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happy 70th birthday bob dylan!

May 24, 2011
Bob Dylan Onstage 1965

Photo by Rowland Scherman, 1965

Today is Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday and I’m pretty sure every media outlet in the free world is going to be running a story about him. I can’t really add anything to Rolling Stone’s massive tribute. Or to any of the experts offering up career-spanning retrospectives. But I can celebrate by sharing what Bob Dylan means to me.

I know people talk a lot about the ”cult” of Dylan worshippers or as this (annoying) Slate article phrased it “Bobulators.” I think that younger generations of Dylan fans have a whole different kind of love for his music. We weren’t there to feel betrayed when he went electric, or feel abandoned when he found religion. We were born into a world where Bob Dylan was a certified cultural icon and we all discovered him our own way. I’m sure he means something different to all of us. But that doesn’t mean that I have escaped the “Bobulator” criticism.

I remember in college there was one exceptionally unclever frat boy on my dorm floor who, once he figured out that Dylan was my number one [read: once he noticed that I had a Dylan poster on my wall], thought it would be really funny to greet me every single morning by saying “Hey did you see the newspaper? Bob Dylan died.” He was like a child who says something once that makes the grown-ups laugh, feeds off the approval and then says it 700 more times. Only this joke was never funny in the first place. Every morning. Every. single. morning. It was like Groundhog’s Day, except I had the reality-assuring daily expansion of his frat boy beer belly to guarantee that it was in fact a new day. Apparently, homeboy had a hard time understanding how a 19-year-old coed could be devoted to anyone other than Lil’ John.

The first time I saw Bob Dylan in concert was at Seattle’s Key Arena in 2001. I was a few days shy of my 17th birthday.  It wasn’t the most picturesque venue for a first-time Dylan concert but during the encore when he played “Like a Rolling Stone” and the stage lights flashed out onto the audience during the chorus, I looked around at the sea of faces singing along with him, and it was truly a magical moment in my young life. The kind of moment where no matter how hard you try you can’t stuff down the huge smile that’s taking over your face. This man and his music meant so much to these people. And now I was one of them too, I was hooked.

I’ve seen Dylan nine more times since that show. And while other people may joke about it, I for one am thrilled that he’s on a Never Ending Tour. I take every chance I can get to see him. And I always make friends at his shows, people older than my parents who saw him in New York in the 60’s. Or saw The Rolling Thunder Review in ’75. Or saw his tours with Tom Petty and The Grateful Dead. Or any of the historic shows I’d sell my soul to time-machine back and be a part of.  Everyone can say what they want about his concerts now, his new arrangements, his growling voice, his lack of interaction with the audience. But to me, every show is magic because they’re all I will ever have.

For me, listening to Dylan is like coming home. He was there in my dorm room when I was away from my family for the first time ever. He was there for my first heartbreak.  He was there when I picked up and moved across the country. He’s been there when I’m lonely, when I’m sad, when I’m angry, whenever I’ve just needed a great song to remind me that every feeling under the sun is part of the shared human experience.

So, on his 70th birthday I just want to express my thanks to him for the music that has been the soundtrack to my life.

musicnotesMay you stay “Forever Young“. . . 

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