I came to love the work of Bob Dylan quite late – the first album of his I bought was The Basement Tapes when I was a young teen in high school. At the time I was more into Bowie, the Faces and Mott the Hoople, the hard rock of Sabbath and Zeppelin or the prog of Yes and Genesis. Of course I knew his work mainly through all the cover versions by the Byrds, Hendrix and also the peacenik nature of his early work but this was the seventies and I guess I was more into guitar solos than lyrics, rock over country and Nashville Skyline with that crooning voice he sang with on it put me off. That album seemed to be everywhere and I had no time for it.
Seeing him in The Concert for Bangladesh with George and Leon was a revelation and I found I did like his singing and his persona. Pat Garret and Billy the Kid too – I liked him in the film although Knocking on Heaven’s Door remains one my least favoured of his well-known songs.
But it was Blood on the Tracks in the mid-seventies that really turned me into a Dylan nut. I dissected that record and learned all the songs and then went back and bought all his albums – from Freewheelin’ up to John Wesley Harding. That’s when I started writing songs of any value myself and my first efforts were very heavily influenced by his work. I was a kind of hippy lookalike by then and at my first public performance ever in a folk club in Hamilton – I played Tangled up in Blue.
At the time I met Louise Loft and we started our affair I had a very trippy encounter with Visions of Johanna and how the lyrics of that song mentioned both her names –.and of course the big killer line that is the name of this weekly ramble.
I got to see him live around then too – at Western Springs the first time he came to New Zealand in 1978. Part of a huge crowd and he had a big band to match – he played a host of songs I loved in a totally different way with backing singers, horns and new arrangements. I liked what he was doing – reinventing himself again through a new sound in the way great artists do and I love Street Legal and the glimpses of those songs he gave us at that show.
To me in a way that was the end of the monster genius period Dylan and I kind of put him aside through his Christian period and on into the later albums. The odd real gem would pop up from time to time but I’d moved on by the eighties.
It wasn’t till I heard World Gone Wrong, the straggly album of old covers, that I fell in love with his voice all over again and revisited the albums between and since – a remarkable body of work in its own right.
As to winning the Nobel Prize for Literature – aside from influencing every songwriter who is worth their salt he informed a lot of artists generally from novelists to playwrights and poets. He brought so many others to everyone’s notice – from his own heroes, both writers and the music that he investigated in his writing. Even the titles of his songs in that wild mercury period were like a new form of Shakespeare…