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.