Bob Dylan’s birthday comes every year about the same time as my own, but he has had a lot more of them. Bob was born in Minnesota on May 24, 1941 and named Robert Allen Zimmerman. The name “Dylan” he borrowed from Dylan Thomas, the Welsh poet whose lyrics influenced him greatly, as did the folk music of Woody Guthrie.
If you could pick a song that typifies Bob Dylan, what would it be? From which decade? Which phase of his career—War Protest? Folk? Blues? Talkin’ Blues? Rock? Country? Christian? Maybe a love song?
Which singer is most qualified to sing Dylan’s songs? Joan Baez? Judy Collins? Odetta? How about Johnny Cash, George Harrison or Jerry Garcia?
How about you? (And why not? A friend of mine says, “If Bob Dylan can sing, anybody can sing.”)
Some of Dylan’s most important war protest songs never get played on commercial radio (Masters of War, or With God on Our Side) and some of his greatest stuff has been buried in the all-too-popular ones like Blowin’ in the Wind, or Mr. Tambourine Man, or Lay Lady Lay. When was the last time you heard Love Minus Zero, or Idiot Wind?
You don’t like Idiot Wind, you say.
I’d probably pick Tangled Up in Blue as one favorite, but I don’t know if that’s his best work—and I don’t know which version I like better: the commercially viable one from Blood on the Tracks (sung in the first person); or the earlier acoustic version, sung in the third person and involving a love-triangle—and featuring his cuff-links slapping against the guitar as he played.
His best work may be Like a Rolling Stone, and not because Rolling Stone Magazine said so (they were trying to flatter themselves). I like the simplicity and the energy of that one, and I never get tired of it. It also represents a transformation between his folk and rock phases, and the song clearly gave him new direction after a near burn-out. Although he nearly got booed off the stage by the die-hard folkies when he showed up at the Newport Folk Festival with an electric guitar in 1965, he sang it anyway. Folk music survived the episode and rock didn’t do too shabbily for it either.
Enjoy this video before YouTube pulls the plug on it again for copyright infringement [Note: this is the fourth version I’ve used. It’s getting to be a game…].