It’s hard to believe Bob Dylan will be 80 on the 24th of this month. He’s ingested so many substances into that hard-travellin’ body of his over the years.
There was a time I didn’t think he’d even make it to 50. To quote Kris Kristofferson, another singer-songwriter who has no right to be alive at his great age after how much he’s drunk over the years: “God must love poets and alcoholics.”
Nobody could be more poetic than the man who was born Robert Zimmerman in Hibbing, Minnesota. As he grew up he made it his business to debunk every sacred cow both inside and outside music. When I was going through my ‘teenage rebel’ phase in the 1970s, like many university students of the time, he was music’s pre-eminent prophet to me.
Readers of The Irish Catholic may be interested in Dylan’s ‘born again’ phase in the 1980s when he seemed to renounce Judaism for evangelical Christianity. He produced three classic albums at that time: Saved, Slow Train Comin’ and Shot of Love.
Films featuring Dylan online include The Last Waltz, the farewell concert of The Band. It’s one of the greatest movies of its kind. I can never see it enough times.
There’s also Martin Scorsese’s monumental 2-DVD work, No Direction Home and D.A. Pennebaker’s fly-on-the-wall documentary Don’t Look Now featuring his 1965 London concert. Scorsese also made the 1975 documentary Renaldo and Clara. A recent ‘mockumentary’ spin-off, Rolling Thunder Revue, is now on Netflix.
Dylan appeared in two dramatic roles, Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid and Hearts of Fire. The less said about these the better.
Once described as an anti-Christ, some years ago he met the Pope. He continues to re-invent himself even as he’s “knock-knock-knockin’ on heaven’s door”. The voice is wispier since the days it sounded like a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire but it’s still compulsive.
The material has also morphed. This is evidenced by recent re-treads of old Frank Sinatra standards on his ‘retro’ albums. He refuses to retire. If it wasn’t for Covid I’m sure he’d even be gigging. For many years now he’s been on what he calls ‘The Never Ending Tour’. It seems to be just that.
Six different stars played him in Todd Haynes’ 2007 film He’s Not There, including a woman (Cate Blanchett). There’s no better testimony to his chameleon nature than that. As he once said, “He who’s not busy bein’ born is busy dyin’.”
He recently sold his entire publishing catalogue – that’s 600 songs spanning 60 years – to Universal Music Publishing. He got a reputed $300 million for it. That’s not a misprint. Today he’s tangled up in green.
Three of his paintings also went under the hammer recently at Whyte’s auction house. The music legend recently launched his own whiskey brand. He doesn’t like being called a legend. “That means you’re past it,” he says. Happy birthday, Zimmy. May you stay forever young.