When I sent a fake Bob Dylan tweet last night before going to bed, I didn’t realize he was turning seventy today. Seventy! I’m not going to go into a long spiel about how Dylan is the greatest songwriter since X or how he revolutionized contemporary music more often than Y, because there’s really no point. But who’s got the consistency of quality we find in Dylan’s work over such a span of time? Lou Reed has always been my rock-n-roll hero, but he’s been constantly checked by Dylan every step of the way. I love Lou for his chutzpah, much of which he likely lifted wholesale from Bob (and both via Warhol). Bob made Lou possible, not the other way around.
Anyway, here’s a brief post I wrote a few years ago under my then-nom-de-plume about the influence Blonde On Blonde had on my youthful self.
I arrived in New York City armed with a roll of twenties, my mother’s suitcase, and a portable tape player. I kissed mom goodbye, paid rent for a week (this was a hotel on the Bowery!) and went back upstairs to contemplate my life. I was barely twenty, freshly dropped out of artschool, and unemployed with few or no prospects. I remember throwing Blonde On Blonde into the tapedeck, lying back on my rented cot, and hearing the words that illustrated my predicament with what seemed an eerie truthfulness. The organ swerving through trickling guitars. That mercury sound. The nasal voice. “Well, the bricks lay on Grand Street…where the neon madmen climb.” I was two blocks from Grand Street! In the middle of the muddle of Dylan’s masterwork–this was why I had come after all! The Chinese fishmongers were still there, the street was indeed paved with bricks, everything shimmering in the bronze light of an early March sunset in Manhattan. Twenty-nine years after the album was cut. The first day of the rest of my life.
In time I must have memorized every word of this album, the most enchanting and eclectic of Dylan’s long career. It functioned like a treasure map of the city, as I followed its clues from point to point, navigating through the people and the places with unassailable curiosity, searching out the Dylanesque in every bookshop and bar. Years passed, and the traumas of life in the city brought me regularly back to Dylan’s couch in order “to find out what price/ you had to pay to get out of/ going through all these things twice.”
(Note: I looked for a Dylan performance of “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” on YouTube, but all I could find were covers. So listen to Cat Power, ’cause she rocks, too.)