I never liked Bob Dylan. In ninth grade my Global Studies teacher played “Like a Rolling Stone” for the class, and I appreciated how it had influenced a generation, but damn, how did a guy with a voice so annoying get a record producer to let him drone on for six minutes about anything? Nevertheless, my best friend at the time and I went shopping and bought Bobby’s Greatest Hits. We listened to it, sure; but still, it didn’t grab us.
It wasn’t until I was learning guitar in college that I really learned about Bob. My guitar teacher was an acid-fried Texan who invited me to a show at some bar in the Village he was playing to commemorate the fortieth anniversary of Nashville Skyline.
“What’s that?” I asked, in that slightly embarrassed, but genuinely uninformed way twenty-one year-olds do.
“Man you’re free, white and twenty-one. And you don’t know Nashville Skyline? You know that song ‘Lay Lady Lay’?” I nodded. “Go home and listen to it and practice it for next week.”
After that guitar lesson I listened to that song ten times, and realized I wanted to learn it. I don’t think it was coincidental that within a month I was using it to seduce my best friend. I mean, come on, it was her dad’s favorite song. Well, she was graduating just a couple of weeks later, and after I met her old man, after he took us to the top of the Mandarin Oriental with a hobo who shared his name, after we left the bar prematurely when he found out that the hobo had just been released from jail and hadn’t had a drink in four years, after that, we all tentatively planned to meet over the summer, after my road trip, and listen to that song together.
My granny was driving across the country to pick me up and take me back to Oregon. It was a road trip; we had planned it to be epic. So when we stopped at a record store in Chicago, guess what was the first album I looked for. And onwards from Chicago we listened to that album so many times, that within weeks I had explored other of Bob’s albums and I knew all the words to every song on “Blood On the Tracks.”
Back in Oregon, my first love wouldn’t answer my calls, and the rest of Bob’s middle oeuvre became associated in my mind with the sweet anguish of first heartbreak. But I could always turn on Nashville Skyline and remember how they played “Lay Lady Lay” at that podunk diner in the middle of Wyoming on the radio. Because it confirmed for me that everyone loves that song.
“You know that song ‘Lay Lady Lay’?” I asked.
“Yeah. I love that song,” Anthony’s girlfriend said.
“I do too! That whole album sounds just like it, because he was imitating a country croon at that time and although it wasn’t quite as appreciated as his other albums of the sixties because of his affected style, I think it’s a masterpiece. With Lay Lady Lay as the centerpiece of the entire album.”
So Anthony’s girlfriend took down the name of the album on her iPhone notepad, and I hope to Bob that she listens to it, and that it changes the course of her life. The same way it did mine.
Dylan is my generation’s poet…master songwriter….i’m glad you like him! Try some Phil Ochs now.