with preparation and anticipation…Bob Dylan’s 50th Anniversary
On March 19th, 2012 the world will celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Columbia Record’s release of Bob Dylan’s self-titled first album. Although I don’t have any inside track on what festivities might be planned, I would guess that we’ll be subjected to any number of opportunities to part with our money in order to feel somehow connected to this milestone event, which is akin to that souvenir shop on the boardwalk that sells postcards, boxes of salt water taffy and t-shirts that will shrink at the sight of a tub of water…five for ten bucks.
I know I have a jaded outlook on certain things, okay…most…but I have visions of meetings dancing in my head over at the Sony Music office these days, with gourmet cookies and bottled water. And fruit…they’ll need fresh fruit while they plan. Management representatives and agents speaking on behalf of Bob, record label execs and fledglings from all the various departments….sales, marketing, publicity, digital media, promotion, video and whatever else they may have these days. A bevy of activity to make 2012 all about Bob and trust me, you’ll not be able to escape the importance of this anniversary. These people know their stuff.
[Note: Back when I was doing this sort of thing for a living, I never had an artist like Bob Dylan or an event quite like this to work on. My one claim to fame was conceiving a midnight pajama party at a Tower Record store in Orange County to promote Slaughter’s “Up All Night, Sleep All Day” hit single, where the band ogled teenage girls wearing provocative sleepwear under the watchful eyes of their parents. Talk about your strange nights; it was filmed by MTV and featured on their video. I don’t think that promotion is quite in the same league as Bob’s 50th.]
Now if I was to imagine that I was sitting in on these meetings, I could come up with a few solid ideas for promotions too…some of which will most likely occur. For instance:
-The Mirage in Las Vegas will present Cirque Dyl Soleil…a dramatic presentation of circus and theater, set to the music of Bob Dylan.
-Apple will release the Highway 61GB iPod, which will come pre-loaded with the entire Dylan catalog.
-Several national companies will license various Dylan songs to include in their advertising: Country Home Buffet will use “Gotta Serve Somebody”, Toyota snags “Everything is Broken”, AARP already (I think) is using “Forever Young” and Firestone has “This Wheels on Fire” campaign ready to go.
-American Idol will host a “Thrillin’ Dylan” night with Bob sitting in with the judges. “Pitchy?”
-Of course there will be a five-night anniversary concert at Madison Square Garden with Paul Schaffer directing the house band and a stellar lineup of everyone from Bruce to Bono, Sting to Streisand. Sorry…tickets are already sold out but you can score a pair from your local scalper for a mere $5000. Have no fear if you can’t afford to go…pay per view at $150 per night and a deluxe DVD package wrapped in hand tooled leather will be ready to ship for the holiday season.
-And how cool would it be if we could get Steve Earle to actually put on a pair of cowboy boots, get up on Bob’s coffee table and proclaim that he was wrong…Bob is really better than Townes?
Anyway, you get the idea. It’s art, it’s commerce.
In March of 1962 I was ten years old, and Bob Dylan was as remote to my psyche as Justin Bieber is to me now. Throughout the sixties I sort of knew about him…primarily from the Byrd’s cover versions, The Turtles doing “It Ain’t Me Babe” and the Four Seasons’s single (under the name The Wonder Who?) “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right”. I didn’t get Bob and that voice of his…it sort of like was my first sips of beer: bitter. So why bother?
My first album purchase of his was in December 1967 for John Wesley Harding. I remember taking it home, putting it on, staring at the cover and thinking what a waste of money. It went back into the sleeve and I didn’t listen to it again for about thirty-something years. When I saw him do a couple of songs at the Concert for Bangladesh, I liked it. Yes…a late Dylan bloomer was I.
All of which leads to this:
Two weeks ago I was sitting in my office when I heard the doorbell ring. My oldest boy, sixteen and a junior in high school, yelled to me “Rachel is here”. She’s a lovely young lady that he’s friendly with and who I’ve come to know recently, as she and her friends have been hanging out at our house for the past several months (I only have boys…two of them. I’ve recently discovered that girls are much louder. And they laugh…the term giggling might be more accurate…a lot.) They went to a ska concert together last year and my wife and I like Rachel…she is of bright eyes, quick wit, a vegetarian (like our son) and has a good soul.
I continued doing whatever it is I do in my office when he yelled again: “Dad….she’s here to see you.”
Getting up from my desk I met her at the doorway where she handed me a vinyl copy of Bob Dylan’s first album, with a gold bow on the shrink warp. “I know it’s your birthday in a couple of days” she said, “and I thought you might like this.” I was tongue tied, flustered and touched at this thoughtful gift that was both unexpected and a joy, and it lifted my sagging spirits that were not exactly anticipating another year of advanced aging. And while I don’t have a biblical sense that “things happen for a reason”, this act of kindness seemed so unexpected that I pondered what else it might be.
And so it has sat with me on my desk this past week, and I’ve held it, read the liner notes a few times, checked the selection and matrix numbers in a Dylan database to gauge the age of this particular pressing (early nineties) and researched and read everything I could about how it came to be. It feels old, or perhaps historical is a better description, as I hold it in my hands and stare at the cover. This would be the first vinyl album I’ve added to my collection since 1985, when I purchased a nearly mint condition used album of Jack Kerouac reading poetry to the sound of Steve Allen playing piano. And I can’t recall the last time I’ve actually played an album; it’s been decades I think.
As my turntable, sound system and Volkswagon-sized speakers now reside in my son’s room, I needed to wait for him to clean it up to the point that there was a spot on the carpet for me to sit, so I could enjoy this soon-to-be fifty year old record. And it was today, a week past my birthday, with children at school, wife at work and cat at my side, that I have placed the needle down and cranked it up.
Living in this digital world for so long, I’ve forgotten about what this medium sounds like. The guitar strings vibrate and you feel the air rushing through the reeds of his harmonica. When he sings he sounds so young and at just twenty, he was damn young. And in going through each song I hear the threads stitched to those that come before him; the blues songs and country riffs, the humor he once seemed to share easily, the workers in the fields, the families moving west and the heartfelt lyrics to his friend Woody Guthrie.
This album, now waiting it’s turn to be reconsidered and celebrated at fifty, is my missing link and the one I’ve been looking for. That it has been here and under my nose all this time makes me feel more than a little foolish, and the pokes at Bob Dylan of late…a Christmas album, the voice like sandpaper, the de-construction of his catalog…are like a finger trying to push against the wind. The reviews, the critiques, the pondering and meaning of words and actions seem meaningless. The books that have been written about the man, the stories he’s made up and the one’s yet to come. All seem so insignificant when placed next to the body of work he’s created for us, and one day I think we might understand why the never ending tour never ended.
And so with this one gift that was both unexpected and seemed to come from out of the blue, I think I finally get Bob Dylan and why we’ve been blessed with having him in our lives. As for that I’m thankful.
On the back of the album, in the liner notes from Stacey Williams, there is this quote I love:
“I just want to keep on singing and writing songs like I am doing now. I just want to get along. I don;t think about making a million dollars. If I had a lot of money, what would I do?” he asked himself, closed his eyes, shifted the hat on his head and smiled:
“I would buy a couple of motorcycles, a few air-conditioners and four or five couches.”