Why the work of Bob Dylan inspires
On the fourth planet from the sun this May 24th the rover Perseverance and its helicopter Ingenuity, over beers crafted by Earth Rider, will play the best two-out-of-three games of cribbage and conduct other esoteric experiments so we on earth can continue to live better electrically, and on the Fourth of July Elon Musk will be able to take his “flex gravity” Tesla for its first spin on Alpha Centauri.
On the third planet from the sun this May 24th poets, songwriters, musicians and people who appreciate any form of art that reminds us that at our quintessential, galactic core, we are human beings and know, as Shakespeare wrote, what it feels like “to be,” will celebrate Bob Dylan’s 80th trip around the sun.
Because, dear reader of The Reader, anyone writing you about Bob Dylan or his 60 years of pre-eminent songwriting, recording and performing would be “preaching to the choir,” you may excuse yourself from reading this harmonic homily of a homage, however much you may not want to do so.
It is for our mutual benefit that here in midsentence you stop reading my ink and, instead, peruse other pages within our alternative hymnal. This way, with more fury than sound, I will be allowed the maximum inattention of new readers of The Reader, who, this moment, having more time on their hands than COVID 19 surgical masks in their pockets, are thumbing through our song book that weekly sings its blues harp off-key in perfect harmony.
Remember, loyal readers of this publication, turning the page on this page this second automatically qualifies you for our monthly drawing when the winner receives one-dozen wildflowers and a jar of local, homemade honey plus a growler of beer tapped from a Martian keg faster than you can say, “Red Planet Ale.”
Knowing how, like our Thoreau-esque friends, you balk at taking direction, let me thank you in advance for your differential indifference to my request.
Accordingly, let me be the least but not the last to say, from the first time Dylan fans like us listened to “Blowin’ in the Wind,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or “Forever Young,” we knew these songs would remain forever young.
We knew, without opining about them, that they would continue to express their artistry, as iconic works of art do, and hold us in the palm of the hand of the moment where “time” is “just a four-letter word.”
Does this answer the question you did not ask?
Alright, let me see if I can, to your complete, money back dissatisfaction, answer that question, “Will Bob Dylan’s body of work remain forever young once he’s no longer above ground?”
Will anyone still listen to Dylan let alone laud his songs when he’s no longer around to write, record and play them on tour?
Will his music and lyrics be drydock-ed in some dusty cardboard box in attics or garages when he is no longer a dad, a grandpa, someone who plays chess, who reads widely and voraciously, listens with a savvy ear to music that sails from new as well as well-known ports, hangs out with friends and family, hangs out with himself, laughs when something strikes him as funny, smiles at the satirical, doesn’t cry in his beer, doesn’t “suffer fools,” and does all the day-to-day things we do as we walk, talk, hold our tongues, sleepwalk and dream awake our days, days always longer than our shortest sleepless nights and candlelit birthday cake wishes?
Will his work, except for music historians and self-appointed “Dylan aficionados,” still be experienced once he and most ardent admirers have passed on?
The answer is not blowing in the wind. The answer is as clear as Duluth’s Aerial Lift Bridge on mornings when the fog is so thick you can’t see your hand holding a squawking sea gull or a loquacious one-thousand-foot-long “laker” in front of you.
Yes, Virginia. Yes, Perseverance. Yes, Ingenuity. You betcha, Dylan’s work will always be harvested in our fecund fields and forever will be “forever young.”
Is it because William Faulkner, when he accepted his Nobel Prize for Literature, 66 years before Bob Dylan accepted his, said, when speaking of those who write poetry, “. . . when the last dingdong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his (the poet’s) puny inexhaustible voice, still talking.”? No.
It will be due to the fact Dylan’s work, for six decades and counting, conveys the one thing no artistic work can live one day or “tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” without: empathy.
This often-overlooked quality is the keystone characteristic, the “secret sauce” in all art that lives on well even well after the artist crossed the River Styx.
Michelangelo’s “David,” Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop for Death,” Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” (the “death bed edition”), Poe’s “The Raven,” Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology,” Langston Hughes’ “I’ve Known Rivers,” Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” Picasso’s “Guernica,” Hemingway’s “A Clean Well Lighted Place,” Billie Holiday’s performances of “Strange Fruit,” Isadora Duncan’s choreography and dancing, Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land,” Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Fallingwater,” and Maya Angelou’s “On the Pulse of Morning” are some artists and works that enlivened the world when they first took its stages, memorably moved our worlds since then, and, generations from now, will keep doing so because each of these artists created art that walks a mile in someone else’s moccasins.
Don’t believe me? No worries. Just ask readers who opted not to read what you’ve just read. They will confirm what I just contended.
They will further add that some of Dylan’s best- known empathetic songs include: “Who Killed Davy Moore?” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Hurricane,” “A Murder Most Foul,” and his 1963 poem “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie.”
These songs well up in our hearts and echo well into our inner ears whenever we lend them our ears since, like any metaphorical Fountain of Youth works of art, they hydrate our spirits so, despite the albatross of our mortality, we can “keep on truckin’,” keep tacking toward humanity’s brightest horizons on a planet where too often there is “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”
Don’t want to further explore why Dylan’s work will be around, will “survive the test of time” long after we have stopped hovering in traffic jams on Alpha Centauri?
Then don’t check out the 2021 Duluth Dylan Fest Schedule at perfectduluthday.com/the-event/duluth-dylan-fest-2021/2021-05-22/ and, because on May 24 you will not resist the youth that still flickers somewhere inside your middle or senior years, and you will read aloud to a friend or loved one the lyrics to your favorite Dylan songs, I dare you not to.
Likewise, just try not listening to his songs when you want to listen to them. I double-dog dare you.
If you did not start, please, stop reading now. Sisters and brothers, our choir practice is over. Restlessly, go in peace.