Friday, October 14, 2016

Bob Dylan in NYC

Newly-minted Nobel laureate Bob Dylan -- the first American to win the literature prize in more than two decades and the first member of a super-group to be so honored -- was born and raised in Minnesota. But it was here in NYC, Greenwich Village 1961 specifically, where Dylan's genius first revealed itself to the world.

Working the downtown clubs, singing in venues all over town, Dylan's brilliant songs and lyrics caught fire with a new generation that had just elected its first president born in the 20th century, a spiritually hungry generation that had survived the worst war in history and the conservative era of the 1950s. 

For the next fifty-plus years, Dylan would become more than just a popular singer/songwriter -- his music and lyrics would become part of the American conscious for late-20th/early-21st century, a communal reference point for the existential dilemma of a nation of plenty and a nation of tumult. Dylan didn't give us easy answers -- or any answers at all. Instead he asked us questions, hard questions, and dared us to be brave enough to answer them for ourselves.

"How does it feel, how does it feel?
To be without a home
Like a complete unknown, like a rolling stone"

Questioning, searching, longing, yearning, giving in, giving up, hoping, hating, loving, wondering -- it's all there in Dylan's lyrics, the jumble of emotions and thoughts, the emotive and repressed feelings that we all have at the same time, in various shades, in various ways. And it's precisely because it's so hard to express them that Dylan -- through his poetic voice -- expressed them for us in language both economical and powerful, haunting and familiar. He took the complicated frustrations of this complicated nation and made them clear:

 Come senators, congressmen please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside and it's ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a' changin'!

If you're interested in the early days of Dylan, you must read this recent New York Times article but you should also read Dave Van Ronk's great book The Mayor of MacDougal Street about the early 1960s Greenwich Village folk scene that Dylan emerged from. (Van Ronk was a friend of Dylan's and an early influence -- and Van Ronk is immortalized in the great Coen Brothers movie Inside Llewyn Davis that takes place in January 1961 right as Dylan emerges.) 

And if anyone out there doubts that Mr. Dylan should have won this prize, just remember that he's the guy who wrote: 

How many roads must a man walk down
Before you call him a man?
How many seas must a white dove sail
Before she sleeps in the sand?
Yes, and how many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they're forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin' in the wind
The answer is blowin' in the wind

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