Once upon a time Bob Dylan wrote a birthday card. One of his own, obviously: a poem called "Advice For Geraldine On Her Miscellaneous Birthday". "People are afraid of someone who is not in step with them", he warned. "It might even cross their minds that they themselves are in the wrong step". On May the 24th Bob Dylan turns 70 and one thing is for sure: in his long road he was never in step with anyone. We asked fifteen artists who did Dylan's covers in their career to write in exclusive for OndaRock their personal birthday card for Mr. Zimmerman. This is at the same time a tribute to Dylan and a listening guide to some of the covers that better represent the vitality of his songs.
That forever may he amble
walk the earth incessantly
being just so angry
being just so joyous
allowing us another year
for his songs to deploy us
and come back to "Poco Cosa" restaurant here in Tucson...
"Por mas frijoles y arroz, por favor".
from "Swerve" (Restless, 1992)
Dylan changed the way everyone thinks about songs and writing with an "authentic" voice. Sometimes he's the voice inside us all. He's still changing the nature of song with every one he writes. Ambiguous, poetic, abstract, specific and associative. A scholar of song and the hands down champion, who led the way for the rest of us. Happy Birthday Bob Dylan!
from "Neon Mirage" (A440, 2010)
Micah P. Hinson
He was a man who surely knew what not to say.
from "All Dressed Up And Smelling Of Strangers" (Full Time Hobby, 2009)
I am certainly not the first person nor will I be the last person to declare that I learned how to play guitar and sing using a Bob Dylan songbook (which I still have and use). At age 14, I was awkward and gangly, a true "Wallflower." I stayed in my room singing and clumsily learned how to play with songs like "Visions of Johanna" and "Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands." I was obsessed with his use of melody, his guts, and his ability to reinvent himself stylistically. I wanted to reinvent myself at a young age like he did, and his prowess at self mythologization always inspired me. To me, his chamelion-like ways urged the listener to pay attention to the work itself rather than the man.
The work ethic that Bob Dylan had towards his lyric writing truly inspired me to always try as hard as I could. I do believe he has the "gift," but I also think that the application of endless years of writing, touring, and working on his craft is what has yielded one of the best artists of modern times. I obsessively watched the documentary "Don't Look Back," marvelling at him typing away amidst the choas surrounding him. I figured out what a song is through Bob Dylan. I know that is a strange thing to say, but I learned that Bob could make a song with three chords sound great if it had a catchy melody and good lyrics. I also learned the art of the poem song- with songs like "Desolation Row" and it's painterly surrealism. He is a remarkable living legend and one person who's existence has truly changed my life. Happy Birthday Bobby!
from "Covers" (self released, 2010)
I spent the summer of 1976 in the extremely remote town of Fort Simpson, Northwest Territories, Canada. I was sixteen years old. My job was to fuel the small prop-planes that serviced the tiny communities, unreachable by land, which dotted the banks of the Mackenzie River. It was a true frontier town. I was alone, there was virtually no one my age that I could talk to. When I wasn't working I spent my time running upon the huge boulders piled along the banks of the Mighty Mackenzie or recklessly speeding along the backroads in the company pickup truck. I was told to always check underneath the truck before I moved it because there was a good chance that there would be someone lying there, drunk. I lived in a converted goat shed and I spent the summer in silence: except for Dylan.
There was a beat-up portable turntable in the corner of my room and one album, "Desire". By the end of the summer the grooves at the beginning of side one were so worn out that the tone arm would skid halfway across the platter and start playing somewhere in the middle of "Mozambique". The bass line at beginning of "One More Cup Of Coffee" still jangles my innards, Emmylou's harmonies on "Oh Sister" still make me swoon; Dominique Cortese's accordion buried itself deep in my subconscious only to re-emerge ten years later when Jaro [Czerwinec] walked in to our life. "Desire" locks me in a place and time. "Desire" was my saviour. Happy Birthday Bob and thanks for this one of many, many fabulous memories.
from "Rarities, B-Sides And Slow, Sad Waltzes" (Latent, 1999)
Willard Grant Conspiracy
Of course, I'd been aware of Dylan for a very long time before the 1975 release of "Blood On The Tracks", but the release of this record in the last half of my last year of high school provided an angry, disappointed and melancholy soundtrack for a period of time that matched the sentiments. There must have been something in the water that year, a few months later Neil Young's "Tonight's The Night" was released, though it was recorded a few years earlier.
