The 24th of May 1941 was a Saturday. It was the 144th day of the year and is mostly known as the day when the proud of the British Royal Navy, the battleship ”the hood”, sank during the Battle of Danmark. However it was also the day when Robert Allan Zimmermann, better known as Bob Dylan, for the first time saw the light of day.Today it is his 70th birthday.
But why do we care? Today’s generation and modern society is so used to people suddenly appearing and quickly dissappearing from big movie screens, daily tabloids and Monday morning talkshows that it seems rather odd that we should take any interest in some old rock star’s anniversary. When our mothers were standing in front of Dylan’s apartment, agitated and desperately hoping to get a glimpse of his curls, we weren’t even born. The African American rights movement and the Vietnam war are over and many young people find it rather painful to go on and on about former facts of history. Doesn’t his music of protest seem rather out of date, the pieces slightly too long for today’s radio edition?
Nevertheless today’s response to Bob Dylan is simply stunning. Despite age and several evolutions in music history apperantly nothing can keep us from playing Dylan songs over and over again in a loop, from memorizing his words and hummming his melodies in quiet moments. Why is he one of those few icons in cultural history who is not only greatly admired but who is also still arousing passion, interest and radical ideas until the present day?
Is it because he has at least eight pseudonyms, played and toured with Joan Baez or makes biblical allusions without being a moralizer? Is it because in her new movie Cate Blanchett really looks good in his clothes? Or because he can sing about loss and despair without sounding cheezy and keeping the same hairstyle for 50 years without ever becoming out of fashion?
It is the fact that one can never really be through, never compltely be finished with Dylan, one can never really be done tackling all he plays, sings and says. The ponit when everything about him has been said has not been reached so far. Whenever we thought that we understood him we are being surprised about how little we actually know about him. In an interview with the Sunday Times Dylan said: ”All these so-called connoisseurs of Bob Dylan music, I don’t feel they know a thing or have any inkling of who I am or what I’m about”. He continues to be contradictive, confusing, never ordinary, always bottomless. Bob Dylan irrevocably changed pop culture as we know it today; he is caused revolution, audacity and visions. He manages to be activisit, preacher and folk singer at the same time. That just being a little remark why Todd Haynes maybe needed six different actors in order to properly portray Dylan in his biopic movie ”I’m not there”. Bob Dylan leaves us wondering about faith and religion while never really coming out of the closet what he really is – Christian, Jew, Agnostic? While saying: ”I don't adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists, all of that. I've learned more from the songs than I've learned from any of this kind of entity. The songs are my lexicon. I believe the songs.”, he then later converts to Christianitity. Bob Dylan keeps us wondering, questioning, doubting. We are thinking, we are asking. And when being accused that we applaud without hearing his preaching we try to listen even closer.
That is why we don’t hassle mom and dad when they are excited today, that is why we generously accept of documentaries on TV and on the radio and that is also maybe why the studies of Bob Dylan are now an official subject at Oslo University.
Because for Christ’s sake – it is Bob Dylan we are talking about, Bob Dylan who marched with Martin Luther King and who introduced the Beatles to Marihuana! Thank you for Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, Dylan!