YAY. Bob Dylan is touring again. The octogenarian troubadour shuffles into Glasgow at the end of next month where he’ll find me, and many others, queuing up to watch him sing at the Armadillo.
For any whippersnapper philistines out there who haven’t heard of the Bobster, he’s essentially a 1960s version of Ed Sheeran… if Sheeran had less ginger hair and more talent.
The naysayers will counter this claim by spitting out a slew of jibes about Dylan’s singing. It’s true that his latter-day stage warble is so ropey that an Indian illusionist could use it to perform a classic magic trick.
But in his heyday Bob’s voice was a screechy, scratchy excoriation. It was the long fingernails of a Greenwich Village beatnik raking across the blackboard of the All American classroom. He sounded like a tetchy, backfiring vacuum cleaner, choking out dust, derision and the debris of Uncle Sam’s soul.
In other words, Bob had one of the most memorable voices to ever grace popular music.
Plus he wrote a bunch of songs that forensically scrutinized the world around him. This wasn’t the inarticulate snarl of an early rock and roller. Bob was clear-headed, scientific. A lab technician dripping acid into the Petri dish of 1960s culture.
He really hit his stride with his second album, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, released in 1963. The record includes many of his best songs, including Blowin’ In the Wind and A Hard Rains a-Gonna Fall.
It also has one of the strangest album sleeves of any major artist. The cover photo shows an achingly young Bob, who looks as though he’d rather have a dummy-tit jammed in his mouth than his trusty harmonica.
He’s clearly shivering as he strides down the ice-cold canyon of a New York street in February. Huddled next to him is a young woman.
Now, if this was a modern day image used to market popular music, the lady with Bob would be a lanky and angular supermodel, hired by the record label to dangle adoringly from the singer’s arm, promoting the idea that this was an artist with major sex appeal.
Not here, though. Instead, the female is Suze Rotolo, Bob’s actual girlfriend of the time. She’s pretty, though not in the heavy-handed glamourpuss style of a catwalk queen. You could even say she looks – gasp! – normal.
Even more extraordinary for its lack of extraordinariness is what Suze’s wearing. A chunky, fuzzy, knee-length, comfy-looking coat that was no doubt the sensible option with all that nippy New York weather.
Being sensible? On an album cover? This truly was a revolutionary act. Perhaps even more revolutionary than the songs Bob burbled on the inside disc.
Here was a glimpse of “life, and life only”, as Bob sang on a later album. The humdrum reality of existence, stripped of the marketing hustle, the showbiz muscle.
When I watch a frail, elderly musician play Glasgow in a few weeks time I’ll be thinking about Suze Rotolo, who sadly died in 2011. In The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan a young singer dared to glare at the American Dream, and describe it as it actually was.
But Suze’s frumpy yet defiantly honest coat heralded the rise of the real before Dylan had even sung his first word.
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