I’ve never been one to pay too much attention to birthdays, anniversaries etc, so I only learned that Bob Dylan turned 80 yesterday when I read some on-line tributes.
Given that I’ve been trying, without success, to get my good mate Aldo to contribute to this blog, I’ve decided to, in effect, hijack him, by stealing the words he put up on Facebook. As such, it’s really a guest posting, although I chose the song at the end.
Over to Aldo……
“Happy Birthday to Robert Allen Zimmerman, born this day in 1941 in Duluth, Minnesotta.
I can’t necessarily recall when I would have first seen or heard Bob Dylan, my dad did have a couple of his albums in among his vinyl, Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding. Though they rarely, if ever, got played which probably added to my intrigue.
Like the majority of folk, particularly those coming to him latterly, the first Dylan song I would have had some familiarity with was Like A Rolling Stone. I suspect having heard it on one of those Bank Holiday radio programmes along the lines of the “100 Greatest Songs Ever” as voted by Radio 2 listeners.
Therefore my first purchase of one of his records was Highway 61 Revisited because it contained the aforementioned track. The whole album was a revelation, but the closing track, the 11-minute Desolation Row, absolutely captivated me, ending up on repeat until I could practically recite every line.
The purchase of Blonde On Blonde with its ‘Thin, wild mercury sound’, and Bringing It All Back Home followed as I fell deeper under his spell. And eventually those Nashville Skyline and John Wesley Harding LPs were pulled from the rack for a spin.
Going back to discover the early output was initially a bit of a shock to the system, having been used to the more fully produced, mainly band backed records. With The Times They Are A Changin’ and Another Side of Bob Dylan, the stark simplicity of only that sandpaper voice and acoustic guitar took some getting used to.
My growing infatuation coincided with the official release of the much bootlegged 1966 ‘Royal Albert Hall’ show in 1998. Surely the most important live recording in the evolution of rock music?
The next thing of course was for me to try and catch the godlike genius in a live setting. The first was a visit with a work colleague to the Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle, back in May 2002. Being sat at the back of the vast barn I didn’t come away with the best of impressions. I decided then that I would avoid the arena tours and keep and eye out for slightly more intimate shows. Therefore my next show was a solo trip to London to catch him at the legendary Hammersmith Odeon (by then named the Apollo), this time standing in the stalls, and in much closer proximity it was a far more enjoyable experience.
If Hammersmith was good, I still can scarcely believe the next time I’d catch him in person only a few months later. His tour was stopping at the SECC in June 2004, about a week before the show an announcement came out that he’d follow the arena show with a gig at the Barrowland the next day. I had to be there. Fortunately I managed to secure tickets and it was an evening that will live with me forever. It even elicited the only time I’ve seen him addressing the audience, remarking after a massed sing along by the Barras crowd to Like A Rolling Stone that “I must’ve played that song a few thousand times, and no one’s ever kept up like that”.
The following year I was back in London at another of that city’s great venues, Brixton Academy. I’ve only caught him twice since then, Edinburgh Playhouse in 2009, and most recently the Armadillo (Glasgow) in 2017, where I got to hear him play Desolation Row, the track that so enraptured me early on in my discovery of his catalogue.
Who knows if he’ll ever return to these shores on that never ending tour, but I’m grateful to have seen him the times I have.
We should feel fortunate to have lived in the same time period as Bob Dylan, there’ll never be another like him.”