My good friend Bob Dylan turns 68 years old today, so I will be celebrating by a chronological trawl through his great and vast pantheon of masterpieces. Close to fifty albums separate the eponymously titled first album (released in 1962) from his latest work (the recently released, Together Through Life, which grows more impressive with every listen), which will probably account for an entire week of pretty intensive listening.
As I write this, I am listening to 'When The Ship Comes In', from the 1964 album, The Times They Are a-Changin'. The song is just one of the many often overlooked gems in his incredible catalogue of work, one with a simple-sounding arrangement and melody that belies a rhapsody of startling imagery and immense drama. This is Bob in all his glory. Instead of the standard 1964 fare of cars and kisses, we are instead treated (or exposed) to a rainbow stew that melds Revelations with Kerouac, with Giotto, with Robert Johnson. And yet, even beyond the convoluted web-weaving of the words, what staggers me is the sheer animalistic power of Bob's voice. He is twenty-two years old on this record, but he manages to sound ancient, or eternal, all-knowing. Above sparse accompaniment, just a strummed acoustic guitar and a few puncturing harmonica wails, that voice rides waves and holds down the air. It delivers the words as Gospel, at once angry and hopeful. Magnificent, actually.
Whether he knows it or not (and whether he cares or not), Bob Dylan means an enormous amount to the lives of multitudes of people. In this life, worthwhile connections are difficult to make, but his art has a unique way of reaching out and working away on the senses until some important fuse is blown, and there is room, finally, for understanding. He is 68 years old now, and thankfully still as sharp as a bag of pins, still as good and as great as ever. There are not many like him. No, strike that. There is no one like him. Happy birthday, Bob, and here's wishing for many, many more.