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Like a Rolling Stone - Bob Dylan and the Band

So how does it feel, Bob, to be eighty?

And still be making important relevant music as your latest album, "Rough and Rowdy Ways", a critical and financial success, illustrates. It was back in 1962, 59 years ago, that your first LP "Bob Dylan" peaked at number 13 in the UK album charts (it didn't chart in the US) so it's been a long innings.

I have said before that you are the latest in a long line of bard troubadours beginning with Homer and Sappho, and like them, it is the strength of your lyrics that give you your longevity. The tunes are important too, but, as your unstinting touring schedules over the years have shown, it's the lyrics that have the poetic strength and depth to carry new meanings, feelings and emotions, every time you sing them. Unlike many longstanding performing artists who deliver their hits like insects in amber, your performances differ from night to night, precisely because the songs, like all great art, have the depth to be constantly renewing themselves, and they work on such a personal level, that both the singer and the listener breathe new life into them each time.

"Like a Rolling Stone" from your first official live album "Before the Flood" from way back in 1974, is a case in point. The original studio recording is soaked in irony, a musing monologue to someone whose luck has changed, who has fallen from the heights of social and financial success into poverty and ignominy. The live version with the Band is shot through with such anger and pain that it often feels as though you are talking to yourself as much as to anyone else. Same song, new delivery, new emphasis, new meaning seeping into the old.

I sometimes played this at the tail end of discos and, though it shouldn't be a good dancer, people went crazy for it, screaming out the chorus as though it hurts, but with a kind of sanctimonious satisfaction, in the same way that they sing along to Pulp's "Common People" except angrier. They're not only gloating over the evening-up of the score, they're sharing the pain of the singer.

Beginning with the words "Once upon a time........" this is a fairy tale for our times, ever remorphing into something fresh and relevant that embraces the universal and personal at the same time. In these uncertain times we need your voice more than ever.

Happy birthday Bob.


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