Twisted worlds of Bob Dylan

All this shit I’m writing, I don’t what the fuck it is. Years from now all these people they’re going to write shit about this shit I’m writing, and I don’t know what the fuck it is…
a Dylan impression from No Direction Home

The shit-storm on the internet has started. Ultimately it boils down to it just being a fun change that lyrics you’ve grown up humming are making a reappearance as high literature. It’s all light years from the genesis of Dylan anyhow, and he couldn’t be too easily pigeon-holed into anything too water-tight.

 

He was born in Duluth, Minnesota, 1941, and it was very cold and gray. He fled leaving very few traces and was oddly dismissive about his family decades after – as far as he was concerned, he’d left to find another version of home that he was sure was waiting. He whacked a lot of sounds from African American blues legends like Howlin’ Wolf and Billie to folkier people like Dave Van Ronk, some of whom can be watched cackling hoarsely while they forgive him in Scorcese’s No Direction Home.

He vanished for a few months and reappeared in Greenwich village, reinvented as an ustaad finger-picker– made a deal with the devil at Crossroads was the rumour his pals passed around. More likely, he visited his guru Woody Guthrie in hospital and learnt a thing or two. Joan Baez says the sort of crowd that wanted “Virgin Mary and then she had one son” was pissed at his act at first, but he was chameleon like, and built a wide-eyed following after five acoustic albums, ending with Bringing it All Back Home. He wasn’t the good Samaritan they wanted at peace rallies, though, and the fans couldn’t handle him picking up an electric guitar. He took the booing pretty seriously but he played it fucking loud anyway.

 

Dylan collaborated with Mike Bloomfield and The Band to make the mesmerising tracks on Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, meandered into moodier and darker phases with the arrangements on John Wesley Harding and Blood on the Tracks. Many albums, like Desire, had songs at opposite ends of the sublime-ridiculous spectrum. Senility, god, gospel, besuraness and Victoria’s Secret caught up with Bob along the way too, but everyone has their own take on his legacy. Growing up in Cal, you can’t escape the monotal prof recitals nor the manically self-righteous sing-songs that idolised him and Seeger as the twin pillars of white folk music, but you witness interesting rituals around too. Someone on a tram sang Hard Rain to his baby daughter every weekday, an entire town exploded with riot tributes on his birthday ever year. It’s the twisted logic that make him what he is, the backtracking on pledges, the snottiness about love, the brutal diatribes. He got harmonicas to sell out. He hit the nail on the violence a summer’s dream can have. He got some of us to keep on keeping on.

 

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Maya Palit Written by:

Maya Palit is a researcher and editor based in New Delhi. She used to study literature and might go back to that someday.

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