You may have heard: It’s Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday. For many people out there this seems to be a tough milestone to grasp, leaving them incapable of figuring out just what it means for our life and times. Or, as Michael Hogan puts it at Vanity Fair, “Seventy isn’t that old anymore. So why is it that Bob Dylan, who reaches that milestone on May 24, seems so positively ancient–a feature of the cultural landscape itself, whose age should be calculated in geological eons, not anything so ephemeral as months and years?” It’s like when my mom read Chronicles: Volume One–she said it made Dylan, a hero of hers, mortal. And sometimes, she said, you don’t want your heroes to be human. I suppose each watershed birthday for the hero-who-never-wanted-to-be-a-hero (if you believe what he says) rings that same note: The man is human, he ages, and will eventually–just like all of us–age no more. Maybe that’s why 70 is a hard pill to swallow. It reminds us that the youthful “voice of a generation” will return to dust. And yet, Dylan today continues what often seems like a never ending tour.
Enough of all that. It’s a birthday, after all. Here’s a look around the web to see how folks are celebrating the man at 70.
Buzz Poole, writing for The Millions, tries to tackle the mythical lore and impact of Dylan and his work:
Dylan, like [William Carlos] Williams, [Walt] Whitman, and others of their poetic, patriotic ilk, sucks the marrow from America, gnaws on its bones and slurps – not so much concerned with decorum but getting the flavors – the grease stains on his sleeves, the gristle stuck in his teeth, evidence of the contact. These flavors he tastes are not always the same or always enjoyable, but they spring from deep-running sources, some of which are polluted or diverted, but their purity remains unquestionable. Unlike the aforementioned men of letters whose legacies have grown mythical after their deaths, Dylan has lived side-by-side with his own lore, equal parts his creation and the creation of others.
Imagine living a life where people think you did change the world, or that you have the power to change the world.
That last part might get to the point of Dylan better than anything I’ve read. While people still look to him to be something he has stated time and again that he is not, no one stops to wonder just what it must be like to have so many people–for more than four decades now–think you could do something as implausible as change the world with a song. No wonder he comes off curmudgeonly. If you’d been put in the same box since you were 20 you probably would, too.
At Vanity Fair “Ken Regan unveils a trove of never-before-seen images at New York City’s Morrison Hotel Gallery [and] Michael Hogan reflects on Dylan’s audacious refusal to give the people what they want.”
Ed Ward reviews “How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan” for Oxford American, admitting he didn’t expect to like it:
[W]hy was it, forty-five years later, that when I got Ace Records’ new compilation How Many Roads: Black America Sings Bob Dylan, my first thought was “This probably isn’t going to be very good”? Simple prejudice. Bob Dylan’s music was so important to my generation of white middle-class kids that it was hard for me to imagine how the soul singers on these twenty tracks could get inside it in a meaningful enough way to bring their art to it….
It turns out, of course, that my reaction was right and wrong.
Democracy Now! dedicated their show this morning to rare interviews from the Pacifica Radio archives, including an interview where Pete Seegar calls the young musician “the most prolific” song writer in America.
The Atlantic Wire has a Dylan round up of their own with stories from Rolling Stone, The Telegraph, Time, and more.