“Getting” Bob Dylan is considered ‘growing up’ for many rock fans. Kids go through phases. Kids like genres, fads, funny hair cuts and the next big thing. But rock fans? Serious rock fans they like Bob Dylan.
They don’t just like Bob Dylan. They are disciples to his poetry. They study the movements of the tectonic plates his ‘going electric’ initiated. They have entire shelves of his albums. They study bootlegs and they all pretend he can act.
I didn’t “get” Bob Dylan for years. I heard the whine in the voice and saw the required reading a ‘fan’ was expected to do and I thought ‘no thanks’. I decided to stick with Bowie, hair metal and grunge for as long as I could and pretend I didn’t care about Bob Dylan.
But, even as an observer without a Dylan record in the collection there comes a point where you can’t deny his stature. Guns N’ Roses were covering him, then pub rock bands were covering Guns N’ Roses covering him. Then there’s the tracks on the Easy Rider Soundtrack. There’s no denying the influence that album had on a young me. It’s my Dad’s favorite record.
Everyone talks about Dylan’s genius. Bands copied the Subterranean Homesick Blues clip all the time with the cue cards and the alley way. Eddie Vedder covered Masters Of War and I loved it. The Coen Brothers put Man in Me at the center of The Big Lebowski and I loved it. Denzel Washington made the Hurricane, there’s a Michelle Pfeiffer movie crediting Dylan with inventing Hip-Hop (or something) and the Rolling Stones cover Like A Rolling Stone in Stripped giving it some serious teeth.
So I’m open to Dylan, but not pursuing him by the time I get to the millennium. Then I heard Leopard Skin Pill-box Hat some time in the early noughties. Suddenly there’s a dimension here which the pub bores and Mojo magazine had failed to sign post. Bob Dylan is quite funny. This song is like a joke being told. Not a one liner or a play on words. It’s an anecdote delivered in a funny, intriguing and engaging way.
Bob’s lines can be read straight as absurdist or read between as snide but when they’re delivered they’re louche and ribald. He’s like a drunk guy telling a story you wait around to hear the end of… You just maybe wouldn’t invite him to come and sit with you.
Once I new there was another side to Bob Dylan (pun totes intended) the bits that kept me at arms length made more sense. I’ve heard loads of his back catalouge already. I even like a lot of it when other people are performing it. His politico righteousness was OK now I knew he could do knob jokes. His voice maybe wasn’t that of a talented singer, but it was ‘his’ and now I wanted to hear what it had to say.
I’m no obsessive with Bob. There’s just too much to go at. But there are half a dozen essential platters I’m really glad I’ve got to know, there’s a few interesting diversions and there’s gems all over the place as far as I’m concerned.