Dylan birthday open thread

by Chris Bertram on May 24, 2011

I’ve never really been into anything post Desire, but went through a period of intense Dylan fandom in my late teens. That’s faded, but he’s still special and I’ll never understand the haters. Personal favourites: Visions of Johanna and Absolutely Sweet Marie.



Harry 05.24.11 at 11:47 am

Tangled Up in Blue, Sarah, You’re Going to Make Me Lonesome When You Go, Don’t Think Twice.

Saw him at Blackbushe in 1978 with 250,000 other people. He was brilliant (I love Street Legal, though I’ve never met anyone else who does). Then I saw him last Fall in Madison and he was, well, brilliant in a completely different way. I, too, went through the teen phase (probably a couple of years after you, given our age difference, which might account for my openness to Street Legal), and it also faded, but I’m still sometimes intensely moved hearing him (as I was yesterday hearing Sarah on Johnnie Walker).

The BBC is doing a lot of programming around this. My favourite so far is this re-working of Freewheelin by contemporary folk singers. Seth Lakeman, Ralph McTell and Cara Dillon stand out for me.


Chris Bertram 05.24.11 at 11:51 am

For you Harry via @hawleyrose …. there’s a LW3 Dylan birthday song ….

http://bit.ly/jYuvmC feat


Russell Arben Fox 05.24.11 at 12:08 pm

My thoughts here (though they’re mostly about Wilentz’s idiosyncratic but overall wonderful Dylan book), written back in January when his “career” (if that’s the right word for his journey) hit the 50-year mark.

Unlike you Chris and Harry, my Dylan phase wasn’t a teenage thing. Dylan didn’t really start speaking to me until I’d gotten a lot more interested in and informed about country music and the blues, so I’d say it hit me probably sometime around the end of my time in graduate school; perhaps 10 to 12 years ago. And as it wasn’t a terribly strong “phase,” just an intense interest in really getting to know this music that friends of mine kept calling me out for being ignorant of, I could say I’m still in it; I’m still curious about everything the man records, because you just might be surprised by its quality. I won’t pick out a favorite song (though “Political World” in an unjustly overlooked rock ballad off Oh Mercy, from his otherwise weak late 80s period), but in the spirit of Harry’s citation of folk covers of Dylan, I have to say that perhaps my single favorite collection of Dylan tunes is Robyn Hitchcock’s Robyn Sings. His cover of “Desolation Row” is damn near definitive.


Phil 05.24.11 at 12:16 pm

I can still remember the first time I heard “Tangled up in blue”, in very much the same sense that I can still remember the first time I read about Lucy going through the wardrobe into Narnia, which is to say that I can’t remember it at all – I remember being that old, I remember the immense impression it made on me, but the idea that there actually was a first time – that that song hasn’t been a part of me for as long as there’s been a me for it to be part of – is hard to comprehend.

So, er, cheers, Bob. Nice one.

I played my sister’s copy of Blood on the Tracks a lot; a year or so later I got Desire and found it a bit disappointing, as I guess it was bound to be. A year or so after that, my sister got Street Legal, and we both found that *really* disappointing. I got the CD a few years back, and it’s actually a terrific album (or rather, a terrific album with a couple of duff tracks inserted in the middle – skip them and you’re away). The mix on the original release was dreadful, which didn’t help.


joe k 05.24.11 at 1:03 pm

One of my most prized possessions is still my Bob Dylan sweatshirt I got at my first concert of his I saw during my first fall at University (during my own intense late teen Dylan phase). Saw him again two years later, where he was incredible, dancing little jigs with his guitar up front while playing all his songs with this southern blues/ rockabilly twang — his version of Tangled Up in Blue that night was well, brilliant.

It’s All Right Ma spoke to me again this early Wisconsin spring.

