Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The importance of Bob Dylan or personal reflections on the concept of eternity

Photo by Barry Feinstein

The human mind has a natural trouble defining concept of eternity. It is a tricky concept, mainly because at first glance is seems pretty straightforward: an eternal being is someone that never dies. But what if we had to imagine somebody that has never been born, someone that his bare existence is bigger than life itself? Someone or something that had no beginning, no start, it has always been? Then, we start to have some trouble with grasping the concept.

Maybe it is because we have a fascination with the concept of eternity is also the explanation why we seem so fascinated on how things began. It is almost like as with we had the feeling that by understanding the very concept that defies eternity: birth, we may also increase our understanding of the subject matter.

What does this have to do with bob Dylan? Well, how should I know? Perhaps we should ask another rock legend for clarification. When Pete Townshend, lead guitarist from “The Who”, was asked what kind of influence Dylan had on him, he simply replied: “The same influence of being born”. This very quote leads us to the link between bob Dylan and the concept of eternity: Dylan created something so primal, so essential, and so unique that he carved the definition of musical eternity. His music seems so influential and forever lasting that it is bigger than the character itself.

Let us do a small exercise. I myself am only 27, and was not even close to being born in 1965, the year that Dylan incorporated electronic music into his sound (on the album Highway 61 Revisited). It was on this year that Dylan departed from his folk/acoustic hero image and reinvented himself as a full blown rock and roll innovator. Now lets try to imagine being an 18 year old teenager, that was acostumated to listening to Beatles, Elvis and other greats artist. Now lets take a deep breath and try to imagine this teenager popping in a vinyl copy of Highway 61, and hearing the devilish combination of a fender Rhodes piano, Mike Bloomberg´s guitar and Dylan´s poetic lyrics for the first time. Man, it should have been mind spinning.

It was in this very same year that he teamed up with “The Band”, and did a tour where they blazed through both acoustic and electric classics. This tour generated maybe the most famous bootleg of rock history, the Royal Albert Hall Concert. It was on this show that between two electric songs somebody shouted: “Judas!” symbolizing the fact that to the eyes of many Dylan had betrayed popular music by plugging in his guitar and venturing into uncharted waters.

It is almost as if he had to sacrifice his unanimous place at popular taste in order to become a something more, reach the genius status and have a shot at eternity. True innovators may sound crazy, but those who don´t rarely last. Sure, Bob Dylan at times seemed so crazy that nobody could understand him: Like the time that he went to a press conference in 1966 carrying around a giant light bulb and remarked: “I plugged it into a socket and my house exploded”. He defied a successful position and innovated. He understood deeply that any form of art is meant to move people.

If somebody asked why Bob Dylan is important to me, I would tell them that he made me experience eternity. How? Every time I hear the opening notes from “like a rolling stone” or the lyrics of “Ballad of a Thin Man”, and I imagine what it would be to hear it from the first time in the 60´s, I have the sense that he defies the concept of eternity by allowing me to witness the birth of something eternal.



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