It came on the radio in the late afternoon and from the first note it was right. Bob Dylan bringing it all back home again.
I couldn’t believe it. There was no warning, only the knowledge that it had been, in fact, completed and was due out shortly. But there it was with that warm, rich, groovy sound and Bob singing out to all of us that everything is all right. “I’d be lost without you, and you know it’s true,” and I thought, what about us?
Then there was that great line about the locusts singing, “the man standing next to me, his head was exploding, while I was praying the pieces wouldn’t fall on me.” Ah, there we were. Back home again.
I was driving along a Berkeley street then, and I had the fantasy that all the other car radios were tuned to KSAN and the Dylan album was blowing their minds that very minute and I looked at the drivers as they went past me and they had smiles on their faces. I resisted the impulse to start blowing the horn like at the end of the war or something. Crazy? Sure! Only this dude thinks you’re fine.
God, it’s beautiful. I have played it an even dozen times in two days. I can’t find a weak track, not that I’m lookin’, but you know. Time passes slowly when you’re searching for love and we’ve all been searching this past long time, searching blindly and searching almost mechanically, fatalistically, hoping against hope that something would happen.
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This album is a sign. You believe that? I think I do. It is surely the best thing new to come over the airwaves and out of the grooves in I don’t know when and after these grim weeks of Agnew and Reagan and Nixon and Billy Graham and all that shit, it was like the cool, clear water from a mountain spring to hear his voice so true, so good.
The album makes me feel good. Every song on it. It is the most reassuring thing that has happened this year of the bombings. Ah, I can hear the crazies say, it is more pap for the people. It is avoidance. It is meaningless. Rejoice, rejoice, we have no choice. Those love songs are a celebration of life that description of country living is everyman’s dream come true. You’d have stayed there too, wouldn’t you?
Then Elvis in the big hotel. He did it in Las Vegas and he can do it here! It all makes me feel so good. All the little turns of phrases, the humor, the flashing images, the sentimentality.
Even the waltz-time country & western love song and the simplistic “If Dogs Run Free” with its jazz piano copping Avery Parish’s solo on “After Hours,” the classic blues of the big band years. Kooper has turned into a hell of a piano player. He’s got his chops up. He must have been working at that. And the scat vocal throw-back to Gloria Wood and Pete Condoli.
Then “New Morning” came on. Like an early mist. So clean, so sweet. “This must be the day that all my dreams come true.” What a love song! What a message to all of us blinded as we are by paranoia, grimly trying to see through the murk and the smoke and the blood. “So happy just to be alive underneath the sky of blue . . .”
You want folk music? Songs about people with stakes coming out of them and heads rolling off? Brighton girls are like the moon . . . and then the raunchy married-couple-with-kids-down-home song and then the parables of Dan. And the rest —.
It’s all there. All that it ever was and all we’d hoped for and you don’t need a weberman to know which way this wind blows. He’s coming out again. Come on, Bob! We need you. That’s the truth, man, we really do. Come out, Bob, come out!
And he will, just as sure as God made little apples. Didn’t he bring it all back home again just to show us where it really was at? With Victoria Spivey on the cover and all? Jesus. What do you want man, what do you want? I mean I wouldn’t do a thing like that to you. Come on out, Bob, there’s nothing you can do now after such a bright new morning except to come on out into the day.
Sure, the Gypsy fled in the night and the dancing girl, too, and the room was empty and dark but that was Vegas. We’re still the real world, no matter what they say in Washington. Still there, still waiting and still digging it all. If not for you! Of course, what a great thing to say right now at this moment in history like he had been waiting for just the right second to answer the doubts.
His song poems are so open, just as they have always been so open, that you can find it all in there if you look. Sometimes you don’t even have to look very hard, it comes right out to speak to you. But every time it’s there. In every track of this album there’s something for all of us to chew on.
Here we are. Tim Leary armed and dangerous in Algiers. Nixon armed and dangerous in the White House. Bombs bursting in Rochester and guns firing at random in Cairo. The Kent State massacre being blamed on the massacred, Jackson’s dead accused of violence and the poison spreading all around, as no man can trust his brother and the country an armed camp. Five dead in Santa Cruz and the old folks arming against the longhairs even though the clues that turned up the killer came from longhairs. Voluntarily.
“Shoot them!” the sheriff said in Washington and Mitchell predicts we’ll rush to the right and in Canada it’s martial law.
As we go into this dark night we will need what light, what sustenance we can get and that is just what he has given us. The brightest light and the strongest sustenance of all — hope. This is a hopeful album and my God how we need it. America may be greening but you wouldn’t know it from where we stand, any of us looking around numbly at the bumper stickers and the scum on the water.
There is nothing to fear but fear itself, our last real president said. I’m old enough to remember him saying it. Franklin Roosevelt’s words coming out over the Atwater Kent that Lenny called the first cathedral we knew. FDR would have dug Dylan, had him in the study for talk and songs and Eleanor would have stood with him as he stood with Josh White. Back then, there was honor on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Yes, this is a message from home to all of us. A message of hope, of joy, of good will and above all of cheer. Good cheer, the kind they don’t make so much of anymore. So he got older and caught rainbow trout and had a bunch of kids and all the rest — and what a lovely woman she must be to inspire love songs like these — that really and truly is what it all is about and now he’s said it loud and clear.
There will be more. He will be back. He will sing for us again, one man with the stage fright, and he’ll stand up there and give it all his might. Because when he gets to the end, he wants to start all over again.
Just remember, though, that when he says that he’s afraid, take the poor boy at his word. And remember, we’re all afraid, all of us, everywhere. Come back, Bob, we need you. And thank you for that letter from home.
This story is from the November 26th, 1970 issue of Rolling Stone.