I was also somewhat surprised to learn yesterday about his smack habit very early on in his career.


joe k 05.24.11 at 1:15 pm

sorry: It’s All Right Ma(if the link works, I think it is a Scandanavian site — http://www.timsah.com/Bob-Dylan-Its-Alright-Ma-Im-Only-Bleeding/Z0TrQVD1emX)…early this Wisconsin Spring</a href


Kieran Healy 05.24.11 at 1:27 pm


peter ramus 05.24.11 at 2:13 pm

Some latter day Bob, for those who haven’t been keeping up.


mark f 05.24.11 at 2:21 pm

“Visions of Johanna” is my favorite of his songs, but Time Out of Mind is my favorite album. That and Love and Theft are much better than any of his other post-(Something to be) Desire(d) work. I found the most recent two disappointing and forgettable, though.


Russell Arben Fox 05.24.11 at 2:26 pm

Kieran, apparently, remains a heretic after all these years.


mrearl 05.24.11 at 2:33 pm

There’s a trilogy that ends the first Bootleg issue, “Blind Willie McTell,” “When The Night Comes Falling From The Sky,” and “Series Of Dreams.” It is an absolute triumph of album running order, not before or yet surpassed. Remarkably, “Series,” a roiling, turbulent passage through the surreal with Dylan in wonderfully understated, mellow voice, was withheld from Oh Mercy’s release, showing that even the artist himself does not always recognize his best work.

Betraying my age, I began with Dylan when Freewheelin’ was new, and still have a softspot for “Bob Dylan’s Dream,” derivative as it may be. But then Dylan has always worked within, or never far removed from, tradition, often edging it forward, as in the righteous rimshot that kicks off “Like A Rolling Stone,” or the second coming of Hoagy Carmichael in “Mississippi.”

Designating favorites is impossible, for they change like the weather. Some lines especially stick, however. “To live outside the law, you must be honest.” “The deputy walks on hobnails, and the preacher rides a mount.” “Only one thing I did wrong, stayed in Mississippi a day too long.” “Some are mathematicians, some are carpenters’ wives, don’t know how it all got started, don’t know what they do with their lives.”

And of course the late rise of rivers in my part of the country can only bring to mind, “High water, high water everywhere.”

Finally, why has no one made a movie of “Lily, Rosemary, And The Jack Of Hearts”?


mark f 05.24.11 at 2:54 pm

A few weeks ago I pulled out New Morning. It’s one of those sort of forgotten albums, when it’s not maligned for being “minor” or worse, that came out during the fat & happy period between the motorcycle accident and the divorce. I guess it’s reasonable to think of that strecth as being somewhat slight since it’s bookended by Blonde on Blonde and Blood On the Tracks, and none of the albums in between come close to those heights. That’s how I think of it myself, so I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the album once I put it on. “If Not For You” is probably the most recognizable song on it and everyone knows “The Man in Me” thanks to Lebowski–there’s nothing all that great on it, but the whole thing has a nice laid-back quality that’s good on those farting around kind of Sunday mornings.


Donald A. Coffin 05.24.11 at 3:04 pm

I first encountered Dylan’s work in a Shopper’s Fair discount store in 1964, when I found The Times They Are a-Changin’ in a bin. What captured me was not the songs, because i couldn’t listen to them in the store, but the beginning of 11 Outlined Epitaphs, which were the liner notes. Blew me away (and read them here: http://www.bobdylan.com/music/times-they-are-changin). I still am amazed that he wrote this when he was 23:

I am still runnin’ I guess
but my road has seen many changes
for I’ve served my time as a refugee
in mental terms an’ in physical terms
an’ many a fear has vanished
an’ many an attitude has fallen
an’ many a dream has faded
an’ I know I shall meet the snowy North
again–but with changed eyes nex’ time ’round
t’ walk lazily down its streets
an’ linger by the edge of town
find old friends if they’re still around
talk t’ the old people
an’ the young people
runnin’ yes . . .
but stoppin’ for a while
embracin’ what I left
an’ lovin’ it–for I learned by now
never t’ expect
what it cannot give me

Of the albums, I’m torn between Blonde on Blonde and Blood on the Tracks. But Time Out of Mind, Love and Theft, and Good As I Been To You are all pretty damned good. But, then, almost everything up to and including Blood on the Tracks was more than pretty damned good.


