By Dave Burrows
Since May 1953, Bob Dylan has been 12 years and a few days older than me.We share the Gemini star sign and I own an almost unhealthy quantity of Dylan related items. To my knowledge,and to no great surprise, he has nothing of mine.
As a child growing up in Manchester, England in the early 1960s, Beatlemania was the first popular culture event to register.Not that ‘popular culture’ was a definition back then. I was privileged to be young enough to embrace a time when many songs,now rightly regarded as classics were first released. BBC radio belted out liberal quantities of Beatles, Stones, Kinks, Small Faces and The Who, willingly assisted by the guilty pleasures of the outlawed Radio Caroline.
My first exposure to Dylan was via the hypnotic jingle jangle of Roger Mc Guinn’s guitar on The Byrds’ enigmatic interpretation of Mr Tambourine Man.Summer 65 with the 7” single on repeat on my older cousin’s mono record player. I was hooked on the sound and the mysterious words.Dylan’s own recordings were still in my future.
By the time I was a regular listener to Dylan circa 1970, he had long since ‘gone electric’. I had just bought a stereo player, having previously relied on the family reel to reel tape recorder,which had served me well,in particular the ritual taping of the weekly John Peel broadcasts.My first link up of record player and tape recorder was to copy three Dylan bootleg LPs, borrowed from a friend, under strict terms that they should only be played once and returned to him within 24 hours of their departure from his care……and this only after his careful examination of my LPs.One rogue fingerprint on pristine vinyl and the deal would have been off.
Many years later, playing CDs of Columbia official bootlegs, I was taken back to my first exposure to the holy grail of Dylan bootleg LPs. It was (and still is) fascinating to track his progression from acoustic adaptations of traditional melodies added to Dylan’s words and to see how far he has travelled, in a metaphorical and literal sense in the intervening half century.
In recent years, Dylan’s art output has intrigued me, to the extent that having seen the 2010 release of ‘Drawn Blank’ paintings,I took the plunge to buy a limited edition print…My choice was made after much deliberation. Initially, I narrowed the field by focusing on images with which I could happily co exist. I settled for ‘Sunflowers’ (illustrated). As soon as it was on the wall I knew it was right for me. Three years later, it has taken on the spirit of many Dylan albums. Initial exposure is favourable,with that feeling increasing to genuine affection and the subsequent revealing of many subtleties after repeated exposure
For me, sixty years on this earth is a significant milestone. I’ve had my ration of ups and downs, mostly shared by a small, tight knit family and a few close friends. I can’t begin to imagine what its like to be Bob Dylan with his every move analysed and evaluated worldwide. A brief look through my collection of Dylan related literature, includes special editions commemorating his 60th and 70th birthdays,and most recently 40 years of interviews with Rolling Stone magazine. In marking my birthday, I’ll willingly settle for a few humorous greetings cards and a cake,which will,hopefully,only have a few candles on top.
Undoubtedly, my life has been enriched by an exposure to Dylan’s varied output. If castaway on the mythical desert island-the works of Bob Dylan -and a power supply, would be my luxury item. I struggle to imagine life without Bob. We’ve been together so long…….not that he’s ever acknowledged the fact, but I forgive him. Much as I did after a horrendous 1980s gig which was only salvaged by a stunning, solo acoustic version of ‘Barbara Ellen’. That’s it with Dylan, he’s rarely an easy ride, incomprehensible to some, but genuinely worth sticking with for the long haul, as he’s proved many times
Happy 72nd birthday, Bob and I hope we both keep on keepin’ on for many moons yet.