It could be argued he is the literal embodiment of a “folk hero”. He’s been a rebel, an outcast, a martyr, a villain, a fraud, a voice, a shadow, a legend. He’s disregarded time limits, abandoned principles of sound mixing, rewritten the meaning of artistic license, broken the rules in nearly every way imaginable. He found a way to create dream worlds while keeping us cynically grounded. He’s always been painfully familiar with his own mortality.
He hit the road as a boy to write music, running away from society’s beaten path. He’s never stopped running. Through his words, he’s sought enlightenment, salvation, meaning, peace, answers, questions, perspectives, mystery, hope, wonder, love. But he’s never sought our approval.
But most of all, in the ultimate measure of influence, Bob Dylan has survived. His genius, his madness, his weaknesses, his sunglasses, his identity, his truth. Posterity, it can be assured, will not forget. To this day, he somehow tours and even releases new records rather regularly, yet maintains his mystical phantom-like quality.
Bob Dylan is one of my heroes. He is on my Mount Rushmore of both music artists and poets. And yet, I still have never seen him perform live. Why? I go to concerts – too many in fact, my wallet would argue – and I live in New York City, not exactly a place where there’s nowhere to see a show.
Music fans know the verdict on Bob Dylan’s live performances as he’s aged has been mixed at best. In front of crowds that tend to be fratty welters of over-privileged sycophantic saps, he performs groggy and sometimes unrecognizable renditions of his classic numbers at venues that usually prioritize drug-filled dayscapes rather than the intimacy he deserves.
He is Bob Dylan in the flesh, standing in front of mostly the obnoxious offspring of his original fans, yet he is not. He’s always been a poet before a performer, but now has become at best a determined statesman who’s fallen victim to time, and at worst a tragic shell of his former prophetic self. Despite hearing this heart-wrenching review hundreds of times, only recently did I finally consider that it’s likely at least approaching accuracy.
So comes the conundrum, that in a devilishly Dylanian way, mirrors one of life’s bigger questions. Bob Dylan, in all his scraggly and wizened grace, has become Santa Claus. Do I preserve his mythical artistry and stature, do I keep the truth hidden as Dylan seems to keep himself, do I continue to writhe in blissful ignorance?
Or is it finally time to reveal Oz behind the curtain, to face the cold truth that not even those who seem to transcend time can stay forever young?
Perhaps, in the right situation, at the right time, I’ll cautiously enter or be dragged against my will to one of his shows. Until then, however, I will continue to seek the hope that Bob once did and still does. I will neglect rationality and believe that some things truly are timeless and immortal. I will hide in the dream worlds that he so exquisitely created.