Ted 05.24.11 at 3:50 pm

If you haven’t tried his later work, either Time Out of Mind and Love and Theft (released on 9-11) would be the best album ever for just about any artist that hadn’t released Blood on the Tracks. Russell in 3 above gets it right – I wouldn’t have appreciated them if I hadn’t gained some knowledge of the old blues and country artists, just as I wouldn’t have appreciated Blood on the Tracks if it wasn’t for my ex-fiancee. Time Out of Mind compresses about 150 years of American popular music into one CD. Click on Peter’s link in comment 8 if you don’t believe me.


roac 05.24.11 at 3:54 pm

Apparently the early acoustic albums remain so uncool as to be invisible. But “Boots of Spanish Leather” is still the greatest breakup song ever written.


Ken Houghton 05.24.11 at 4:02 pm

“I love Street Legal, though I’ve never met anyone else who does.”

One of these days, we will meet, Harry. (But I admit I skip “New Pony.”)

The albums Loudon Wainwright pretended don’t exist are often interesting, with a few highlights and one or two that are difficult to play (Under the Red Sky). Besides the usual suspects—”Every Grain of Sand,” most of Time Out of Mind, pieces of Infidels (another case where the world and I are one album apart; see below)—songs I would give my eye teeth to have written almost anything on Empire Burlesque, which features the other great dance song Dylan wrote (after, of course, “I Want You”).

Not to mention the album as a whole is a great chronology of a slow-motion break-up. Take the trip from “Seeing the Real You at Last” to “Emotionally Yours” and, finally, “Dark Eyes”; anytime something as vicious as “Clean Cut Kid” can be transformed into a welcome relief from an oncoming disaster it’s a demonstration of why albums exist.

Between those, “Most of the Time” from Oh Mercy, “Lenny Bruce” from Shot of Love, and the train wreck that is “Brownsville Girl” (the Shepard-Dylan collaboration that rivals “Jeannie Needs a Shooter” for Most Disappointing Collaboration), he worked his way into Songwriter Heaven.

What’s most amazing—or, for some of us, saddest—about the recent albums is how much they mine his own past. The old wisecrack is that a Republican is someone who owns Bob Dylan’s first five albums; that demographic seems to be the target market now.

But he’s threescore and ten, and certainly entitled to One More Cup of Coffee.


Chris Robinson 05.24.11 at 4:17 pm

My life has been one big Bob Dylan phase. I’ve been listening to his music since Junior High. His music led me to poetry and philosophy as lifelong pursuits. Lately, he has been helping make sense of middle age. “Time Out of Mind” is a record I keep returning to now. Back during his “Christian Phase” I went to see him at the Palace Theatre in Albany. He had a kick-ass gospel choir with him and they completely rocked a half filled theatre. It was brilliant! I hope to have “Lay Down Your Weary Tune” and “Blind Willie McTell” played at my funeral.


JP Stormcrow 05.24.11 at 5:05 pm

I’m in a bit of a trough in my overall Dylan regard at the moment (which has waxed and waned through the years–was a bit overexposed in recent years as my kids all went through their discovery phases). But I received the 33 1/3 book on Highway 61 Revisited by Mark Polizzotti as a gift this Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it and recommend it to anyone with the slightest interest in Dylan or that even just that period of music.


Tom Hurka 05.24.11 at 5:59 pm

Saw Dylan with The Band in, I think, 1973. He opened and closed the show standing with his back to the audience and singing “You go your way and I’ll go mine.” We of course loved it.

