I am writing this while listening to Bob Dylan’s latest album “Modern Times” for the nth time. And marvelling at the ability of the poet of our generation to reinvent himself and, at the same time, to retain his surrealist vision.
I grew up with Dylan. He said and sang what we wanted to but didn’t know how. He was our conscience in many ways, although I grew up in Kolkata and moved to Mumbai when I was 21 years old, and never left the shores of my country till I was 31 years old, and so didn’t experience any of the revolutionary events and pressures (except through media) which led Dylan and his contemporaries to create the most impressive body of popular music in history IMHO. That didn’t matter, though, to my friends and me. “Like a rolling stone”, “All along the watchtower”, “Visions of Johanna”, “Just like a woman”, and many other songs were and still are part of my being. I listen to “Shelter from the storm”, and I still remember the pain of being dumped while I was hearing this song for the very first time. I listen to “One more cup of coffee” and I still remember how I fell in love once again over a cup of coffee – this happened more than a quarter of a century ago, but the memory is still vivid.
But for all my worship of Dylan, there was a period of apostasy. I still don’t like parts of “Desire”, particularly “Sarah”, which I thought was hypocritical, and still do. I mean, how sincere can you be writing a love song to your wife who’s leaving you for your cheating ways? I still dislike almost all the albums beginning with “Hard Rain” for nearly 20 years. From “Hard Rain” to “Live in Budokan” to “Saved” to “Slow train coming”, etc – this period of Dylan is like a drunk stumbling from the pavement to the gutter to the garbage dump.
Then came redemption. First came “Time out of mind” and now “Modern Times”. And Dylan has gone back on to the pedestal that he used to occupy, as far as I am concerned. I am prepared to overlook his sinning ways from “Hard Rain” to “Oh Mercy”.
If words like “apostasy”, “sin”, “redemption” sound Jesuitical, I use them deliberately. To me, Bob Dylan is one of the handful of musicians, all singers (and the rest of them are all women), who make me feel that they suffered pain and experienced bad things in life, so that I didn’t have to. (For those interested, the others on this small list are Billie Holiday, Edith Piaf and Marianne Faithfull).
I am great bathroom singer; give me soap, a loofah, and a nice warm shower, and you got all the trappings of a solo concert to beat Luciano Pavarotti. What my family gets to hear most often, filtered through the bathroom door, I hasten to add, is “When I paint my masterpiece”.
“Oh, the streets of Rome are filled with rubble,
Ancient footprints are everywhere.
You can almost think that you’re seein’ double
On a cold, dark night on the Spanish Stairs.
Got to hurry on back to my hotel room,
Where I’ve got me a date with Botticelli’s niece.
She promised that she’d be right there with me
When I paint my masterpiece.
”Oh, the hours I’ve spent inside the Coliseum,
Dodging lions and wastin’ time.
Oh, those mighty kings of the jungle, I could hardly stand to see ’em,
Yes, it sure has been a long, hard climb.
Train wheels runnin’ through the back of my memory,
When I ran on the hilltop following a pack of wild geese.
Someday, everything is gonna be smooth like a rhapsody
When I paint my masterpiece.”
The first time I went to Rome, I walked through the city streets filled with rubble, and I would have loved to have dated Botticelli’s niece. But then, she was long gone by then.
(first posted on sulekha.com on Nov 18 2006)