heard,
                              Come mothers and fathers throughout the land, 
                              And don't criticize what you don't understand,
                              Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command,
                              Your old road is rapidly fadin'
                              Get out of the new one if you can't lend your hand,
                              For the times they are a changin'


This was some lyric for an 18 year old about to end 12 years of public schooling and finally be treated as an adult by the society he was beginning to question.
So here I am a few weeks later at this party and I'd heard some more from Bobby Zimmerman...aka Dylan.  The local stations were all playing "Like a Rolling Stone" and it had a bit of a different sound.  Sure Dylan wailed.  He hardly had a melodic voice.  He was no Elvis and John Paul George and Ringo had many more fans at that point in time.  But my God, this guy was saying something!  That's what I began to stress in the conversation at that party.  I was convincing very few.  But when someone asked me where all this excitement was coming from, I gathered up all the arrogance and insight I could summon and declared, "Bob Dylan is the greatest poet of the 20th century."  I wasn't messing around, I went for the whole century.  Apparently a few folks in Sweden and around the globe see my point. I may be the only one of those kids from that party that remembers that group conversation.  I may have convinced no one.  But one thing is certain.  I did follow the career of this troubadour turned rock star very carefully.  He got me through college and a battle with the Selective Service System.  His anti-war songs remain among the best.  As his mystique grew , so did his audience and subject matter.  Dylan recorded with Johnny Cash and ultimately with some of the Beatles themselves.  He continued to impress and frustrate his fans and followers.  We went away, he came back.  He endured while always keeping his mind and his talent relevant.  He even got old.  In the end he left his mark.  The word that many have placed next to the news of his Nobel laureate award is immortal.  Hope so.  We need him now more than ever.



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