Culture & Criticism From the Far Distant Realms
Bob Dylan’s work has helped to shape the path of a multitude of individuals – each of these stories as personal and intimate as the music that rose to inspire them. Alas, Private Testimonies (All Roads Lead To Dylan) presents two of these random vignettes first born in the far-away star-meat of some invisible book of songs.
“The first time that I heard Bob Dylan I was in the car with my mother, and we were listening to, I think, maybe WMCA, and on came that snare shot [from ‘Like a Rolling Stone’] that sounded like somebody kicked open the door to your mind ….”
– Bruce Springsteen. From his 1988 speech inducting Bob Dylan into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.
I’m a writer because of Bob Dylan’s music. In reality, I came to be introduced to literature because of the energy and excitement that flowed forth from his songs. The youngest of four children, I was in my preteen years when my two older brothers were in university. Late 60s trips back home were replete with new record albums, and much like Bruce Springsteen,my earliest recollection of hearing Dylan is when my older brother dropped “Like a Rolling Stone” on the turntable. That changed it all for me, the swirl of lyrics set against the raging wild thump of drum set against the wanton wail of Bloomfield’s guitar gave birth to a brand new world. And “Like a Rolling Stone” led to “Tambourine Man” and “Tambourine Man” led to Blood On the Tracks, an album that taught me about the blind gales of love via “Simple Twist of Fate.” Looking back, I was only 12 when I heard “Tangled Up in Blue” for the first time, but those soft pages of poetry sent me searching for other new worlds. And that search led me to Kerouac. And Kerouac led me to Rimbaud. And Rimbaud led me to Henry Miller. And Miller led me to Ginsberg. And Ginsberg led me to Blake. And Blake led to Patchen and Rexroth and Machado. But the true first guiding light was Dylan. That hoarse and raspy growling whisper pushing and prodding and propping open invisible doors. No matter where I would go, no matter what I would end up doing, the road had forever been forged by that scruffy shy misfit poet who happen to hit New York at a time when the world was thirsty to drink at the trough of his vision. In the end, I was lucky to have been born into a time when I could hear him sing ‘up close and live.’ Going further, I believe Dylan’s such a great presence because he’s been able to help millions of people reconnect with the self that exists outside the mirrors of being. In the end, that’s the best any artist can ever do. It’s like Woody Guthrie’s once sang in “Dear Mrs. Roosevelt”- “this world was lucky to see him born.”
John Aiello is the Founder and Publisher of The Electric Review.
It was October 1975. I was a senior in high school and I was driving my car, flipping the radio station. Bad disco music was on every station, but I flipped and flipped and flipped. And then a sound like no other suddenly struck. The words were so strong and said so much. They went through me like a bolt of electricity. I pulled over to the side of the road to hear the song in clear focus. It immediately resonated in my young mind. As it ended, , the DJ came on and said it was by someone named Bob Dylan. Who was this guy? The next day I went to the public library to take out the book The Writings and Drawings of Bob Dylan. In an instant, it became my bible. The “Book of Dylan” in chapter and verse. I stayed up at night reading the lyrics and trying to figure out what they meant. I went to the record store to get Bob’s albums. I bought one a month – that was all I could afford. I sat and listened to the music, reading the words. They moved my soul and heart and mind deeply, opening a series of doors: Dylan leading me to Joan Baez and to Pete Seeger and to Woody Guthrie. The music and words were was so real. just like that, Dylan changed my life. I went from wanting to be a corporate Lawyer to working in DC with Ralph Nader, helping consumers, fighting to get air bags in cars. I always joke that “Bob Dylan was partly responsible for getting air bags in cars,” because if not for his music, I would be sitting in some law office, protecting the corporate wheel.
At one time, my sister had an apartment in New York City. Back in ’75, I’d heard Bob was hanging out in the Village, stopping by the Bitter End to jam unannounced. The news became my new purpose. I would walk by the venue almost every night, hoping to catch him there. No luck. But lots of disappointment. One night I missed him by a mere 10 minutes: Right after I’d left, he came on stage and played. Later that year, Bob assembled the Rolling Thunder Revue with Roger McGuinn, Joan Baez, Ramblin Jack Elliot and a host of others. They played small halls throughout the country. One such venue was near my apartment, and I hoped Dylan’s band would appear there. Each day, I would walk over from college to see if leaflets had been dropped off announcing a show that night. Remember – this was 1975; no social media; no internet. Two months of walking, checking, waiting to see. But nothing. Just me waiting for Bob, whose Revue never came by that street…
Jim Musselman is the President and Founder of Appleseed Recordings.