I think it was Freewheelin’. Yup, I’m sure it was Freewheelin’. That was my first Dylan album. I got it at Korvette’s and, I’ll admit with shame, that I was already 15 or 16. Those were the years I began buying albums in earnest. Before then it was the occasional Beatles, McCartney or Paul Simon record; I wasn’t too serious. From that moment on, I measured time through Bob Dylan.
October 23, 1981. The long drive from Binghamton to Philadelphia. No GPS, no cell phone, no dough. Smashing into another car in a diner parking lot and running scared. Thought I would heave when he strode on stage, breaking into “Gotta Serve Somebody” in the echoey Spectrum. Finding a 76er’s calendar in the bathroom. The dark and deer-observed roads heading back north.
Jul 16, 1986. Now engaged, almost married. The big Dylan/Petty tour and we were there at Madison Square Garden. Karen buying me a program, a luxury I never would have bestowed on myself, but am thankful to have this very day.
Nate, around 6 years old, somewhere in 1996-97. No music lover he, but from his bedroom CD player came Blonde on Blonde for weeks. He latched onto that for reasons unknown. A few weeks ago, “Most Likely You Go Your Way and I’ll Go Mine” blaring from the computer and Nate, now 20, sitting next to me saying “Hey, I know that song.”
Moving to Cooperstown in June 2003 and one year later having Bob play down the block at Doubleday Field. Sitting in the first base bleachers with little Joey, Dylan in center field. Then, two years later, helping to bring him back home for an encore.
2008? Robbie immersed in five disc Genuine Basement Tapes, getting a crash course in Dylan humor and the joys of The Band. July 2009, sitting on the front porch with college pals, listening to Joey play “Desolation Row” on guitar.
Back in Binghamton, my old school, standing by the stage with Robbie and Joey in November 2010. Me and my boys, hanging onto the railing as Bob strutted, mugged and belted ‘em out, thinking back to when I first got to college and drove to Philly, never dreaming that 30 years later I’d be right back, with sons of my own, watching the great one in action. Robbie going nutty when Bob launched into the Lebowski-rejuvenated “The Man in Me.”
I find myself quoting Dylan often, his words affixed to every occasion. Like Muhammad Ali, Dylan has gone from revolutionary to revered, from living outside the law to loved like a crusty old uncle. He’s charted a new path, a path no other rock star has carved, producing some of his best albums in his last years.
Talking about his hero, but meaning himself, from “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”:
You need something to open up a new door
To show you something you seen before
But overlooked a hundred times or more
You need something to open your eyes
Bob Dylan said that.
Thankfully he’s not dead or a-dyin’, in no need for us to see that his grave is kept clean. And on his 70th birthday, listening to his songs all day long, I’m grateful for his very existence and nervy persistence. Thanks Bob.
I said that.