Several years ago, I began my little writing site, Midnight Missives and Musings, out of necessity and wonder. One of the first orders of printing was a few words wishing Bob Dylan Happy 75. Along the way he became the topic of a piece or two, some of them even seeing the light of publishing day, both on paper and online magazines. I’d be remiss if I didn’t look back a bit and humbly chime in with a word or two on this most elegant of milestones.
I began this on Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday. I finish some twenty days shy of his 82nd. I must say I haven’t paid much attention lately to the ages of our childhood musical heroes. Is 76 really much different than 79? I know they are all in that vicinity and somehow it doesn’t seem to make much of a difference to me. I’m not one to measure age by numbers. I prefer to measure age by attitude. I’ve known 80 year olds with more joie de vivre than a 40 year old. I said to a friend, in between toasts of Heaven’s Door, the bourbon, whiskey and who knows what other amber liquor he now sells, Bob turning 80 is freaking me out. All of a sudden that number is ancient! Is it because I first met him as an eight year old Rolling a Stone and then again with a Blood on the Tracks vengeance as an 18 year old? Does someone stay still in your mind when the memories are made so young? Is it because if he’s 80, I can’t be too far behind? I know for certain that, barring a deviation or two, longevity is still the reward for a life well lived and I think Bob’s life certainly defines that and then some. He celebrated 80 but I suspect 85 and 90 won’t be far behind.
Dylan made recent news selling off his song catalog for some hundreds of millions and coming up is a new museum with all his stuff in Tulsa next to Woody’s. That to me is the epitome of a man on the move. It’s the quintessential act of don’t look back. He lived those songs and those things and everything they meant and did and were at the time and for years after, his mementos of a live well lived. But how easy it is for you to surround themselves with memories until they swallow you whole and you can’t take one step into the future. The figurative shedding of decades at our advanced ages is liberating. It’s exciting. It points to a future of possibilities instead of being mired in the concrete abilities of the past. I know a little of what that feels like these days with my shedding of 400 books and the elimination of massive amounts of photos in albums. Small gestures in my tiny life, but the element of the new and the bold and the ‘what’s next’ is exhilarating, whether you are an icon like Bob or a retired baby boomer on Main Street. It tickled me that Bob retained all ‘future’ rights to his songs. What a statement about the musical horizon he sees for himself. I asked my 94 years old aunt a few years ago before she passed, “What’s your secret to living this long”? “Keep moving”, she told me, “Just keep moving”. And Bob has always seemed to lead that way.
It is said that true artistic genius is born of the melding of extreme boredom and insatiable curiosity. In the 1940s day of Graham Green, boredom was even a recognized as a psychological diagnosis. Ironically, I just read about a 26 year old who flipped a coin between going to MIT and Caltech. When he was 14 years old, he announced to his mother that he is so bored he will die. Smart lady that she was, she found him a math club to join rather than have a prescription written for him. He said he found the ingredients to capture his imagination and relieve his boredom in that math club and not in the halls of MIT. Twelve years later, he’s worth 16 billion for a trading company he created.
Bob could have live streamed all he wanted for the entire pandemic but he didn’t. Alma Ha’rel came along with her vision and her idea and relieved him of the boredom of following some tired streaming script used a hundred times by a hundred acts by the time he entered this musical pandemical fray. That standing in place and staring at the little red dot of the tiny camera necessarily replaced all the human faces and interaction required by live performances. Alma was both producer and director of Shadow Kingdom, his extraordinarily beautiful show draped in the sultry shades of film noir. The artist must trust the visionary for greatness to be born. The artist needs thousands of fans but only one visionary muse and the best ones can tell the difference. Fans love everything the artist has done. The visionary loves everything the artist has not done yet. Her vision for Bob’s one livestream was worth every ounce of trust he bestowed upon her. She was no Hollywood insider with the usual pedigree, rather she was a director of small films that received awards by film societies unknown to most. And what a gift from Bob to his legions of fans that he put his faith in her for this project. The energy he derived from her direction dripped from every note he sang. The musical joy was palpable. It was the best of what modern day Bob Dylan had to offer. Happy 80 something, Mr. Zimmerman and many returns of that day.