Bob Dylan (Robert Zimmerman) would pick up the gestures of Charlie Chaplin with his first appointment-playing piano for Bobby Vee. Bob’s first written song was for Brigitte Bardot when he was aged 15 while his debut recording was playing harmonica on Carolyn Hester’s folk album. During his younger years he spent three years bed ridden with a serious illness and perhaps here hovering between life and death discovered the gospel light of the blues. Thanks to Peter Paul & Mary, Bob’s “Blowing In The Wind” (supposedly a Lorre Wyatt poem) blew to the four corners of the globe giving countenance to this young folk disciple that would change the lives of so many including the Beatles. Influenced by the philosophies of Kant Bob’s first encounters from the Greenwich pavements were Josh White’s whore house tribute “House of the Rising Sun”, (debut song for The Animals) and Ric Van Smidt’s “Baby Let Me Follow You Down”. The Animals covered both. The oldest song Bob ever recorded was an Appalachian ballad called “Moonshiner” revived on the Songcatcher soundtrack. Fellow lover and friend Joan Baez took the young Dylan to greater heights with an awe-inspiring version of “Forever Young” and “I Shall Be Released”. South African born Manfred Mann literally bathed in Dylan slamming the charts twice in the sixties and seventies with “Mighty Quinn”.
Catch the protest train
By the mid sixties Bob caught the protest train with a bitter attack against the Vietnam conflict with his “Masters Of War” and a further no nukes attack “A Hard Rain‘s Gonna Fall” well stamped on the Concert For Bangladesh. Bob had touched everybody’s lives with Jimi Hendrix evangelizing his “All Along the Watch Tower” and the Byrds exalting his “Tambourine Man”, song about a drug pusher. Bob went electric in 1965 and booed off the stage by the purists, yet endured reaching profound maturity on his self-penned 1966 double Blonde on Blonde, a must for every schoolchild.
By the mid seventies, Bob the Levi blooded Jew became a messianic believer launching his controversial Saved followed by a further witness, the astounding Slow Train Coming with Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler helping out, - “It may be the devil, it may be the Lord but you gonna have to serve somebody’… As time moves on with a world caught up in wars and disasters Dylan’s music makes more sense and reaches more deeply than 9/11, a disaster that he predicted word for word on an album launched the same day? For those on a quest for Solomon’s hidden chord seek out the bootleg version of “Every Grain of Sand” - ‘quote In the Fury of the Battle you have to see the master’s hand, in every leaf that trembles and in every grain of sand….I’m hanging in the belly of a perfect unfinished plan…’ Further truth through songs like the earthy “Blind Willie McTell”, the unreleased Desire track “Abandoned Love” featured on his Biograph Box Set. Bob has featured on so many soundtracks namely the tender “You Belong to Me” which softened Natural Born Killers and revived in Shrek. An awesome version of “Shelter from the Storm” ended the IRA soundtrack Jerry McGuire, but who can forget Knocking on Heavens Door from Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid. (Clapton covered in reggae style).
It’s a political World
Three months ago, the 65-year-old Bob Dylan swept through the charts with his prophecy filled Modern Times album reaching number one in eight countries. The last time raggedy Bob reeled through the charts was in 1976 with his gypsy influenced Desire evangelizing the sunny “Mozambique”, a theme for SA troopies locked in the Angolan/ Mozambique bush war. Strangely, this inspiring album rose up again during the millennium when the soundtrack ‘Like a Hurricane’ (tribute to boxer Rubin Carter) spun through the memory of those that had forgotten how racist America was during the civil uprisings. The ultimate Dylan politico tour de force in this regard was the piano banging “Ballad of a Thin Man” (better expressed by Sloane’s Grass Roots) This song was a transient thread that challenged the state of America and eventually rising to beastly form and mangling the fabric essence of white America. Militant leader George Jackson hatched The Black Panthers while listening to this song…
By the mid eighties Bob was threshing madly with his Oh Mercy that yielded the Dobro laced “Political World”, courtesy of Daniel Lanois, Peter Gabriel’s right hand man. The album also conceived the haunting “Man in the Long Black Coat” (Jesus or Johnny Cash?) Recently Dylan also quoted Timrod’s “Charleston” in “Cross the Green Mountain,” a song he contributed to the soundtrack of the 2003 Civil War film Gods and Generals; (As quoted Bob sampled the poem, no plagiarism?) The last time Bob went into protest was twelve years previously, yet personally, this Civil War reflection was closer to the Zimmerman template, a far-fetched dimension to the so-called present Grammy Modern Times chart breaker that everybody is raving about.
As we count, the days to Armageddon let the contemplating “Senor”, (tales of Yankee power - nothing has changed…. fill your cup. The good book says deep reaches unto deep so if you in that shallow grave time to rise up and face the crackled light of Dylan
(I recall the honorable Minister Piet Koornhof telling me on the Strand golf course that when PW Botha attacked Rock Music, he did not refer to the nasal Robert Dylan. Ja-nee, I kept silent as we teed off on the on the fourth hole and sliced my shot right into Blikkies Dorp, as it was then called)