(HOST) The legendary and often cryptic Bob Dylan has been in the news quite a bit lately, prompting commentator Caleb Daniloff to recall his own Dylan “moments.”
(DANILOFF) After finishing grad school in the late ’90s and returning to Vermont, I sunk into a bit of a depression. I had an MFA in writing, a half-written manuscript and heady city memories. I had left a lot behind – a drinking life, friends I’d never see again and, of course, Manhattan, that rocky heart from which the thickest literary blood flowed, at least in my mind.
I took a newspaper job in another county and began sending out book proposals. The rejections piled up – for the manuscript, for poems, for writer’s colonies. The commute, board meetings and long hours soon took their toll. I felt worn down and exiled from dreams that once seemed within reach. One morning, I fingered Bob Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks from my wife’s music collection.
Dylan had never much been on my radar. I knew the Jimi Hendrix version of “All Along the Watchtower”. I knew Axl Rose’s cover of “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door”. I knew “Tangled Up in Blue”. Beyond that, Dylan was a vague figure. I just wanted something different to get me through the morning drive.
What I heard changed everything. Dylan managed to bottle the quiet agony of demise, the sorrow of memory and the pain of departure – without a syllable of self-pity. I listened to that album again and again, leaning on it like a shoulder. A few months later, I quit my job and went freelance, embracing the Dylan line: “He not busy being born is busy dying.”
I remembered all this last month when discussing Dylan with an insurance agent from Iceland to whom I sold a pair of extra concert tickets on eBay. Hilmar has an extensive collection of Dylan recordings. He knows the dates, venues and setlists of countless shows. “Dylan has a song for every occasion and event that has happened to me,” he emailed before the show. English is not Hilmar’s native language, and Dylan has played Iceland only once.
The night of the concert, Dylan strode out in a western suit, cowboy hat and sequined neckerchief. In the rafters hung the retired college jersey of basketball great Julius Erving. Below, the crowd was a mix of old hippies, young hippies, professors with kids in tow, rowdy frat boys, party girls and one insurance man from Reykjavik, Iceland.
People have called Dylan a messiah. He calls himself a song and dance man. He’s written more than 500 songs and averages a show every three-and-a-half days. Still, to most, he seems unknowable.
We had sixth-row seats, and I could see the lines on his face, the outlines of his knobby kneecaps through his pants. A few songs in, I noticed a spray of sweat every time he jerked back from the microphone. I couldn’t look away. Nobel prize nomination, number one song of all time, best-selling author – these things were no match for those drops of sweat. The spray kept coming, again and again, like a boxer in the late rounds. Bruised but still standing, the receptacle of countless blows, iron-willed, running on nothing but heart. And for two hours at least, I knew all I needed to about Bob Dylan.
This is Caleb Daniloff of Middlebury.
Caleb Daniloff is a copywriter, book reviewer and freelance journalist.