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In Bob we trust
He may have been making music for over 40 years, but Bob Dylan remains as vital a force as ever.
Francis Jones, 07 Jun 2006
Having recently turned 65, Bob Dylan is one senior citizen who refuses to be pensioned off. After more than 40 years in the spotlight, he is still capable of re-inventing himself and his songs. He remains utterly relevant and hugely influential.
He is commonly lauded as the Voice of a Generation, but it is not a description he welcomes.
Eschewing such a clumsy and limiting term, Dylan has continually signalled his refusal to deal in nostalgia narcotics. He is constantly evolving, having changed everything from his religion to his very name. Live shows are a riot of reinterpretation and adventure, mingling a myriad of musical variables. He changes the line-up of his backing bands and throws arrangements out the window with abandon, ensuring that no two concerts are the same. Besides, so prolific has he been that predicting the lotto numbers seems infinitely easier than foretelling a Dylan set list.
For sure, recent live shows provide an indication of what we might expect. Reports from May’s Florida gigs have been wholly positive, Dylan indulging the fans rather than himself and playing classics such as ‘Girl Of The North Country’, ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ and ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’. And if that isn’t enough to have you yelping in fevered anticipation, then what about the fact that he has been encoring with ‘Like A Rolling Stone’ and ‘All Along The Watchtower’? Of course this may all change by the time he lands on Irish soil, but in truth that is part of the charm of a Dylan performance: we do not go to see him merely on the promise of hearing our favourite songs.
We go because Dylan is truly one of the greats. We go because he has written so many magnificent, and as it happens culture-changing, songs of remarkable enduring resonance. We go just to hear that extraordinary voice.
Younger readers may not know the Dylan story. By 1962, he had cast aside his birth name, Robert Zimmerman, and his debut album was released titled simply Bob Dylan. Even in those early years, his music had an emotional and intellectual reach that was hugely impressive. With songs like ‘A Hard Rain’s A Gonna Fall’ and ‘Blowin’ In The Wind’ Dylan struck a chord and he was hailed as the figurehead of the anti-war, anti-racism movement of the 1960s. However, Dylan proved himself too contrary for any movement to contain and there was a major controversy when he went electric with the magnificent Bringing It All Back Home, released in 1965.