Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Forever Young

How fortunate we are to live in the time of Bob Dylan. Such an artist comes along maybe once every few hundred years. An artist so prolific and influential that it boggles the mind. Arguably the greatest artist of the 20th century, Dylan turns 65 today and shows no signs of slowly down. Still on The Never Ending Tour, hosting a radio program, planning a new CD release and writing his memoirs, Bob plugs on with the energy of men half his age. He could easily rest on his laurels and live on the royalties of his staggering catalog, but that's not what he's about. Bob is in a class with artists like B.B. King, Duke Ellington and Bill Monroe, put on this Earth to write songs and perform up until the bitter end. Bob singlehandedly brought poetry and literacy to rock music. Without him, we'd all still be singing about cars and girls.

Listening to Dylan is a lifelong pursuit. No artist that I know of is capable of transforming his own songs so completely. By altering tempo, phrasing and vocal inflections Bob has redefined his songs year by year, tour by tour, sometimes night by night. And as 44 years of recording have passed, we now have the young and wide-eyed coffeehouse Bob of 1962, the rock/poet star of 1965-66, the exuberant arena rock hero of the 1974 tour with the Band, the mid 80's born again Christian, the Traveling Wilbury, and the worldwise, grizzled Bob of the 21st century.

To pick a favorite Dylan track to share is impossible. My preferred songs change like the weather. Here are two from the superb Biograph compilation, a great starting place for anyone who wants to explore this music beyond Blowing In The Wind and Like A Rolling Stone.

Up To Me is a discarded track from Blood On The Tracks, quite possibly Dylan's best album. Unusually reflective, it's one of my all time favorites, with fantastic lyrics:

"If we never meet again, baby remember me
How my lone guitar played sweet for you that old time melody
And the harmonica around my neck I blew it for you free
No one else could play that tune you knew it was up to me."

This version of Forever Young was never meant for release. Bob played it in his publisher's office in 1973 when asked for the words and music for copyrighting purposes. Bob played it into a tape recorder. It's a timeless song, one that you imagine no one wrote; we've just always had it. It could be hundreds of years old, or brand new. Of the song, Bob comments:

"I wrote it thinking about one of my boys and not wanting to be too sentimental. The lines came to me in a minute. I certainly didn't intend to write it, I was going for something else; the song wrote itself. You never know what you're going to write. You never know if you're going to make another record, really."

Happy Birthday Bob!

Buy Biograph - make sure you get the remastered version -wm



Blogger homercat said...

Agreed. Well said merc.

4:36 AM  

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