My Top 70 for Bob Dylan’s Birthday

Bob Dylan turned 70 years old today and in honor of his birthday, I’m sharing 70 Dylan-related memories:

1) I joined the Columbia Record Club when I was a kid and bought lots of early Dylan records for not much money (because he was a Columbia artist), eventually defaulted on my membership and then had a collection agency after me until they figured out I was a minor and they couldn’t touch me.

2) I kept a harmonica in my car to practice while stuck in L.A. rush hour traffic but never advanced beyond basic discordance.

3) When I was a kid, I took over the care of my younger brother’s gerbils and renamed them Frankie Lee and Judas Priest.

4) After having trash and beer thrown at me for singing and dancing during a Dylan concert in Orange County, CA (otherwise known as Behind the Orange Curtain), I vowed never to attend another concert in the OC, a promise I kept.

5) I once dreamed of ex-wife Sara Dylan and woke up really indignant about Bob treating her so poorly.

6) I used to work for a man who shared a rabbi with Bob Dylan, and contemplated staking out the temple for a sneak peek.

7) I had a class at CSU-Northridge with a young man who was friends with one of Dylan’s sons (Jakob?) and who used to hang out with the son and listen to Blonde on Blonde, an album my classmate described as “Okay.”

8) When I was a high school freshman, I gave a speech on Bob Dylan; the teacher was thrilled but the other kids could not have cared less.

9) The first time I ever saw Dylan in concert my seat was behind the stage but Dylan turned and played to us so it was a great experience.

10) My parents allowed me to miss a day of school to get those tickets.

11) Maybe because I’m not a fan of organized religion, I’ve never been offended by Dylan’s swings between Judaism and Christianity and back again.

12) I’ve logged a lot of miles on my treadmill running to Highway 61 Revisited (although “Ballad of a Thin Man” kinda takes the pep out of my step).

13) I listened to Street Legal the other night for old time’s sake but had to quit after a few songs because it made me miss best friend S (who loved the album) too much; I especially wished he was still alive so I could point out the album is highly overwrought.

14) At the last minute, I bought a single ticket to see Dylan at the L.A. Forum and got a pretty decent seat but after he played a couple songs, he said he wouldn’t continue until the seats in front were filled so I rushed the stage and spent the rest of the night a few feet from the stage.

15) I also went alone to see Dylan at the Filmore in Denver and made friends with some people who, for years afterward, invited me to their birthday parties.

16) I named my cat Isis.

17) I bought my copy of Desire at the JC Penney in Portage, Wisconsin, and took it back because the record skipped.

18) Literary agent Edward Necarsulmer IV is a huge Dylan fan and I used to think that meant we were destined to be agent and client, but I’ve since deduced that is not true.

19) Wildebeest loves nothing more than to disparage Bob and his rhyming ways.

20) When I was in high school, Doonesbury included a series of strips featuring Dylan and I taped those strips inside my locker door but was so eager to vacate the premises on the last day of school, I left them behind.

21) Zippy used to quietly pooh-pooh Dylan’s talent but now recognizes his channeling-from-beyond genius.

22) Let’s face it: Joan Baez has aged much more gracefully than Dylan.

23) I was sad on my birthday, November 25, 1976, because I knew Dylan was playing at The Band’s final concert at the Winterland, San Francisco, while I was in Pardeeville, Wisconsin, watching a blizzard out the window.

24) I later went to a matinee showing of Scorsese’s documentary of that concert (The Last Waltz) and smoked cigarettes in the nearly empty theater. I know!

25) Sometimes waiting for Dylan tickets was more fun than the actual concert (see #4), even when I burned my ankle on a motorcycle muffler getting a ride across the immense parking lot to the port-a-potty.

26) There are few more dull or predictable discussions than those focused on the quality of Dylan’s voice.

27) I think the Rolling Stone panel missed the boat by not putting more Planet Waves songs in its top 70 list.

28) I used to be in a critique group with Dylan’s lighting guy who went into instant panic, covering his ears and yelling, “I don’t want to know!” when I mentioned a friend with a bootleg tape.

29) I once spent about three hours trying to get through on a call-in show to ask Dylan who’s saying “Yes!” in these “Isis” lyrics:
“You gonna stay?”
“If you want me to.”
“Yes!”
(See, it’s not clear if it’s “If you want me to, yes!” or “Yes!” as in “I want you to stay.”)

30) It’s safe to say that over the years I’ve driven some people away with my Dylan fascination.

31) A former boyfriend didn’t believe I knew all the words to “Isis” but after I performed it for him, complete with gestures, he had a (short-lived) light of respect in his eyes.

32) Zebu had the chance to see Dylan at Red Rocks a few years back but didn’t have much fun because (1) there was a thick cloud of pot smoke in the crowd and (2) he couldn’t recognize any of the songs.

