ROLLING STONE COLUMN #74
Last week I waited in a long line once again to stand in front of my favorite musician. I raced past fans of all ages, races, shapes and sizes to be as close as possible to The Master of Peace. I was still in high school the first time I saw Bob Dylan shake up the Universe. He had just gone electric, plugging in and juicing up his potent in-your-face truth-telling Yes, he was pissing off the gentle folkies, but gathering rock fans into his undeniably profound and mind-blowing-in-the-wind lyrical genius.
I have long been drawn to blasts of wisdom by various philosophers, poets and saintly folk – those able to shift my mood from one of stressed out impatience to serene acceptance with a mere two-sentence blast of insight. A few brief words that embolden, reassure or electrify. More than once I have had an ‘Aha!’ moment reading comforting phrases by Plato, Emerson, Lao Tsu, Jung, Jesus.
I’m grateful that I was a teenager in the sixties, because my generation had our very own fearless rabble-rousing soothsayer. Somehow a young man from the great American Midwest was able to express the tumult, wonder, and emerging rebellion of millions starting to question the status quo. Even though Bob Dylan continues to sell out stadiums all over the world, and his last album entered the charts at Number One, it concerns me that the generations that came after me haven’t been exposed to his exquisite declarations. I encourage my Italian readers to dip into Dylan’s massive catalogue, if you haven’t done so already. Every rock musician alive today owes a debt of gratitude to the American Bard.
As a teenager, after listening to ‘Freewheelin,’ ‘Bringin’ It All Back Home,’ and ‘Highway 61’ endless times, the expected suddenly became unexpected. There was way more to it than I realized. I often say that Dylan spoke our minds for us, putting into words what the hippies, flower children, love-craving freaks and peace-niks, were thinking. But he did more: he wiped the sleep from our eyes and yanked off the rose-colored glasses of acceptance and resignation. The faÁade of the Status Quo suddenly seemed like a cocked and loaded gun pointed directly at anyone looking too deeply or too hard. It was like being given second sight; I was able to see through the shuck and jive, getting a peek into the thorny heart of the matter. It was breathtakingly frightening and wildly exhilarating all at once.
Dylan appeared to be addressing disenchanted youth with songs such as ‘The Times They Are a Changin’ and ‘Masters Of War,’ and he did speak our minds for us, heralding a spiritual revolution that hasn’t stopped, but his vast vision has far surpassed that brief, bright instant. His words transcend time, just like the ‘banned-in-Boston’ poet, Walt Whitman, who also challenged hypocritical morality.
“Like A Rolling Stone” was the first ‘long form’ rock song (over six minutes!) that emboldened DJs dared to play in its mind-blowing entirety. Before Bob (BB) rock music was all about how to get the doll of your dreams or how to heal a broken heart. After Bob (AB) musicians were forced to face the music and leap into the abyss. The insistent phrases that lit a never-ending flame in my brain, ‘You shouldn’t let other people get your kicks for you…’ and ‘When you got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose,” were as profound as Blake, eternal as Shakespeare, and as demanding as Dante. Dylan blazed a high-beam at the bullshit, demanding that we take a long, hard, unobstructed look. And he has not gone gentle into that good night. “A cold blooded killer stalking the town/Cop cars blinkin’, something bad going down/Buildings are crumbling in the neighborhood/But there’s nothing to worry about, ’cause it’s all good,” he says on my fave song, “It’s All Good,” on his latest album, “Together Through Life.” Dylan takes that horrible, worn out, lame phrase and infuses it with the tragic irony of truth.
I had the pleasure of meeting Bob Dylan several years ago, and gave him my first book. When I saw him again a few weeks later, he told me he had read it “from cover-to-cover” and that I was “a good writer.” It was one of the most delightful, joyous moments of my life, and made me realize I was on the proverbial “right track.”
I have combed through all of Dylan’s lyrics, and want to share a few of my supreme favorites with you…
“Now, each of us has his own special gift
And you know this was meant to be true,
And if you don’t underestimate me,
I won’t underestimate you.”
“Most of the time
I’m strong enough not to hate
I don’t build up illusion ‘til it makes me sick
I ain’t afraid of confusion no matter how thick…”
“The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times, they are a changin’…”
“The hollow horn plays wasted words
Proves to warn
That he not busy being born
Is busy dying.”
“May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.”
“In the fury of the moment I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand…
Then onward in my journey I come to understand
That every hair is numbered like every grain of sand.”
Well, dolls, I could go on and on and on for many pages, but I only have this one.
“How does it feel…
To be on your own
With no direction home
Like a complete unknown
Like a rolling stone?”