Bob Dylan celebrated his eightieth birthday on 24th May of this year. Celebrating old age, especially anything beyond the seventy-fifth year, is a ruse to deny the decay of mind and body we all eventually succumb to. Last summer, in the month of June, he released his twentieth studio album, Rough and Rowdy Ways, a triumph in the late autumn of his career. He might not be as prolific as the sixties when he released a trilogy of albums—Bringing it all Home, Highway ’61 Revisited and Blonde on Blonde, considered to be his finest works by many—in a span of one and a half years, but he takes his time and provides us worldly wisdom unlike a didactic elder.
Why should this generation care about Grandpa Dylan and his discography?
Great artists never relent to the helplessness of old age. Then again, Bob Dylan has never grown old. He has died a few times and reincarnated into many different forms throughout his career. Even if his songs don’t speak to you, even if you think he is not a vocal delight, let the story of this bohemian bard’s life regale you with its multitudes. A promising folk hero, the voice of a generation singing protest songs of radical tenderness, he transformed into an anti-establishment rock poet and put to music the most profound lyrics in the history of music. All this happened in a span of just 4 years.
In the next few years, he almost died in a motorcycle accident, became a born again Christian, was critically panned for his new output, turned heads again with the deeply personal Blood on the Tracks. He also started a never ending live tour, and earned critical and commercial appraisal for his last few albums: Time out of my Mind, Tempest, Modern Times and Rough and Rowdy Ways. Everyone cannot help but ask: who is Bob Dylan? Frankly, I don’t think even the man himself can answer that clearly. What I do know is, he wants us to listen to his croaky crooning and revel in a life of adventure and non-conformity, with no direction home.
Cate Blanchett in I’m not There (2007) as Bob Dylan. Uncanny!
There is so much to write beyond the word limit of this article that I encourage readers to explore the enigma of Dylan. He continues to sing, and people listen intently, even if his voice is weary, the words still have weight. . The Old Man of Song is a pioneer in these times too. He performed his greatest works live through a streaming concert on 18th July this year; it was presented as his first broadcast performance in three decades. The world is indeed a broadcast—Dylan must have crooned at some time, surely.
And what does Dylan have to say about his multitudes? Listen to “I Contain Multitudes” from his new album. It is as close as we can get—albeit with romanticism and a generous sprinkle of metaphors—to a confession about what makes him tick.
I would like to press a few parting verses upon the reader.
Be like Dylan, a bohemian, a voice of reason and rebellion. Be relentless to conform— after you speak all your mind, world weary and out of time, not ceasing to inquire if there’s more to life than its meaning.