So I gotta tell you.
I'm pretty stoked about the new Bob Dylan album Modern Times that arrives in stores this Tuesday. But what I'm not gonna do here is bore you with a lot of analytical bullshit about Dylan.
Well, at least not too much. You see, I'm not really that much of a Dylanologist.
I actually came to the party relatively late in the game, as we will shall soon see in the paragraphs about to unfold. But I am a fan. A huge fan.
And as such, I have gone through Dylan's various ups and downs as an artist every bit as much as the obsessive types who've been known to traipse through his garbage cans in the dead of night. As much as any fan looking for any clue in the way of a lyric as to just what makes this man — this icon if we are to be truly honest — really tick.
Based on my own personal experience with this artist, I'll simply tell ya what I know.
There's been a lot of Dylans over the years. There's been the heir apparent to Woody Guthrie Dylan that horrified the folkie purists when he strapped on an electric guitar at Newport (brilliantly captured for posterity in Scorsese's No Direction Home documentary).
There's been electric wiry haired protest "spokesmen of the sixties" icon Dylan.
There's been the "non-smoking" Dylan who put out the silky smooth vocals heard on Nashville Skyline in 1969 (quitting smoking was his explanation at the time for the dramatic vocal change).
There's been the "song and dance man" Dylan that did a tour in greasepaint and put out out the album Street Legal (vastly underrated in my personal opinion) and the Rolling Thunder tour and Renaldo And Clara movie.
There's been the "born again Christian" Dylan of the Slow Train Coming era…
And I mean it just goes on and on. It really does. Which is what makes Bob Dylan so uniquely fascinating as an artist. So right now, I'm going to try to put all of this into a personal context as to how I came to appreciate Dylan.
Like I said, I'm certainly no Dylanologist. When I first heard "Like A Rolling Stone," I may have been ten years old. But even then I recognized the difference between what I was hearing, and everything else on the radio at the time in the sixties. Which was basically a lot of Beatles, a lot of Motown, and a smattering of the other folk-rock artists doing Dylan songs like the Byrds ("Mr. Tambourine Man") and The Turtles ("It Aint Me Babe") that were changing the shape of top forty radio at the time.
As that Buffalo Springfield song said so appropriately, "there's something happening here."
I was far too young to realize what was really going on at the time of course, (and we won't even go into the "soundalikes" of the time like Donovan and Barry McGuire). But I still recognized, even at my young age, that there was a new sound emerging on the radio. I distinctly remember a trip in my parents car from Seattle to Yakima as the time I first noticed it. The radio was playing John Sebastian's Lovin' Spoonful and John Phillips' Mamas and Papas. There was clearly something in the air and on the airwaves.
The next time I really noticed Dylan was in 1969 when he put out Nashville Skyline. I still wasn't a full fledged fan — my tastes ran far more to the psychedelia of the Jefferson Airplane and the Doors as an emerging thirteen year old hippie wannabe in the sixties by that time. But I did notice the raspy voice of songs like "Highway 61 Revisited" (songs I knew by this time), had been replaced by the smooth croon of "Lay Lady Lay."