Monday, May 24, 2010

The Times, They Were A-Changing

This Day In Boomer History
May 24, 1941

I really don't remember when I became aware of Bob Dylan. I think the music came first, which I suppose is appropriate. "Blowing in the Wind" became a staple in my father's guitar performances, one of the many songs I heard wafting from my family room as I fell asleep each night. But in my head, "Blowing in the Wind" was a Peter, Paul and Mary song, harmonious, wistful and full of hope, one embraced by the growing anti-war movement and even sung in Catholic Churches (remember folk masses?).

I didn't know then that the words and music, the sentiment, the anger and the hope all flowed from the pen of a 20 year old curly-haired Jewish musician from Minnesota who entered this world with the name Robert Allen Zimmerman. (He began introducing himself as Bob Dylan in 1960, once explaining, "You call yourself what you want to call yourself. This is the land of the free.")

Soon, though, Dylan was everywhere. Exploding from the Greenwich Village scene with the strong support of John Hammond and Johnny Cash, Dylan was a force to be reckoned with. He didn't look the part of the streetside prophet - all harmonica and curly hair and a voice that would never get him through to the Hollywood round. His singing wasn't edgy, it was rough - and sometimes what he was singing wasn't all that easy to listen to. But his music, his words, told the story, not only reporting on what was happening but also predicting what was to come.

I've seen Dylan several times through the years, but those performances were in the 80's or beyond. Dylan was iconic, but no longer really relevant. The first time I saw him, on a double date with my sister and some beaus at the Philadelphia Spectrum, I remember being disappointed that he played so few of the songs that made him matter, not only to me but to an entire generation. He had moved on; we were looking back, he was charging forward.

I remember being 11 or 12 and talking to my dad about the depth that was Dylan. My father asked me to interpret one of the most famous Dylan lines, "It don't take a weatherman to know which way the wind blows." I went into some lengthy explanation of how you don't need others to tell you what's happening; you can feel the wind of change yourself, and realize the direction in which it's heading.

My dad looked at me, nodded, and said, "Well, maybe. But maybe it just means you don't need a weatherman to know which way the wind blows."

That pretty much sums up Bob Dylan for me. Iconic, prophetic, born-again and back around....Dylan remains the enigma that somehow ended up speaking for us all over the shots and tears of Vietnam. His voice may not have been much, but was there ever a better voice for a generation?

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