Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan - The Face of Change

     I would be remiss if I ignored Robert Zimmermans' birthday. As a man approaching seventy, I could use the great pass key of age to enter the room of ignorance and no one would notice.
This is truly as I remember him.
     But I would.
     Somewhere in the past, a younger me would have felt a twitch in his smooth, beardless face while grappling with a red and black Stella guitar that weighed as much as the boiler from Engine 143 that killed poor George Allen, the blonde hero of a Carter family song, who's very last words were "nearer my God to thee."
     But I digress.
     It was 1957 when I first heard the song about a fellow one hundred years before who hailed from Tennessee. Tom Dula. He met and murdered a girl with whom he was involved with his knife (poor boy!) and later was hung for his crime. Tom Dula's name was changed over the years to become "Tom Dooley" and three frat house boys from Southern California with sharply creased tan slacks and striped shirts made this long forgotten Appalachian song famous; and in the process brought American folk music to the world.
     I was enthralled not only with  the style of music, which used un-amplified stringed instruments and close harmony, but the subject matter; murder most foul. I had discovered (along with several million other young people who were being fed Kerouac, Ginsberg, Thoreau, and Woody Gutherie) something that spoke deeply to me. And I was hooked.
     I bought every album the trio made and waited with my friends on tender hooks for the next recordings. My friends and I purchased guitars and banjos, I had no skill with either and bought a set of bongos. And a black beret, (I kid you not.) I studied Lenny Bruce and delved into Zen Buddhism. Briefly, for I was shallow and could not comprehend a word of what I read.
I envied Suzy Rotolo
     And then I bought an album called Bob Dylan, with this "kid" for corn sakes on the cover. He DID, as the reviews at the time indicated, look like a choir boy. But he sounded like a 106 year old black woman. And he played guitar with an abandoned style that blew me away. "Baby Let Me Follow You Down", "Song For Woody", "Keep Your Hands On the Plow." My God. I couldn't get enough of this guy. And he wrote his own stuff!
     I bought and learned every song from Dylan and every folk artist I could find. Joan Baez who's pure voice gave me an erection. Tom Rush, Dave Van Ronk, Phil Ochs. Mike Seeger and all the people who appear on my home page of "The Banjo Hangout".
     And after my stint with Uncle Sam, I got the Stella six string. The guitar from hell, which had, seemingly, a one inch gap between the strings and the neck and showed my fingers no mercy and when I played sounded like many drunk angry men smashing cases of beer.
     Oh wait. I think it was several drunk angry men smashing cases of beer.
     Well, later "The Times They Are A Changin'", and "Freewheeling'" and by the time of my first marriage, we had gone through the trauma of Newport and the apocryphal story of Theodore Bikel tackling Pete Seeger before he took and axe to Dylan's electric guitar. And then "Bringing It All Back Home".
     Mixed within all the roiling broth of our lifes-blood stew, four young men from England floated to the surface, and the "Beatles" bubbled merrily to the top.
     I bought their first Capitol album, "Meet the Beatles" and was promptly castigated by my peers. But I stuck with it and soon, electric/acoustic/folk/eclectic/contemporary music exploded with a flash and a bang and we have been playing it ever since.
It weighed a ton.
     But much of the credit must be given to Bob Dylan. As Arthur Miller says in "Death of a Salesman", "Attention must be paid!" He is a writer/performer who made his own roads and slashed his own trails through the jungles we hack through everyday of our lives. He made sense at times, and other times, he made crap. But he always made it interesting.
     I remember sitting in a hallway in a re-vamped Victorian brownstone on Beacon St. in Boston in 1964, lacing into "A Hard Rains Gonna Fall". A man two floors above, working diligently on his masters degree in English composition, leaned over the rail a few floors above and said...."As much as I appreciate the message of that song...could you shut the fuck up for a few moments?"  I did.
     I have no idea what that has to do with this post, other then the fact that Dylan pops up in our culture. He did from the very beginning and he will when the last cockroach eats the last Twinkie.
     Happy Birthday, Bob.
(C) 2011 George Locke