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, of a time and place, of my rich and rebellious teen years and the great great musicians that defined those years and left a huge mark on the artistic landscape. 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 whom? Who are our role models and heroes today?

The funny thing is that I was never a Dylan fan. A mere child in the 1960s, I was busy listening to Sparky’s Magic Piano on the hi-fi in our living room. How I loved Sparky. Later, I was into Cat Stevens, The Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel. I had a crush on Paul Simon and, imagining that he was my boyfriend, would stare endlessly at his photo on the album cover, Sounds of Silence; you know, the one where he and Art are walking down a dirt road and looking back into the camera.

Dylan’s songs encapsulated not only an era, but his humanity. The song below slays me. It’s filled with darkness and foreboding. I initially thought the lyrics were in response to the Vietnam war or the 1970 Kent State shootings. But they’re apparently about a cop who accidentally shot a kid and is hoping that he (the cop, not the killed kid) is let into heaven. Those lyrics are eerily relevant today. Proof that Dylan is timeless.

16 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.

  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 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).

      FROM WIKIPEDIA – Dylan’s 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:

    • Hi Judy, thanks for commenting. I listened to the YouTube video you sent, it brought back memories.
      Life today doesn’t seem to be much fun anymore, does it? I feel lucky to have grown up during what I consider “the best” decades: the 60s as a child and the 70s and 80s as a rebellious teenager and young woman. I grew up in Canada and it was great. British and American pop culture was a big part of our lives.
      We’re all nostalgic for those past decades, Judy. But don’t lose faith. There are still things to be proud about in the great old USA, there must be.

  4. Pingback: Bob Dylan plays the Grand Rex in Paris | Juliet in Paris

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