Has anyone read the Christopher Ricks book on Dylan’s lyrics? Pretty silly, I thought. I wonder what Bob’s take is.


Russell Arben Fox 05.24.11 at 6:17 pm

Roac (#15)

Apparently the early acoustic albums remain so uncool as to be invisible.

Hardly; they’re still monumental. But when you’ve been building monuments for half a century, even if your tallest ones were in 1962 and 1963 (a proposition which I personally don’t agree with, but it certainly arguable), there’s just too much work to deal with, to simply always start out any discussion of Dylan with a genuflection before “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Masters of War”.


mark f 05.24.11 at 6:33 pm

I received the 33 1/3 book on Highway 61 Revisited by Mark Polizzotti as a gift this Christmas and thoroughly enjoyed it

Haven’t read that, but the Greil Marcus book about that album’s signature track is a pretty fun one.


David 05.24.11 at 6:59 pm

I wasn’t too surprised by the smack admission. It’s in a number of songs up through Blond on Blond. My intense phase began in ’64 or ’65 and lasted four or five years. A lot of stuff still holds up very well, imho.


MPAVictoria 05.24.11 at 7:43 pm

I have really enjoyed a couple of his more recent albums. Do yourself a favour and give Modern Times a listen.


mrearl 05.24.11 at 10:10 pm

Credit where credit’s due, All Things Considered got one right. Their birthday salute to Dylan was “My Back Pages”: “But I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now.”

And may you stay forever young.


Kiwanda 05.25.11 at 1:38 am

Dylan fan from way, way back; mid-80’s at least. While I’ve always enjoyed his music, especially the magic of his voice, I feel that his lyrics remain under-appreciated. Anyway, back sometime when I was drunk and stoned and high on something that never mattered, I heard this message from Dylan, and it was a revelation. I think it’s from his brief sojurn with scientology.

Mailboxes drip like lampposts
In the twisted birth canal of the coliseum
Rim job fairy teapots mask the temper tantrum
O’ say, “Can you see ’em?”

Stuffed cabbage is the darling of the Laundromat
‘N’ the sorority mascot sat with the lumberjack
Pressing, passing, stinging half synthetic fabrications of his time

Allegory agencies of pre-Raphaelite paganry
And Shenandoah tapestries compared with good mahogany
Collapsing the undying postcard romance

If you can’t appreciate the shocking depth of his insights, well, I’m sorry for you, my friend.


CharleyCarp 05.25.11 at 4:56 am

My cousin played on BOTT and co-wrote a book about it.


rm 05.25.11 at 5:20 am

When I was in college and for some years after, I disliked Dylan because I thought his most famous songs (this was the ’80s and his most famous songs were up through “Blood on the Tracks,” I reckon) had a vindictive and mean edge. When I was older I began to see that a lot of this was the literary-prophetic voice (while writing so much in that mode, he hated to be called a “prophet” — take that, Pope Clement). And that this voice, if bitter, usually turned on itself, or could be flipped around and be heard as compassionate.

Now I mostly like Dylan from “Oh, Mercy” forward. I don’t hear the vindictive streak; I hear reworking musical traditions and contemplating mortality, looking forward to heaven and backward to experience.

Instead of favorite songs, I think of a few songs that gave me chills or that kept coming back into my mind for months until I figured out why — When the Ship Comes In, Ring Them Bells, I Was Young When I Left Home, Nettie Moore, Summer Days.


maidhc 05.25.11 at 6:35 am

I was looking at the BBC Radio 6 website earlier today and in the “Currently Playing” box it read “Stuck inside of a mobile with the Memphis blues again”.

