Saturday, February 18, 2012

Keeping Up with the Joneses

While speaking on the phone, a friend of mine asked me last week if Bob Dylan had any upcoming dates in the area. I was in front of my computer, so I ran a quick check. So far in 2012 the scheduled tour dates are in South America. That’s a bit far for either of us to go for a concert. Another link showed that on May 28 there is a “tribute to Bob Dylan” at BB King’s in New York for Bob’s 71st birthday, but there is no indication that Bob will be there for it. Nevertheless, I passed along the info, hung up the phone, and then reflected on what I just had said. 71st birthday?

There is no shortage of septuagenarian rockers from my youth who are still performing: Mick Jagger, Paul McCartney, Brian Wilson, Aretha Franklin (as of March 25), Eric Burden, and many others. Still, Dylan is different. In his book New Rules, Bill Maher includes the following rule:  “Bob Dylan must stop denying he was the voice of a generation. Bob, that’s not something you get to decide. It’s fate and you were it. If your generation could actually choose a voice, don’t you think they’d have picked one better than yours?” That’s why he’s different, and why it is unsettling to see the number 71.

I had an advantage growing up when it came to the music of the 60s. The advantage was my sister Sharon who was 2.5 years older than I (she always specified 2.5, never rounding up to 3), and who was always perfectly in step with the times. She made every cultural transition in her life – from beat to hippie to disco to yuppie – at precisely the appropriate moment. I typically was (as today) stumbling behind the times, but thanks to her, at least cutting edge music always was in the house, very much including early Bob Dylan. I can’t say I instantly heard something special in his material – it took me until 1965. If that sounds a bit late, considering that his voice had been heard in my house for the previous 3 years, I still was only 12, so cut me some slack. In that year “Ballad of a Thin Man” from the Highway 61 Revisited album caught my ear, so I sat down by the stereo for a serious listen. Perhaps I gave it a more serious listen than the song really deserves, but, once again, I was 12, which is the time for doing that – as it continues to be for the next decade. The song contains much counterculture smugness – in essence, “you guys just don’t get it” – but also contains a kernel of truth. So very many Mr. Joneses really didn’t (and still don’t) get it. So, I became a Bob Dylan fan, just late enough not to care about the whole “going electric” controversy.

Age is something that creeps up on us, perhaps because we willfully ignore the passage of time. Somehow, finding oneself at some numerically significant birthday is always a surprise. So is the realization at a certain point that the road ahead is shorter than behind. Bob has achieved a sort of immortality in his music, of course, but he might be able to empathize with the remark of Woody Allen (76), “I don’t want to live on in my work. I want to live on in my apartment.” In his 1997 song “Not Dark Yet” on the Time Out of Mind album, time seems very much to have been on Bob’s mind: “It's not dark yet, but it’s getting there.”

It’s still not dark for either of us, I’m pleased to say. While I also make a point of listening to contemporary fare by artists young enough to date Bob or Woody, I’ll keep an eye on Bob’s tour schedule. I’ll catch him when he swings reasonably close by again. I’m sure it will make me feel like the kid that, of course, I still am.

Ballad of a Thin Man


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