We go way back, me and Bob Dylan.
I knew Dylan’s early songs from a young age, but they were a little esoteric and to young ears, the voice was grating. But when other people started recording his songs – first there were pop-folksingers like Peter Paul and Mary – and then the Byrds, I started paying attention. Then I heard “Like a Rolling Stone.”
Since that day, Dylan’s lyrics have filled a disproportionate amount of space in my brain. It wasn’t long before I knew all the words to “Desolation Row,” all ten verses (but who’s counting?). Even now, I can sing (and play) most of the songs from Highway 61 Revisited.
Dylan’s way with words is surely Nobel-worthy. He has written serious songs that still resonate – “Masters of War,” “A Hard Rain,” “Hurricane,” “Gates of Eden.” There are love songs that are achingly beautiful – “Tomorrow is a Long Time,” “Don’t Think Twice,” “If You See Her Say Hello.” There are short stories in song – “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Black Diamond Bay,” and many more. And songs that make no sense but are unforgettable – “Memphis Blues Again,” “You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere.”
The words have sunk into our language the way Shakespeare’s words did. “Don’t think twice” or “something’s going on, but you don’t know what it is;” “one more cup of coffee,” or “how does it feel?” – none of these lines are unique to Dylan’s songs, but you may hear the melody when someone says them. Dylanisms like “to live outside the law you must be honest” or “she breaks just like a little girl” ring familiar. And the poetry – “sad-eyed lady of the lowlands, where the sad-eyed prophets say that no man comes,” “yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky, with one hand waving free” – can bring tears to my eyes.
When I wrote my book, I knew from the start that the title had to be drawn from Bob’s songs. Since the book is about my journey through the politics, culture and music of the late 1960s, it was just a question of which song, which words. In the end, it was easy: the book is my search for some way out of adolescence, out of my suburban hometown, out of here. All “Along the Watchtower” says it plainly, “there must be some way outa here.” It also tells a mysterious, ambiguous story about “too much confusion,” where “there are many here among us who feel that life is but a joke.” The sense of urgency rang true for me: “let us not talk falsely, the hour is getting late.”
Dylan’s Nobel prize is a well-deserved affirmation of his craft. But even now, there is one big part of his work that is underappreciated: his 21st century songs. When Rolling Stone listed “Dylan’s best” songs a few years ago, only a handful of recent songs were included. They haven’t been paying attention, and if you haven’t either, take heed:
Spend a little time with Modern Times, Love and Theft, and the others. Listen to “Mississippi,” “Thunder on the Mountain,” “Spirit on the Water,” “High Water,” “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” and “It’s All Good.”
It is…all good. Very good.
Thanks for everything, Bob.
Check out Some Way Outa Here on Amazon!