Well what can be said about Robert Zimmerman, north country boy who we later came to know as Bob Dylan? Probably not much, right? It’s all been said, sings with heart, can’t sing at all. Voice of a generation to “I just don’t get it”. I think Dylan is a poet, a great writer and interpreter of what and how he sees the world. For the record, he didn’t want to be called “The voice of a generation” or “the voice of anything”. He just wanted to be able to write and perform his music in the way he wanted at whatever time.
One thing that did amaze me was that Dylan didn’t start writing his own stuff until well after he arrived in New York City. He came as a folk singer, singing the traditional folk songs he knew. I thought he would have been the kind of guy writing amazing poetry as a child. But no, that wasn’t the case at all. All the stars were lining up. The turbulence of the 60’s, post beatniks and Kerouac devotees, social and racial injustice, Vietnam, Kennedy, King.
It was all primed for a voice, someone writing about what was going on. Someone to help us make sense or at the very least shed light on the world that was coming through our TVs and newspapers; the voices on the winds. “Love Me Tender” or “Beach Blanket Bingo” would no longer suffice. Not in times of such chaos and transition. So maybe the times, the newness of this type of writing, I don’t know what all the forces were that put not only Bob Dylan’s music, but Dylan himself square in the middle.
But Dylan did the only thing he knew how; he just kept writing and following his life’s journey. Wherever his road led, he followed. Into electric, back to folk, torch music, Gospel music and if I might add his “Christian” stuff was way cooler than a lot of “Christian Music” at the time. He, the one all other writers looked up to, joined a group. A group where he wasn’t the focus. A group of big names, but just guys that wanted to be a part of a band, that’s all. So Jeff Lynne, Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob and George Harrison formed the Traveling Wilburys. What a cool and fun thing to do. What a cool reminder to us that these guys didn’t consider themselves anything like what the press and the public made them out to be.
My thanks to Bob Dylan for many years of great music. I know all the jokes about understanding him these days live, but whatever. He is still a troubadour, a wandering player of music, still searching, still looking at the world and telling us what he sees through his music. He is in it with us. Not leading but reflecting.