Yesterday was Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, and to honor the milestone, Rolling Stone releaseda list of the best 70 songs from his now 50-year-old catalog. With contributors like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, David Crosby, and Tom Morello, they came up with a stellar list, a primer for anyone who has never walked with Dylan before.
As a nearly life-long fan of Dylan's, CHL of course has our own jewels from the Dylan canon that we hold dearly. Sadly, CHL is young enough that the first modern Dylan record we bought with our own cash was 1997's Time Out of Mind. We remember thinking, "Dude, when did he turn into the Crypt Keeper. This rules!"
For years before, the Dylan we knew came from documentary footage from Don't Look Back, or stray clips on VH1, MTV or PBS. We would learn of his varous incarnations as time went on. The Rolling Thunder Revue, the work with the Dead in the '80s, his slick Eagles period, the wilderness-daddy days at Woodstock, all these eras came slowly into focus.
Personally, our favorite Dylan is the current aged one, the who one sings of a lifetime of sickness, love and death to a delicate Western swing beat. The voice is not from 1962, it's not clean, it's wicked and worn, like a pair of thrift-store cowboy boots.
It's heartbreaking because he is now singing from experience. He's seen friends, lovers, and heroes die. The Dylan from the '60s was brash and angry, and didn't have his balls kicked in by the world yet. Dylan in the late '90s and forward is looking back in humility, inching close to death.
The people most responsible for turning on new people to Dylan are filmmakers, by far, maybe even more than cool uncles and parents. Would we have gotten copies of New Morning or Oh Mercy without the meddling of the Coen brothers or John Cusack? Probably not so quickly, but we would have eventually on our own.