Bob Dylan is arguably one of the 20th century’s most prominent public figures. He has sold millions of records, became well known for his protest songs and later changed the face of rock music forever with his revolutionary single Like a rolling stone, what’s more he is still going after more than forty years of being in the musical limelight.
My personal journey with Dylan’s music began after watching the brilliant I’m Not There (2007), maybe it was the fact that at first the film completely confused me, but it also intrigued me as to who was this Bob Dylan character. I had heard his biggest hits such as Blowing in the wind, Hurricane and Times they are a-changin , but after first purchasing his greatest hits album compilation (one of many) and reading up about his story, I quickly fell in love with the music and legend of this lyrical genius.
A few albums later (Highway 61 revisited and The freewheeling Bob Dylan in particular) made me an avid fan, the man’s connection with the sixties counter culture, his image, his thought provoking and often humorous songs and varied music variety throughout his albums only fuelled my obsession with all things Bob. He quickly rose through my top bands to sit joint first with Joy Division, listening to his music seemed to set off a chain reaction that changed what I listened to as a whole, I looked more to the past to find music rather than the weekly music chart, which incidentally is in an absolutely diabolical state, talentless, mindless pop stars rule the charts, but that is a different article altogether (I could write a book on the tragic state of modern music).
Then came that beautiful day, I was in the passenger seat of my girlfriends car going down the motorway. A few weeks before we were due to go to the Bennicassim festival, looking forward to seeing the likes of The Stone Roses and New Order. I get a facebook message from a friend telling me to check the line up ASAP. I scramble for my phone and check the website with growing anticipation, and there his name was, headlining the Friday night, my excitement almost sent us off the road. I was going to be seeing my hero in a sunny Spanish festival, 2012 may just turn out to be the best year of my musical life.
So it’s Friday night at the festival, I drag my friends along to the stage (none of which are particular fans of him but they wanted to see what all the fuss was about). I know already that I probably will be unfamiliar with the majority of the set list as I generally stayed away from his later stuff, including most of his gospel albums, but I was just so happy to be seeing him and I was sure I’d get to see him at least play one of my favourite songs of all time (Like a rolling stone).
He walks on stage and a thunderous howl goes up for the old timer. All the albums I had played on repeat, the documentaries and films I had watched, the books and articles I had pored over had all lead to this moment. He opens with Leopard skin pill box hat, and that’s where it goes downhill.
His voice is unrecognizable, raspy and worn, gone is the voice of yesterdays Dylan. I give him a few more songs to get warmed up, I keep telling myself, he’s 71 years old and he is naturally going to sound different. My friends begin laughing, likening his voice to a drunken pirate, they begin to revel in my horror. All this expectation, all the myth building had lead to an out of shape old man singing songs I didn’t know, badly. He had no interaction with the crowd, but I can forgive him for that. Classics like Tangled up in blue and Highway 61 revisited pass by without fazing me too much, his unrecognisable voice coupled with him changing the style in which he played the songs completely alienated the crowd (mainly negative comments came from those I talked to after the “performance”). The finale came with Like a Rolling Stone, I basked in the glory of a true classic rock and roll tune, but it was too late, the legend was shattered for me.
Now I am in the process of rebuilding my relationship with Bob’s music, it’s a slow process and it will take a long time before my love for it returns as strongly again (if ever). So here I sit listening to the masterpiece album that is Blonde on Blonde, hoping for the fire to reignite, so that maybe one day I can write the title of another article “The rise and fall and rise again of my love for Bobby D”.