I first encountered Bob Dylan in 1964 when I was asked to perform Blowin’ In The Wind at an Elks dinner in Ballard, California. I was a tender 12 at the time and I’d actually been asked to perform two songs that night. The other was If I Had A Hammer. I’d heard that song the year before on the popular TV show, Hootenanny! but I’d never heard Blowin’. I loved that show. I’d watched Sing Along With Mitch and played albums by Joe and Eddie, the Kingston Trio, Odetta and many others since I was a kid so when Hootenanny! aired, I was hooked. It was in fact the popular single, Walk Right In by the Rooftop Singers that fired my obsession with the 12-string guitar so I guess you can say I’m a folkie from way back.
Someone pointed me to Bob Dylan so that I could learn Blowin’ In The Wind for that gig, but I think I learned it from the cover by Peter, Paul & Mary. I liked the song. I thought it was pretty, but it was the lyrics that grabbed me. It sounded like an anthem. It was saying something important, a message I’d heard many times before, but this time it was delivered in a way that was like a bullet in the brain. I had to find the original recording.
When I brought home The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and tore off the cellophane wrapping, I had no idea my life was about to change and that it would continue to change and evolve for the entire time I’d walk this planet. I think I’d been prepared, though. I think all of those folksingers before had been leading me up that path, some gently—the Kingston Trio, for instance—and some not so gently, like Odetta. On that afternoon Dylan became a lifelong mentor. Oh, he doesn’t know that. He doesn’t even know I exist, but his work affected me like it has affected so many other songwriters. It’s safe to say I don’t where the hell I’d be musically if he hadn’t happened. I don’t know where music would be.
This Photoshopped image, taken from Dylan’s 1965 Subterranean Homesick Blues video, has always pissed me off. How many people have I spoken to about Dylan whose first reaction was, “He can’t sing”? There are a lot of popular artists—always have been—who can’t sing. Most popular music through the years hasn’t been moored to an ability to croon like Sinatra or Caruso so why have these people assigned Dylan as their poster child?
Something else threatens them. It’s not that he can’t sing, it’s that they don’t understand what he’s singing about and why he sings like he does, and they don’t want to investigate, even passively, by simply listening. Taking time to understand anything is nothing but work for lazy thinkers. When they run into something they don’t get any deeper than the surface level, instead of exploring it, they attack it. They mock and ridicule because it’s easy. At a very young age I learned that when someone made fun of something or someone, they were only revealing their lack of curiosity. And if intelligence is anything, it’s curiosity. If they sat down, turned off their phones and listened to Dylan they’d discover he was performing rap back when their grandparents were dancing to the music of Motown, Surf, and the British Invasion.
This being said, I already know that many of you won’t take the time to listen to the video below. That’s ok. I’m not trying to make converts, I’m sharing something with the curious, the active thinkers, the people who like to understand things. Even those of you who stay might be tempted to stop listening when Dylan starts talking about Moby Dick, but I urge to you hang in there. It’s a trip worth taking and in true Dylan fashion, his voice with its unique rhythms and meters becomes almost hypnotic. Please, please, turn off the TV, silence your phone and get rid of possible distractions. This is not background, this is not passive listening. You will have to listen and think.
P.S. The title of this post will mean nothing to you unless you listen to the video.