Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

For a month now, one of France’s radio stations – France Inter – has been airing a tribute to this celebrated singer-songwriter on Sunday mornings. Going way back to his origins and early work, I and every other listener, have been rediscovering the genius of Bob Dylan.

I admit to feeling baffled when he won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2016. But now that I’ve become better acquainted with his early songs from the 1960s and re-listened to the whole vocal range and span of his repertoire, I agree with the award citation –  “For having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

This morning, while standing at my kitchen table pouring almond milk into my large mug of coffee, this song came on (link way down below.) I turned up the volume and listened with rapt attention. And then, to my utter utter surprise, I began to weep. A flood of memories overwhelmed me and I had to sit down. (Proof that songs really can trigger an emotional response in the listener.) I felt intensely sad. I felt an acute sense of loss: of a past era, a time and place, great great musicians that defined my rebellious teen years and left a huge mark on the artistic landscape. Far away, never to return (except on YouTube). We’ve moved so far from the world I inhabited as a teenager; in some ways a better world, in other ways worse. Much worse.

And to be replaced by what? By who? Who are our role models and heroes today? I can’t think of a single person. (If someone can offer up a name, please share.)

The funny thing is that I was never a Bob Dylan fan. A mere child in the 1960s, I was busy listening to Sparky’s Magic Piano on the record player. Oh, how I loved Sparky. In the early 1970s I was into Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, of course.

Through my window I could see passers-by on the street glancing up to my apartment; startled, I guess, to hear this artist’s signature nasal strains floating out on a quiet Sunday morning.

Dylan’s songs encapsulated not only an era, but his humanity. Listen to the song below, nearly 8 million hits. Turn it up loud and read the lyrics. I initially thought that the lyrics were in reference to the Vietnam war, but not so apparently. In any case, they’re still eerily relevant today.

“It’s gettin’ dark, too dark to see,”  In 2021, this is what I feel for our future. Now 80 years old, I wonder what the great man himself thinks about all this.

From WikiBob Dylan (born Robert Allen Zimmerman; May 24, 1941) is an American singer-songwriter, author and visual artist. Often regarded as one of the greatest songwriters of all time, Dylan has been a major figure in popular culture during a career spanning nearly 60 years. Much of his most celebrated work dates from the 1960s, when songs such as “Blowin’ in the Wind” (1963) and “The Times They Are a-Changin” (1964) became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying pop music conventions and appealing to the burgeoning counterculture.

15 thoughts on “Knock, knock, knockin’ on heaven’s door

  1. I was in college in the 1960s and did not appreciate much of anything Dylan did. I really paid no attention to his lyrics because I did not like his voice. It was only after well into maturity, I mean more than 40 years later that I began to listen more closely to the lyrics of Dylan and other singers of that era when I developed an appreciation. To be honest, that song does not touch me. I am more in tune with Sinatra and It Was a Very Good Year. That one resonates. I guess it is a generational thing.
    Sherm

  2. I love this song. It was always lingering in the background as a child. I didn’t grow up in Bob Dylan’s generation but I love the ethos of that generation – when people ‘broke free’ from culturally persecutory philosophies. My favourite song of his is Masters of War – mainly because the lyrics continue to be so relevant today https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JEmI_FT4YHU I feel equally conflicted about this generation. I have met millennials who absolutely give me hope in their desire to be a positive force of change, but I am not sure if the ‘soul’ of the artists and thought leaders of the past can ever be replicated…. currently, we are too jaded by the endless hypocrisy of power holders… sorry for putting a dark spin to this but your post definitely triggered something in me.. and sorry that you cried when listening to the song and I so relate. Songs for me are so evocative of poignant moments in our life story, and I definitely get very affected when I hear important songs of my past…

    • Well, hello there! Good to hear from you.

      I must admit that I don’t know Masters of War (I’ll listen to it now on the link you sent me). What I’d like to add to my Dylan post is this –

      The funny thing is that I was never a Bob Dylan fan. Just a child in the 1960s, I was busy listening to Sparky’s Magic Piano. Oh, how I loved Sparky. In the early 1970s I was into Cat Stevens, Simon & Garfunkel and The Beatles, of course.

      It’s more what Dylan represented that made me so sad. FROM WIKIPEDIA – His songs became anthems for the civil rights and anti-war movements. His lyrics during this period incorporated a range of political, social, philosophical, and literary influences, defying pop music conventions and appealing to the burgeoning counterculture.

      Do we have musicians today that embrace such convictions and ideologies? Let’s face it, idealism is dead. I used to be an idealist. Now I’m disillusioned. That’s what made me so sad. The word you used – ethos – is a very good word. And yes, the soul of those past decades has gone. Poof! Never to be seen again.

      Anyway, good to hear from you. I hope all is well.

      • Thanks Jules, I relate to all that you mentioned here. Its true his songs spoke of the ‘bourgeoning counterculture’ of the day as per the Wikipedia entry and to me is still relevant today. Especially the lyrics of Masters of War is basically the same script different times of the motivation behind so much war and unrest still. I am engaged in an industry steeped in ideals but as I get older and see the realities of unmet aspirations, that fire recedes. Nowadays I fantasise only of seclusion! On my end Ive been quiet for awhile as I fell ill and needed to recuperate.. things are much better now thank God! Hope you have been well too ❤️

      • I too dream of seclusion. An island somewhere. I know a man who lives on one of the Gulf islands off the coast of Vancouver. There’s a cluster of them. He loves it. He walks in the forest with his dog and meets up with friends for beach picnics. However, even living a so-called paradise on an island has its drawbacks. If you remember, an extreme heatwave affected much of Western North America from late June through mid-July 2021. His island was affected too and everyone suffered. The problem with islands is that you can’t always leave in a hurry if a natural catastrophe hits.

        Healthwise, I’m fine, thank you. Despite getting two vaccinations, we still wear masks every day. I’m sorry you were ill. I wish you a swift recovery so that you can regain your strength, energy and optimism.

  3. Julie–I have been following your blog for years but never commented before. Your sadness that came over you while listening to Bob Dylan (I am a fan, BTW) made me think of this Woody Guthrie youtube that gets me every time I watch it. I am not a huge follower of Guthrie but this performance and his remembrance of an event that took place years before has me fall into sadness of where the USA is now. Yes, I am also proud to know that 30,000 Europeans knew all the words to this U.S. song and sung along. I agree that is a rather amazing feat, if you think about it. But I am not so sure there is anything to be proud of now with the current state of our country. Here is the link. See what you think, although I know you are not a U.S. citizen: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sSF89swJ9IU

    • Hi Judy, First of all, thanks for following my blog and thanks too for commenting! I listened to the YouTube video you sent me and as soon as Guthrie started singing that song, it made me think of Elvis! He sang that song too. When I was a teenager, I’d lie on my back on the bedroom floor with two small speakers at either side of my head. And I’d listen to my Elvis albums on the portable record player, this song included. Thanks for bringing back those memories, even though we’re talking about two completely different artists.
      But yeah, life just doesn’t seem to be much fun anymore, does it? I feel so lucky to have grown up during “the best” decades: the 60s as a child and the 1970s and 80s as a rebellious teenager. I grew up in Canada and it was great. American pop culture, TV shows, celebrities, movies and media were a big part of our lives.
      I grew up watching The Dick Van Dyke Show, I Love Lucy and, later on, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, remember that?
      We’re all nostalgic for those past decades, Judy. But don’t lose faith. There’s still things to be proud about in the great old USA.

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