We all have favorite records that are important to us in ways we cannot always lay our hands on. They came into our world in some unerringly perfect way at the time when we were most receptive to hearing them. The subject, time, place and sound all conspire to open a perfect window into a world that both reflects our own perceptions and illuminates us at the same time. Art speaks to us in universals and helps us see specifics as it shines a spotlight on our understanding or lack of it. Great artists find themselves hot wired to inspiration at varying times in their lives and, if they are disciplined, get to capture the inspiration in work that, if we are lucky, gets into the public consciousness. If we are open and aware, we can be blessed and shaped by these anointments of inspiration. There are very few artists in the history of the modern world who have had and continue to have this effect on us. Bob Dylan has to be at the top of any list.
from "Let It Roll" (Glitterhouse / Venus, 2006)
Dylan's 70 and that's an accomplishment. Maybe a more astonishing feat, he has outlasted himself. His songs from the Sixties have lived past his output from the Eighties. Like Bowie, Jagger, Dylan has survived his own legend and grown old like a healthy human. His lyric makes sense: "I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now".
Dylan has remained a vague icon in black and white for me until "Jokerman"; not the iconic black and white photographs of his big hair, spare skinny-jeaned body, black sunglasses. Dylan is a collection of memories of other people's memories.
Then by his voice, a joke parodied everywhere on TV, mimicked by poser and genuine folkies alike. You can't pay homage to the man without sounding like you're making fun a bit. He's one of those. Like Howard Kosell. Or Bing Crosby. Frank Sinatra.
Tom Brosseau (with Kathy MacPherson)
from "Les Shelleys" (FatCat, 2010)
Bob Dylan is simultaneously an artist who inspires you to want to create, and yet with his superb talent constantly reminds you that you aren't anywhere near as good as he is. There's just no one like him.
from VV. AA. - "Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan's
Bringing It All Back Home" (Reimagine, 2010)
Dear Uncle Bob,
Can we call you Uncle Bob? Ring them bells, sir. Which bells? Yer 70 birthday bells. Shall make quite a sound. Rosie [Guerin] says hello. Happy birthday, bud.
from VV. AA. - "Dylan Mania" (Naive, 2009)
Dog Is Blue
When I was in high school I paid too much for horrible seats at a U2 concert. Unbeknownst to me, that night also happened to be Bob Dylan's 60th birthday. At one point between songs Bono yelled out "Happy Birthday, Bob Dylan!" and the crowd went wild. 15,000 people cheering for someone's birthday even though they had never met the man and he wasn't there to hear them. Talk about a legacy.
Well, I recall the first time I listening to Bob Dylan - I never liked his voice... but I never knew any better. My parents would play Bob Dylan and John Lennon. Great music - I just never figured that at the time.
A few years later a friend gave me Blood On the Tracks and I was hooked.
The vocal delivery had me hanging on to every word. Very few singers can do that. I sought out all of the Dylan albums. I would say the period 1968 to 1975 is my favourite, though I also appreciate much of the later releases and some of the reissues - especially "The Bootleg Series, Vol. 1-3" (see photo).
The music of Bob Dylan has been a constant for much of my life.
I actually recorded my own (unreleased) album of Dylan covers. Not heard it for a while - I really should get that DAT machine fixed.
from "All Things Real" (Grand Harmonium, 2006)
Bob Dylan's the ultimate rock 'n' roll icon and has meant more to me over the decades than any other musician. The first Dylan tune I ever heard was "Subterranean Homesick Blues" and I was transfixed, I held my breath for the whole of the two-and-a-half minutes or so it lasted, I'd never heard anything like it, that amazing voice spitting out those rhymes over that ramshackle, runaway-train rhythm track...!
