Sunday, May 15, 2011


Bobbie Zimmerman hits the big Seven-O.

There it was, on the cover of LA Weekly this week: a birthday cake with Bob Dylan's face on it. (The editor's note assured readers it was a real cake and after the photo shoot, they ate it.)

Meanwhile, at another newsstand, Rolling Stone had its own tribute.

And when I was in London, the British magazine Uncut had not just articles but a tribute CD they had compiled, which had on it everything from covers of Dylan's recent stuff to songs he would have heard on the radio on his 16th birthday, growing up in Hibbing.

This made me look in one of my old journals for articles from when Dylan turned 50. Here is a list of things that U2's Bono had to say:

In case that's a bit too small, he admires Dylan's rhymes, the fact that he is a modern-day Walt Whitman, and the fact that unlike Hendrix, Dylan isn't dead. Hendrix of course took a Dylan song "All Along the Watchtower" (written in the Mojave Desert, Dylan claimed once) and amped it up as electric and soulful as it comes. Dylan in turn started to perform it that way live (Dylan covering Hendrix covering Dylan), which in turn has influenced others. Eddie Vedder has done an amazing version, and the Dave Matthews Band does extended live versions, many of which are available via the usual sources like iTunes. I have heard them live at the Hollywood Bowl and can say yes indeed, they nail it every time.

The best version ever of "All Along the Watchtower" took place at AVC.

A few years ago I was honored by being named Scholar in Residence, and with the post comes the chance to hold a lecture or community event on the topic of one's choice. I organized an outdoor festival called Bobfest, with music, poetry, and video art, all of it to take place on May 24th, Bob Dylan's birthday. Among the highlights (and really, it was an evening of highlights) was the chance to do "Blowin in the Wind" with Professor Lynn McDonie, except we did it in Middle English, the language of Chaucer. (Well, English teachers have a queer sense of fun, it is true.)

The last performance of the night was Dennis Russell and the AVC band Test Flight doing a spectacular version of "All Along the Watchtower." As program director, I encouraged them to go all out, and I must confess that my actual words were "If they can't hear it in Quartz Hill, you're not playing hard enough." It was fabulous.

Back in the day, there used to be things called record stores (!), and one of the best was Rhino Records in Westwood. My ex-wife was the go-to gal for Frank Sinatra, and as it clear by now, I am the Bob Dylan guy in the English Department. Rhino Records had two floor-to-ceiling black and white portraits on the wall in the back of the store. On one side of a doorway was Frank Sinatra and the other, Bob Dylan. It was the perfect place for us to shop.

Well, old Blue Eyes is in Heaven now, the AVC adjunct Dennis Russell is getting a PhD in surf music at UCSB, and next year's Scholar in Residence will be named in a few days, on the 18th. What he or she will do for the special lecture I don't know yet, but already I am looking forward to it.

As far as Dylan himself, still touring at age 70, all I can say is right on. He's a model for us all. It seems that he indeed has taken the advice from the song he wrote when his son was born. In a prayer for continuity and joy, papa said, "May you stay forever young."

And so may we all.

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