Tuesday, May 24, 2011

If Today Was Not a Crooked Highway

I almost cannot believe this even though I'm typing it. Happy Birthday to Bob Dylan who celebrates his 70th birthday today. For Dylan to be 70, I would have to be...let me do the math on this for just a second, okay? Take away the five and carry the one plus....YIPES! One of us is really old and I suspect it ain't the kid from Hibbings, Minnesota. And don't get me started on you, okay?

I guess you had to be there in one place, a generation lost in space as McLean sang, to really appreciate how bad pop music was until Dylan and The Beatles, coming at it from different perspectives and different backgrounds reinvented it and allowed all of us to own it. It was a long, long time ago.

US pop music before Dylan had Pete Seeger and The Weavers and Folkies and Okies for the most part. Woody Guthrie was idolized, but the guy at CBS (the largest label in the world at that time) was Mitch Miller (and we watched his TV show and oh boy...) while Guthrie lay dying. We also had the Brill Building contingent and a ton of heart thobbers and throbbettes and all the June/Moon/Croon lyrics you could eat with a --well you can probably guess what utensil you could eat 'em with.

I was too young to catch the guy who, as Elston Gunn, was the piano player for Bobby Vee and most of the hokey folkie incarnations--I picked up on him first through other folks doing his material and being seduced by his command of the language through Blonde on Blonde before finally stumbling across John Wesley Harding even as the auslanders were unveiling Rubber Soul and I realized the language was so powerful because the ideas it reflected were the foundation of the Next New World.

All of that was fifty years ago and the face I shave in the mirror on weekday mornings now could barely clear that sink a lifetime ago. Like Leo Kottke, I spoke with Dylan (and Leo as well and knew who they both were when I did; and my feet are still smiling), and was close to tongue-tied (my wife knows how rarely that happens) since all I wanted to tell him was how much his music meant to me even while realizing that he didn't make music for how it made me feel; he made music for how it made him feel. We were along for the ride.

So as Loudon Wainwright, III, one of those dubbed a New Dylan in the Seventies before we realized there was nothing wrong with the old one, offered twenty years ago, Happy Birthday Zim. And may you have as many more as you so choose. I hope we'll always find new and better reasons to celebrate you as you have so often celebrated each of us.
-bill kenny

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