50 Years After Bob Dylan: Why Old White Guys Are Still Important (Sometimes)
by Birdie Hall
The Zeitgeist is all but over. The only thing my post 9/11 generation has to look forward to is speeding down heavy traffic whilst blaring Highway 61 Revisited from broken car stereos. There are no more beat poets, and there are no empty American roads to unearth in this age of the post-industrial police state. The youth’s interest in poetry has waned. There isn’t really anyone to speak for us artistically. What I’m trying to say is that there will never be another Bob Dylan. Raucous political (and anti-political) ballads have morphed into dystopic caricatures of what once were acerbic, profound songs to incite unrest amongst the young adult population. Aside from the recent political developments of the Bernie Sanders’ revolution, there isn’t much my generation has to look forward to, especially in the matters of art and music. Smart phones and social media have reduced us to all but intellectual vegetables. The times are pretty much hopeless. However, that does not mean that what was relevant artistically and intellectually five decades ago isn’t still important. In fact, Dylan’s music is more important to hear now than ever.
Bob Dylan’s legacy as American poet and prolific musician is inescapable. He is the musical string holding multiple generations together, well at least those of us with decent taste and brains in our heads. He established himself as THE figure of anti-establishment rock music before rock music even pervaded popular culture in the states (case in point being Dylan’s infamous introduction of electric guitar into his repertoire at the Newport Folk Festival of 1965, just a few months after the release of Bringing It All Back Home.)
It wasn’t even the Stratocaster that did it, though. The mid 60s were a time of huge political upheaval, and he incited a lot of it. He trounced about with his highly introspective demeanor, pensive aesthetic, and most importantly his message, which seems to be this: There is no message. There are only artistic interpretations of the world that overlap with mutual discontent for the waste of American culture. His words sung with a voice like sand and glue were at times devastating and angry, at other times hilarious. His lyrics are just as fine as the poetry of Walt Whitman. You could hold a graduate school literature class on the songs of Bob Dylan.
Bob Dylan remains deeply ingrained in our society but somehow seems to lie dormant beneath the surface. He inspired a multitude of important artists after him, whose work is passed onto others like an American heirloom. It’s as if his music waits for the lucky few millenials and generation X adults willing to dig through the dirt of saccharine pseudo-folk-indie-pop hits and coagulated Instagram feeds. Something very big needs to happen in this society, and I’m just trying to say that I think if everyone listened to more Bob Dylan, that something big might happen faster.
It is 2016, more than half a century since The Times They Are A-Changin’ was released. Much has happened in this country politically. We are in the midst of a turbulent social crisis between the very wealthy, the very disgruntled, the very poor, and the very stupid. People are fed up with establishment politics. We see this clearly with the sublime support of Bernie Sanders (and also the horrifying zeal toward American fascist Donald Trump). If you have no interest in taking up painting or learning guitar, go listen to Bob Dylan and think about volunteering for something that will inspire change in others. A very productive group of local activists managed to collect enough signatures to get Bernie Sanders on the Montana ballot for the 2016 election. Local bands are playing benefit rock shows for the Sanders campaign. Young people might have a chance again.
Things in America are not all hopeless, they just look pretty bleak. If you are a disgruntled youth new to the music of Bob Dylan and need somewhere to start with your introspection, here are my four album recommendations: Blood On the Tracks (1971), Bringing it All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited (1965), and of course: The Times They Are A-Changin’. Your inner poet, rock enthusiast, political activist, and artist will all be satiated. Go get born with Bob Dylan and remember: Don’t follow leaders and watch parking meters.