What got me thinking about this was going to see Bob Dylan perform last week, but more precisely, it was the fact that I couldn’t get anyone to go with me. I asked a number of friends, and some of them were even free that night. Not one wanted to go. I wasn’t surprised. Up until a few years ago, I had no interest in Bob Dylan, either. I remember reading that he won an Academy Award in 2000 for his song “Things Have Changed”, and I distinctly recall asking a friend, “Who still cares about Bob Dylan?” Even then, some small part of me felt it was foolish to ask such a question. Anyone who reads this blog on a regular basis knows my love for music, and growing up, exploring and listening to the music of the past few decades, I had heard of Dylan numerous times. He was cited as an influence, often spoken of in reverential tones, by many of the artists I listened to, but the few songs of his I had heard didn’t move me in any special way. As a metal-loving teenager, I thought the original version of Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door couldn’t hold a candle to the Guns n’ Roses version. (Also, in my defense, a good portion of Dylan’s output during my teenage years was some of his least memorable material.)
Then, a few years ago, I was in a record store, an unused gift card in my pocket, and I found myself standing in front of the Bob Dylan section. For some reason, I decided to buy the first album – his self-titled debut from 1962, released eleven years before I was even born. I figured I wouldn’t like it, but I felt like it was time for me to see what all the fuss was about, and starting at the beginning made sense. When I took my purchase up to the counter, the woman at the next cash register – a woman of about 60 who looked to be an aging hippie - glanced at what I was buying and exclaimed, “Oh! That’s my favorite Dylan album!” I wasn’t sure if it was a good sign or not. “Oh,” I said. “Great.” Listening to it in the car on the way home, I wasn’t blown away. Dylan’s first album is mostly folk standards, and I knew next to nothing about folk standards. So, as a piece of entertainment, the album didn’t move me, but my interest was piqued. The songs sounded weathered and old, and they carried a certain amount of weight and power. How did these songs lead into his later work? How did he go from the person who interpreted the songs of others to one of the greatest songwriters of the twentieth century? I decided to find out. I ended up working my way through his catalog, one album at a time, reading about Dylan’s career along the way. His rise to prominence in the mid-60s, turning his back on the folk movement and ticking his fans off by going electric, his motorcycle crash and retreat from public eye, his return to popularity in the 70s, his strange “born again” religious phase in the 80s, and his recent return to critical favor. All of these specifics, however, weren’t as interesting as seeing how his influence grew and spread over the decades. I would listen to songs I’d heard dozens of times from other artists and realize for the first time that they were covers of Dylan tunes. Lines from movies, snippets of lyrics, songs referenced in novels were suddenly made meaningful because I now understood that they pointed to Bob Dylan. I didn’t like everything I heard. Not nearly, but I was dazzled by a lot of it. More importantly, I started to appreciate why certain Dylan songs, even ones I didn’t like, were important, and why others, even ones that I loved, were not.
Which brings me to the point of all this. It doesn’t really have anything to do with Bob Dylan. I don’t expect Violet to love Bob Dylan (but I hope she will). Nor do I expect her to love Hamlet (but I hope she will). What I do hope is that she’ll be open to the idea that writing, art, music – any form of creativity – comes at us on many levels, can be appreciated on many levels, but it is not all created equal. Some is lasting, while some is of the moment (and there’s a universe of work in between). Great works that have stood the test of time are worth getting to know, but so are the lesser, if they speak to her on some level. Above all, I want her to find those works of art that speak to her, that give her chills, that are good enough to form the foundation of memories for her, even if no one else she knows shares her appreciation, the rest of the world be damned. Even if it means going to a concert all by herself, sitting in the darkened theater, smiling and nodding her head to the music, glad that she came.