In four days, Bob Dylan turns 80. That’s a somewhat remarkable feat in itself, but doing it while maintaining a relevant cultural legacy for over sixty years makes it even more so (last year’s release ofRough and Rowdy Ways netted us a fantastic album, and may be the first time a 79 year old has scored a number one billboard hit.
I came to Dylan late, something I wrote about after seeing him in concert for the first time. That concert was, frankly, not…good (though Mark Knopfler opened, and was fantastic.) The next time I saw him Dylan was in a Nashville Skyline kind of mood, and it was quite a bit better.
Not surprisingly, the impending birthday has spawned quite a bit of journalism on the topic–the Guardian has a well written article that digs into the Dylan myth machine. It concludes, in part:
Dylan has always been a thief. In his time lighting up the Greenwich Village folk circuit in the early 1960s, purists lambasted him for plundering the canon for his own songs, as if hijacking a 200-year-old melody mattered when it emerged as a masterpiece like Hard Rain. In his advancing years his pilfering has become rife, with lines from Virgil, Homer and Junichi Saga’s Confessions of a Yakuza among those sprinkled in his songs, while Modern Times featured verses from civil war poet Henry Timrod, leading Dylan to respond, when challenged: “You even heard of him? And who’s been making you read him?”
Thief or not (and I stand with the last statement in that quote) Dylan remains the greatest living songwriter of our time. That cultural vitality of 60 or more years is impressive and here’s hoping it doesn’t end too soon–there may be another album (or another Chrysler commercial) in there yet.