In which I count a love minus zero
On Monday the greatest lyrical poet of his generation turned 80. I’m going to eschew songwriter, although (or perhaps because) plenty call him that unhesitatingly—many artists of that generation, male and female, produced songs and/or albums that could justify their bid for the title. But his mastery of imagistic wordplay and world-building is of such status and stature that I say lyrical poet. Plus he’s a Nobel laureate in literature, so.
I feel very cliché for loving Bob Dylan. I feel cliché for the fact that the first song to make me go holy shit this guy’s onto something was “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and that the one whose lyrics I race through in my head for a mental-acuity checkup is “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding),” and that the one that sends me into a strange trance every time is “Ballad of a Thin Man.” I feel cliché for having fallen for him at fifteen, because it ostensibly gave me a reason to feel superior to my peers, because I was taught (as we all are) to casually despise teenage girls and belittle everything they love. Let’s face it, had I been born in 1950 I would be the most basic bitch alive. I am in no position whatsoever to judge, as he reminds me even when his lyrics aren’t actively slashing me to ribbons.
I don’t feel nearly so cliché for loving the Beatles, which on the surface makes no sense to me, but there must be a reason. Maybe it’s because the Beatles as a united entity have not existed for half a century now, whereas Dylan has never stopped being an entity, and a high-profile one at that.
I feel a little cliché for calling “Visions of Johanna” my favorite song, albeit not enough to be ashamed. (The full story is going in the memoir.) I feel less cliché for calling Blonde on Blonde my favorite record since it’s often made to exemplify excess, the shtick taken too far, past the balanced act of Highway 61 Revisited. I don’t care if it goes too far; I think it’s perfect. And even though it features the aforementioned song, my favorite track on the album is “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” How does this add up?
But then cooler kids than I profess a love of Dylan and get away with it, so I guess I should go easy on myself.
I always joke that he spent the first five years of his career trying to be famous and the next fifty-five years trying not to be. With all the buzz around this date, it’s safe to say he hasn’t exactly made strides toward fading into obscurity or whatever it is he wants to do. Which is just better news for the rest of us.
Happy day, Robert. I know nothing annoys you more, but we love you!!!
P.S. in case you guys didn’t catch it last year, this gem merited some kind of award in and of itself. THAT is the correct way to do quarantine. ⭐️
Image: my estimate is early ‘66 but I can’t trace the source, shout it out in the comments if you know