- by Barney Davey
As a young idealistic person in the 1960s, his music and lyrics grabbed me and caused me to think about things in ways I never would have without the exposure to him. I followed Dylan through protest songs to blues rock and rambling dissertations with images pouring out at such a rapid staccato pace they were near impossible to comprehend or keep up with. To my mind, Dylan was a precursor; a rapping folk rocker before the first rappers were born.
Recently, I had the serendipitous pleasure to talk with Charles Haeussler. He is the Business Manager for Montague Street, a publication devoted to the art of Bob Dylan. And, no it is not about Dylan's visual art, although it could include coverage for that aspect of his life. Rather, it is a serious journal covering Dylan's epic oeuvre. Here is how editor, Nina Goss, describes it:
Our commitment is to soliciting critiques and examinations of Dylan’s work that can enjoy a respectable shelf-life and provoke lively discussions in the here and now.
Nina also publishes the Gardner is Gone. It is an excellent entertaining thought provoking blog that is a terrific companion to the semi-annual Montague Street journal.
In our conversation, Charlie and I explored what Bob Dylan and his music has meant to us over the years. As a young idealistic person in the 1960s, his music and lyrics grabbed me and caused me to think about things in ways I never would have without the exposure to him. I followed Dylan through protest songs to blues rock and rambling dissertations with images pouring out at such a rapid staccato pace they were near impossible to comprehend or keep up with.
Dylan – the original rapper
To my mind, Dylan was a precursor; a rapping folk rocker before the first rappers were born. Yet despite epic poetic lyrics there are melodies as compelling as his words. The incredible amount of diverse material he has produced over 50 years is a staggering testament to his artistry. Arguably, like no other artist of his era, Dylan deserves a publication such as Montague Street devoted to examining the deeper potent meanings of his work and the winding extraordinary trail he has taken to create it.
As Dylan evolved, devolved, revolved in his career, so did I in my life and attraction for his work. Along with many in my generation, the idealism I once felt was battered down by the insanity of assassinations, and by what seemed then like an endless and still now a useless war, which was followed by saddling into life with marriage, jobs, advancement, mortgages and all the typical trappings of success. Somehow my connection to Bob Dylan lost much of its relevancy in the process.
Rediscovering one's past, especially the passionate parts, is wonderful
So, Bob and I parted company as I traversed a musical exploration through rock, then jazz and blues. But, although I stopped buying his records, I still went to an occasional concert to be fascinated by what iteration of this chimerical genius would turn up. Catching the 1989 show in St. Louis' Forest Park, with a stripped down trio led by G.E. Smith, was a return to his classics and one of the best concerts I've seen.
It was a tour de force performance. Dylan was in great voice and humor. The backup band played with tight sheer virtuosity. Song after song rolled with mighty power over an immensely appreciative audience. No theatrics, just music and it was all one could have hoped for in a Dylan concert. The experience took me all the way back and reminded me how much the man and his music had meant to me as a young man.
Dylan re-discovered and resurrected himself in the 1990s
That Dylan shook off the dust and rust that have settled over his contemporaries and several generations behind them to come out with what is called his Trilogy, is simply astounding. Here is a multi-millionaire in his sixties, who has sold more than 100 million albums and with more acclaim than he or anyone could have imagined for him or any other performer of his era, who was able to churn out three successive studio albums, some of which won Grammy Awards, that re-established him as a viable notable contemporary songwriter. No one else could have done that!
The songs on those Trilogy albums are full of powerful lyrical and melodical energy. Not what you'd expect from a craggy-voiced old guy who easily could coast for decades doing oldies. Instead, after the third album, he told an interviewer for Rolling Stone magazine this when asked about retirement:
I always wanted to stop when I was on top. I didn’t want to fade away. I didn’t want to be a has-been, I wanted to be somebody who’d never be forgotten. I feel that, one way or another, it’s OK now, I’ve done what I wanted for myself. —
I see that I could stop touring at any time, but then, I don’t really feel like it right now.—
I think I’m in my middle years now — I’ve got no retirement plans. (Quotes courtesy of www.rightwingbob.com)
Lessons in aging well from an enduringly fascinating Bob Dylan
As one who is junior to Dylan by less than a decade, I've aged right along with him. Although he started out a folk hero for me, he has now become a hero and a model of how to live life fully and gracefully despite the vagaries of aging. Like him, I'm not ready to retire and feel there is much good work left in me.
The second edition of my book is an example. It is better in every way than the first. I'm eager to get it on its way so I can turn to a couple more titles in my head that are itching to come to life. There are other new projects poised to be unveiled shortly. It makes for exciting interesting times for me now. I'm happy to have someone like Bob Dylan show that staying relevant is possible even as one finds many contemporaries packing it in or making plans to do so post haste. Thanks Bob!
Love – This post's subject line refers to love, life, humanity and generosity. I will relate to those attributes this way. Dylan was never just about raging against the machine, or pointing out the inequities in life. The love in the title refers to Dylan's love songs and sentimental ballads that are just as poignant and look to stand the test of time as any of his work.
Life – The life element is really about living life long and well as Dylan has done. That Montague Street took up to study his 20-year old Oh Mercy album testifies to the agelessness of much of his work. (I had to go get it the album and have listened to it repeatedly since with each turn revealing something I'd previously missed.)
Humanity – The humanity is in finding kindred souls such as Charlie Haeussler with whom I always will share a special bond over our mutual admiration for the art of Bob Dylan.
Generosity – The generosity in the kind way Charlie shared the initial copies of Montague Street with me. He did so with no quid pro quo. In fact, I don't think it came up that I wrote this blog. His was merely a gesture proving the kindness of strangers is not a phrase, but a reality.
Many thanks to you Charlie. All the best for great success in seeing Montague Street manifest its goals. I can affirm if you are a Dylan fan, or especially if you are a fallen Dylan fan, the articles you will find in the journal will reinvigorate your appetite for more and leave you wondering why you waited so long to revisit the magic and power that is Bob Dylan.