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Happy Birthday, Bob: An Appreciation of Dylan at 60

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Joni Mitchell
No one has come close to being as good a writer as Dylan. He had these grand themes, these cast-of-thousands kind of songs, people running around with cats on their shoulders, street scenes. He did a lot of urban landscapes, like "Desolation Row," where there's so much going on. What do I make of Bob turning sixty? Because of the youth-cultish nature of our industry – of every industry, basically – I think it is a very positive thing that someone of another generation survives. The obvious wish I have for Bob is his own line: "May you stay forever young." For the creature that creates, it's all child's play.

 

John Prine
People called me a New Dylan a long time ago. Truth is, I don't think there's ever going to be a New Dylan – if one hasn't come around by now, I kinda doubt that they're coming. I'm not surprised that Bob Dylan is still at the top of his game. One night a few years back, I ran into Bob at Dan Tana's restaurant in L.A., and we were waiting to take a car, and he said, "Let's go down here," and we walked down the street to the Troubadour club. We didn't know who was playing, but we were going to just go in and take a look. Bob got a twinkle in his eye and said, "Do you know who I am?" And the girl at the door just shook her head. So Bob said, "Do you know who he is? Do you know who either one of us is?" Then he just shrugged his shoulders, and we walked away laughing. Happy birthday, definitely. I'm glad he's healthy, and I hope he's happy.

 

Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day
The thing that Dylan gave rock & roll was a voice and an opinion that really wasn't there before. He was the first truly angry young man – he was angry before I was angry, before Johnny Rotten was angry, before Pete Townshend was angry. He really was the guy. There are a lot of people who would like to be Bob Dylan, but of course they can't be – the job's taken. Sixty years old? Jesus Christ. Happy birthday, Bob Dylan.

 

Jonathan Cott
In Jean-Luc Godard's 1966 film Masculin-Fèminin, the young protagonist played by Jean-Pierre Lèaud picks up a French newspaper and reads a headline out loud: Qui Útes-Vous Bob Dylan? It was, and is, a good question. As the folk singer Eric von Schmidt commented in 1961, "At this time Bob had the most incredible way of changing shape, changing size, changing looks. The whole time he was [in London] he wore the same thing, his blue jeans and cap. And sometimes he would look big and muscular, and the next day he'd look like a little gnome, and one day he'd be kind of handsome and virile, and the following day he'd look like a thirteen-year-old child. It was really strange. . . . You'd never know what he was going to look like."

You'd also never know what his voice was going to sound like. One of the other fascinating, if obvious, things about Bob Dylan's mercurial personality was the way the timbre of his voice would change from one record or period of his life to another – as if his voice, too, couldn't stand having just one, unvarying sound. When he first arrived in New York City, he was singing like a hillbilly, sounding "like a dog with his leg caught in barbed wire," as someone remarked at the time. And as years went by, Dylan's voice would veer from, in his words, "that thin . . . wild mercury sound . . . metallic and bright gold" of Blonde on Blonde (1966) to the relaxed country sound, which some attributed to his having stopped smoking cigarettes, of Nashville Skyline (1969) to the openheartedness, gentleness and anger of Blood on the Tracks (1975).

Like the Greek sea deity Proteus, who in order to elude his pursuers continually changed shape, from dragon to lion to fire to flood – uttering prophecies along the way – Dylan has unequivocally remained true to his vision of an unlimiting, unpossessive love that, whatever its form, comes straight from the heart, from which springs a wisdom worthy of the greatest poets and teachers.

As always, Dylan has kept on keepin' on – like his hero Hank Williams' alter ego, Luke the Drifter, traveling and performing in one "joint" after another, night after night, literally around the world. And on his journey he never wavers from revealing and confronting the masks that all of us are wearing and that distract us from our path.

Without even the "murmur of a prayer," as he sings on "Not Dark Yet," the soul turns "into steel" and the inner light is extinguished. On his sixtieth turn around the sun – still keeping the lights burning and reminding us to be a light unto ourselves ("Everythin' I'm sayin'/You can say it just as good" – "One Too Many Mornings") – Bob Dylan has remained true to the words of Emily Dickinson's little prayer: "Lad of Athens faithful be/To Thyself/And Mystery/All the rest is Perjury."

Jonathan Cott, a contributing editor, first interviewed Bob Dylan for Rolling Stone in 1975.


David Gray
Dylan's like the Beatles or the Eiffel Tower – he's just there, his presence is so strong that you don't really see him anymore. To do what he did in a short burst in the early Sixties would have been one thing, but he's kept coming back. It doesn't feel like Dylan ever takes his eye off the ball. Success sharpened him.

 

Lucinda Williams
Bob Dylan's been such an inspiration to me for so long that I love him. I don't even really know him, but I feel a certain connection with him and always have, since I first heard him in 1965. He's always been such a great example in terms of sticking to his guns artistically and still going out there and rocking. So I'd just like to say happy birthday and thank you for all the years of music that you've given me, and for setting such a great example. Everyone needs a mentor.

This story is from the June 7, 2001 issue of Rolling Stone.

To read the new issue of Rolling Stone online, plus the entire RS archive: Click Here

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Song Stories

“Try a Little Tenderness”

Otis Redding | 1966

This pop standard had been previously recorded by dozens of artists, including by Bing Crosby 33 years before Otis Redding, who usually wrote his own songs, cut it. It was actually Sam Cooke’s 1964 take, which Redding’s manager played for Otis, that inspired the initially reluctant singer to take on the song. Isaac Hayes, then working as Stax Records’ in-house producer, handled the arrangement, and Booker T. and the MG’s were the backing band. Redding’s soulful version begins quite slowly and tenderly itself before mounting into a rousing, almost religious “You’ve gotta hold her, squeeze her …” climax. “I did that damn song you told me to do,” Redding told his manager. “It’s a brand new song now.”

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