Truly a songwriter ahead of his time.


maidhc 05.25.11 at 6:37 am

Correction, it read “Stuck inside a mobile …”


Belle Waring 05.25.11 at 12:13 pm

I listened to lot of Dylan from birth since my parents were fans and the stereo was always on in my house. I’ve got a lot of love for John Wesley Harding–especially “I Dreamed I Saw St. Augustine” and “The Drifter’s Escape.” I love “Joey” from Desire, and older school “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” I think the version of “Visions of Johanna” on Biograph is my favorite. I was obsessed as a teen and had a huge, textbook-size book of lyrics, which I read constantly. For three years I had Dylan’s phone number (allegedly) stolen by a…Geffen personal assistant, I think? I thought about calling him a lot, but I never did…


Harry 05.25.11 at 1:51 pm

Iain Anderson’s birthday show is up: I’m sure there are loads of them, but I’m partial to Iain Anderson. God, Visions of Johanna is a great song.


Tom Hurka 05.25.11 at 2:24 pm

@28 and 29:

It’s stuck inside of Mobile, the city in Alabama.

And that song’s chord progression is the same as “Everybody’s Doing the Locomotion,” which is kind of interesting.


maidhc 05.25.11 at 11:03 pm

Tom Hurka: I have a vision of some callow youth at the BBC with little knowledge of American geography thinking that Bob Dylan was writing a song about phones of the future.


daelm 05.26.11 at 1:34 pm

pretty much the whole of Highway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks, and a large part of Freewheelin’ have stayed with me since i was 17.



daelm 05.26.11 at 1:36 pm

also, kieran is funny, fwiw – there ARE a lot of them that go like that. :)


daelm 05.26.11 at 1:39 pm

oh god – also the whole of Blonde on Blonde.

(note to self: reflect before submission)



ejh 05.27.11 at 2:39 pm

There’s many things I could say about Dylan, but I’ll just mention that we ended our wedding ceremony with I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight.


David G 05.29.11 at 11:18 pm

@ Harry: Street Legal is a great album, the last of three following Blood on the Tracks and Desire. All of which I listened to when they appeared in 1974-78.

@mrearl: The reason no one has made a film of “Lily, Rosemary, and the Jack of Hearts” — as many have proposed, someone suggesting Sam Peckinpah for director — is that the song makes no sense. Listen to it again. It is pure Dylanics: sounds, rhymes, word-play, but no plot capable of rational interpretation.

And you are so right about those last three songs on Bootleg Series #1. They are by far the best stuff on those cd’s, which is saying a good deal. I would add the one just before, “Foot of Pride.” A sermon in true Dylan style: all you self-satisfied fund managers (or professors, or whoever you are), who think you have it all figured out and can act as you like … doom awaits.

Time is funny. When I was young, I heard the protest songs — “Blowin’ in the Wind” is possibly the most overdone not-so-fantastic piece of political romance ever to have been composed — but they didn’t catch. It wasn’t until I

@Ken Houghton: With you there on “New Pony.” Not one of the great ones.


David G 05.29.11 at 11:24 pm

I got cut off. What I was about to say was:

It wasn’t until I was 19 and began to listen, really listen, to Highway 61 Revisited, that I began to understand the phenomenon. That was in 1972. I haven’t ever let up, even though years have passed with very little listening. Here, however, is a test of everyone’s tolerance: what do you think of the Israel song, “Neighborhood Bully” from Infidels?

Needless to say, I love it, as I do “Jokerman” and “Man of Peace” from the same album. Man, if I had had those songs in my pocket back in 83 when the peaceniks were selling us all out to the Soviets, I would have been less scared.


dr ngo 05.30.11 at 12:47 am

I am far behind most of you in the depths of my knowledge of, and fanaticism for, Dylan’s oeuvre, but I may rank high in diachronicity:

I first heard Dylan in person in 1963 (Newport Folk Festival) and most recently in 1999 in Minneapolis (apparently Shakopee?). Major difference, other than the ancient shift from “folk” to “rock”: once he sang – in his own way, admittedly – the melodies of his songs. Later on he stopped even trying; if you didn’t already know the tune (and of course most of us did) you were simply SOL. Curious. But worthwhile, nevertheless.

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