The Art of Dying
In the spring of 1965, a friend of a friend (whom I didn’t much care for, to be honest, and whose name I certainly don’t remember) introduced me to Bob Dylan. My connection with the then folk singer (an epithet Dylan always professed to hate, at least later on) was more or less instant.
How did the subject of Dylan even come up?
We must have been discussing pop or rock or however we thought of the Beatles or the Searchers or the Stones or the Zombies or Dave Clark Five or the Hollies, or, or, or at the time, probably hanging out by the boathouses flanking the canal that ran through our little town linking the Baltic Bay with a small inland lake, which we called a bay (Big Bay and Little Bay — sounds like an H.C. Andersen Fairy Tale). These boathouses were where the in-name-only in-crowd used to hang out of an evening to smoke cigarettes and eat ice cream and shoot the breeze as it were.
Now, I was quite knowledgeable on the subject of pop or rock since not only did I love the music — I’d go so far to say that music was what I lived for at the time — but I was also writing a weekly music column for a local paper which meant that I, on a weekly basis, competed with some equally pop-loving (though not as cool as I, obviously) classmates for the few copies of New Musical Express that every Tuesday morning would hit the only news kiosk in town (Pressbyrån by the railway station) that carried foreign papers. I needed NME (or, if worse, alas, had come to worse, Melody Marker, or in times of utter desperation, Fabulous) and its wealth of up-to-date info about our musical heroes not only to write good articles, but also to maintain my status as my peers’ go-to guy for the latest and final word on the music scene — yes, information was certainly power, and I reveled in the status of it. NME was my secret weapon.
Now, unbeknownst to me, this friend of a friend whose name I refuse to recall must at some point have asked me what I thought about Bob Dylan and I must have looked at him: huh? unwittingly betraying my ignorance (and how had I missed Dylan, I have now idea — he must have been covered in these music papers by then, and at some length). Oh, man, this friend of a friend probably said, you have to listen to this guy, and I said sure, love to, and shortly thereafter (nothing was very far from anywhere else in my town) we were at his place (I seem to remember where he lived, which is odd) listening to “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” and as I said, for some strange reason (he was nothing like my British pop bands, obviously) the connection was instant.
Even today, I could not tell you what it was, precisely, but I believe that some portion of his incredible appeal for me was that “Hey, I could do that.” It wouldn’t take a band and drums and electric guitars. Just an acoustic guitar and me, that’s all. I had a good voice, loved to sing, was in the school choir and all that, and Dylan’s songs were simple, three or four chords at most — a lot of words though.
The other thing that must have appealed, carried important currency, was that if I had not heard of Dylan, then nor had the vast majority of the kids in town (this nameless friend of a friend obviously the exception) so there was a lot of with-it status to be gained in knowing and digging (weird word that, striking a chord somewhere between liking and understanding) this oddly looking and weirdly sounding American and his long, nasal songs.
To be honest, my English was not stellar, but as far as rudimentary went, I did grasp the gist of most of Dylan’s lyrics and here, in my mind, was also someone who spoke for me — or “us” (the poor, misunderstood (hence mistreated and unappreciated) youth of the civilized world) — and who pulled no punches about the true lay of the land (think “Masters of War” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” et al.). From there on I took to Dylan more than I had ever taken to the Beatles, and that is saying a lot.
At that time, I used to cart around a gray and silver Phillips reel-to-reel (mono) tape recorder (weighed a ton) and this friend of a friend, since I asked so nicely, was okay with me recording his Dylan records. Stay right there, be right back — with the Phillips. I think he had four or possibly five Dylan albums at this time, so his patience did begin to ebb toward the end of his Dylan collection. Once they were all in my can, as I recall, I did have all extant Dylan recordings at the time (this was prior to “Highway 61 Revisited” which was released in August of that year), and for the next several months, this was all I ever listened to, period.
In fact, as I moved down to Stockholm that summer, I brought the reel-to-reel with me and I played nothing but Dylan for the people I met, very few of whom, just like in my home town, had heard of him. This, of course, made me quite hip (or crazy) and I reveled in this notoriety. In fact, I think it fair to say that notoriety comprised the bulk of sustenance at the time.
Once I was settled in Stockholm, I eventually bought all of Dylan’s albums, all the way up to and including “Nashville Skyline” (which I didn’t really like all that much) while I managed to miss Dylan’s April 29, 1966 Stockholm concert, but that’s another story.
I also learned how to play and sing most of his acoustic-only songs, which included remembering tons of lyrics. I sang these a lot, both to myself (both as practice and for the sheer enjoyment of it) and others (who were always very appreciative and sometimes even admiring — valuable stuff that).
Later, after leaving Stockholm, I did buy “Self Portrait” when it came out, and eventually I also heard “New Morning”, but neither of these impressed much, and by 1970 I had pretty much grown out of this my hero.
Dylan, to be honest, never regained his hero status with me. My worship period truly ended with “Blonde on Blonde” although “John Wesley Harding” was mystically cool, though not in any recognizable Dylanesque way.
Still, it would be fair to say, and absolutely no lie, that Bob Dylan grew to be an integral part of me during the late 1960s and in some way has stayed with me ever since.
Today I have his first eleven studio recordings — up through “New Morning” — this time around on mp3. I still listen to all of them every now and then.