The discovery of another hero took time. It was like discovering a heap of dirty gold ore. You don’t know what you’ve got until you’ve teased it all out.
If the Beatles were the driving force for Rock then Bob Dylan was the Fulcrum that turned it on its head. The Beatles provided the musical genius but Dylan provided the poetry and substance that enabled it to reach its apotheosis.
I came to Dylan late. It wasn’t until his electric period that I really began to appreciate what a genius he was. For me it was a slow burner.
I was not one of the guys who might have shouted ‘Judas’ in the Albert Hall or Manchester Trade Hall. I loved his electric period and none better than the driving, searing quality that Mike Bloomfield brought to it at Newport.
My friend Mutt first introduced me to Dylan. He played me his first album but it left me cold. I still find that first album a bit of a non-entity. Mutt assured me that if Dylan released singles he’d be in the charts. I pooh-poohed that but sure enough, shortly after Mutt’s prophetic words, Dylan released ‘The times are a changing’, it made the charts and I had to eat my words.
I am sorry to say that I was one of those people who could not get on with his voice. I liked the songs but I preferred them by other people like the Byrds and Manfred Mann. It makes me squirm to say that now because I have got so much into Dylan that I know his voice is just ideal for his songs and everyone else’s arrangements tend to sound Poppy and lightweight in comparison and you don’t get much more unhip than Poppy.
My subconscious quest for Dylan overlooked him for a couple of years. I was aware of his music but I never really listened to it. Then I bought ‘Bringing it all home’ in Kingston arcade and it blew me away. The good thing about this was that it meant that I could now go back and retrospectively absorb three genius albums all at once – ‘The times are a changing’, ‘Another side of’ and ‘Freewheelin’’. What a mind expanding time I had! There was everything! – The anti-war stuff, the civil rights, the songs for the oppressed and down and out. It made you think; it raised your sensitivities; it made you question everything; it was so clever and poetic. I read the poetry on the liner notes and checked out everything I could. Dylan was just what I needed. He’d taken Guthrie’s type songs a stage further into a new dimension. He was singing about the world I lived in and the society we were grappling with and trying to get to change. No wonder everyone was feeding off him!
I adored the snarling Dylan on ‘Positively Fourth Street’ which became my favourite song of all time for a while. But there was also the exceptional ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and ‘It’s alright Ma I’m only bleeding’.
Then there was ‘Highway 61 revisited’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and the poetry exploded with Beat Poet surrealism, like Kerouac, Ginsberg and Rimbaud were recording Rock songs. At the time I was reading Ginsberg’s Howl and Kerouac’s ‘Dharma Bums’ and it just seemed to sit in there.
Unfortunately I’d missed Dylan’s performances at the Albert Hall and around. If only…………..
I did get to see him four times at various gigs. Two were brilliant, one was mediocre and one was absolute shit.
He was a difficult, complex hero to have with a veritable mine of mind expanding concepts to be unearthed. He was also full of contradictions and obfuscations designed to throw you off the scent. But the reward for perseverance was immense.
Dylan’s fabled motorcycle accident in which he supposedly broke his neck was the end of what was an incredible run of six of the universe’s best albums (I am making an assumption here – I am not yet fully conversant with musical input from other regions of our galaxy or any distant Galaxies. Maybe they have even better albums out there? – Far out, man!). But I suppose that had to be. Dylan was freaking out on speed and stress. He looked so jumpy. I guess if he had gone on he would have gone under. Maybe he did go under? Who knows? Perhaps it was just a ploy to break away from the pressure and that tag of being ‘The Voice of a Generation’.
Anyway, the post accident Dylan was very unhip.
I bought ‘John Wesley Harding’ and it was OK. We’d all thought he was easing his way back in. The Underground was going and we needed Dylan’s spark. He was the guy. The next album would be great, right? No, not right. The next album was ‘Nashville Skyline’. I was so disgusted with it, having bought it with such high expectations on the day of release, that I smashed it and threw it in the dustbin (I only ever did that with one other album and that was Neil Young’s ‘Hawks and Doves’). After that there were two more dreadful albums – ‘Dylan’ and ‘Self Portrait’. It looked like he was a brain-dead spent force. The snarling hipster who spat bullets and was the scourge of the establishment was now an awkward geeky country singer.
It was so bad that when Dylan was due to perform at the Isle of Wight I shunned it as I really didn’t want to see someone so good reduced to a sham. I’m glad I didn’t go.
I wish I hadn’t gone to the Earl’s Court in 1981. I did it against my better judgement. I was persuaded by people who’d seen him in 1978 and found him in top form so I decided to chance my arm. They assured me that the real Dylan was back. The trouble was that Dylan in the intervening time had got religion; he was backed by a gospel choir and was utterly dismal. I hated every minute of it. If there’s one thing I can’t stand it is American saccharin evangelical nutcases. The country is full of indoctrination and shoves it down your throat before you can think. I hate primitive medieval superstition. I could not believe Dylan had succumbed. It was embarrassing – from ‘It’s alright ma’ to the trite ‘God gave names to all the animals’. Seemingly he’d burned his brains out and lost his balls at the same time. Ho hum.
Fortunately he worked his way back again and I got to see him a couple more times when he was good and rockin’. But he never hit the heights of that purple patch in the 1960s when he set the pace for both lyrics and musical innovation. He set the trend for everything that followed.
I’m still mining his lyrics, reading his books, listening to his concerts and radio shows and marvelling at the scope of the guy. If only ………
But Dylan helped me grow and develop as a man. He raised my consciousness. Without him I would not have become as good. We all need people who question what society is about. We need people who question our leaders. That is because people who seek power are often the paranoid sociopaths. We are often being led by people who are mentally ill. Time after time we put the Pol Pot’s, Stalin’s, Mao’s, Thatcher’s and Nixon’s in charge and think they have our best interests at heart. It takes a Dylan to point out the absurdities. That’s what he did for me; he helped opened my eyes. Pointing the way to go!!!