With the lyrics he was writing in the mid-Sixties he transformed popular music from light entertainment into Art, and even the Beatles had to up their game....There was never a braver artist than Dylan, either: when his music took a country swerve in the late 60s it ran so against the grain of the psychedelia that prevailed at the time that it seemed like either madness or a revolution, but just look at how influential that move turned out to be...! "Blood On The Tracks" was one of the greatest records of the 1970s and "Time Out Of Mind" towered over most of the music released in the '90s. The stuff he's done since has been so beautiful and heartfelt and dignified... He's a genius, only an idiot would deny it...
Happy birthday, Mr. Zimmerman, may you stay forever young.
from VV. AA. - "Highway 61 Revisited Revisited" (Uncut, 2006)
These United States
Hey Bob, it's Jesse. I was walking down Hennepin the other night, came across this place I heard a lot about but never saw in the flesh. "Nye's Polonaise" - you know it? Very strange scene, piano lounge straight outta 20's Vegas in the front, dirty rock dive in back, run by these great big mustachioed Polish gentlemen, black ties - I think they were born inside of there, really. John Waters whispering with the ghost of Bing Crosby somewhere in the side room in one of those big red sparkling vinyl booths, I'm sure of it! There're these legendary locals, the World's Most Dangerous Polka Band, they played there every Friday and Saturday night for the last 35 years. 35 years straight. Unreal. I never saw them. Ruth just died - Ruth was the heart and voice - just a week before I got there. She was just almost 80, firecracker 'til the end, they told me. Mostly everything passes or changes, I guess. Right before you get around to knowing about it, sometimes - how good it all was. But she's still there, too, you know? Koskinen and Frankie Lee, they did one of her songs in her honor, Noah and Paul and Molly all packed up there with them on that tiny little Christmaslight-lit stage in the corner. They could barely fit. They sounded perfect.
Made me think of you. You'd love these guys like shadows down from a streetlamp - true city angels, all of them, right there on the Mississippi, Bob. It's good to still hear your voice around like that. I wish we coulda known Ruth. We gotta love all the Ruths around we can, man, shit. Anyway, just wanted to say hey. I'll look ya up next time we're both back through Minneapolis - we should take a day, drive up to Duluth, play some songs with Dave and all those boys. Nothing's changed there, man. Beautiful ore forests. Pour a drink through ya for Ruthy, if ya think of it. Oh, yeah - happy birthday, too, man! I almost forgot the whole reason I called. Ha. Talk soon, Bob.
da VV. AA. - "Dylan Mania" (Naive, 2009)
Happy 70th Bob Dylan! I've always appreciated your consistency and commitment to music as a lifetime career. Thank you for never apologizing for your creative journey and thank you for always making the music you wanted to make. I look forward to hearing what you'll do next. You keep getting better!
from VV. AA. - "Subterranean Homesick Blues: A Tribute To Bob Dylan's
Bringing It All Back Home" (Reimagine, 2010)
The Handsome Family
A bouquet of Sweet William for Bob on his birthday.
from "Scattered" (self released, 2010)
Vic Chesnutt (in memoriam)
We wish he could be here too: he never made a secret of his love for Dylan's songs. And he give us some unforgettable interpretations. The best way to remember him is listening one more time to his troubled voice.
Vic Chesnutt - Buckets Of Rain
from VV. AA. - "Crossing Jordan. Music from the NBC television
series" (Sony, 2001)
We want to make our wish to Bob Dylan for his 70th birthday with the words whispered by Vic Chesnutt in his cover of "Buckets Of Rain":
"All you can do is do what you must
You do what you must do and you do it well"
Happy birthday, Bob!