33) The first novel I wrote has an incredibly original storyline about a teenage girl who loves Dylan but is teased by friends and classmates for that love.

34) My critique-lighting-guy friend invited me to sit at the light board during a Dylan concert but I declined because it was soon after September 11 and I couldn’t face being in a crowded venue right then.

35) In 1982, my sister and I went to PEACE SUNDAY in the Rose Bowl to hear Dylan and Baez (among many) but the concert was sold out so we stood next to chain-link fence while guy inside licked his hand-stamp and pressed it on my hand so I could then lick and pass along stamp to my sister.

36) I’m one of two people I know who saw the looong and oh-so-confusing Renaldo and Clara (and the other person is the guy who went with me).

37) Zippy and I watched the Dylan flick, Hearts of Fire, which is one of the worst movies made. Ever.

38) However, trust me when I say Dylan’s pantry scene from the movie Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid in which “Alias” reads aloud the labels on canned vegetables is hysterical.

39) Early on in our relationship, Zippy said the soundtrack to Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid was his favorite Dylan album because it was mostly instrumentals (see #21).

40) I strongly disagree with Keith Richards’ statement about Dylan’s “Girl from the North Country” being better suited to a solo than the duet with Johnny Cash.

41) When I try to imitate Dylan I always end up sounding like Joan Baez imitating Dylan on her version of “Simple Twist of Fate” which means it’s really me doing Baez doing Dylan.

42) A long time ago I told a friend if Dylan ever did a commercial, I’d take all my Dylan albums into the street and destroy them but here I am post-Victoria’s Secret and Bob-knows-what-else, and my albums are intact.

43) I went to the record store the day Empire Burlesque was released to buy it and another customer commented on how refreshing it was to see someone so loyal to an artist, but in retrospect, I have to question that loyalty because the album has some definite clunkers.

44) I once called information to get Bob’s home phone number.

45) I never feel like I’m in the mood to listen to “The Time’s They Are A-Changin,’” but then I hear it and am blown away all over again.

46) Sometime in the last decade, Dylan was on the Grammy’s singing a song that everyone later ridiculed as being unintelligible but within a couple mumbles I identified it as “Masters of War.”

47) When I was a teen, Dylan was scheduled to be on Soundstage and I talked to my parents ahead of time about watching it when it came on late that night, but in a fit of absolute bullshit parenting, they didn’t let me.

48) My father-in-law named his dog “Dillon” after the Gunsmoke character but in my mind’s eye whenever I said his name, it was “Dylan.”

49) I was always of the opinion that music class ruined “Blowin’ in the Wind” for a lot of young people much the same way The Scarlet Letter was ruined by high school English classes until a friend told me “Blowin’ in the Wind” holds a special place in his heart due to learning all the words in Sunday School.

50) Way back when in Wisconsin, I listened to Dylan’s early song, “Highway 51” but, being the spatially-challenged person I am, didn’t make the connection with the Hwy 51 running past my hometown.

51) If not for Bob Dylan, I’m not sure I’d know Woody Guthrie’s work (or Arlo’s!), or Phil Ochs or Dave van Ronk.

52) I’m not usually a fan of “greatest hits” compilations but if not for Dylan’sGreatest Hits Vol 2, I wouldn’t know one of my all-time favorite Dylan songs “When I Paint My Masterpiece.”

53) It was hard times when I lived in a tiny North Hollywood apartment but I remember smiling in the dark as I listened to Bob’s laugh when he messed up the opening to “Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream.”

54) Wildebeest just stuck his head in the room to see what I’m working on and when I told him he said, “70? That’s a lot of memories. You really love Bob Dylan, I think Bob Dylan’s a goober.”

55) A friend and I went to the Dylan/Grateful Dead concert at Anaheim Stadium and I swear Jerry’s guitar solo on “All Along the Watchtower” was so incredible it flustered Bob into singing the same chorus twice (but I seem to be the only one who noticed).

56) I have another friend who won’t ever let me forget that on the day of a general admission Dylan concert at the Filmore in Denver, I “forced her out of the car on Colfax” because of road work and detours so she could get in line while I looked for a place to park, and then we ended up arriving at the line at the same time.

57) We were about halfway back on the floor during that show with the misfortune of standing behind a basketball team, but then “Cold Irons Bound” started and I danced and didn’t care about limited visibility.

58) When Wildebeest was a baby he’d calm when listening to Blood on the Tracks except for “Idiot Wind;” he really disliked that song.

59) Wildebeest and Zebu just told me something I can neither confirm nor deny: when they were little and would screw around at the dinner table, I’d get pissed off and send them downstairs while I cleaned up the kitchen, “Tombstone Blues” blasting (“I’m in the kitchen with the tombstone blues”).

60) All I can say in my defense is “It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry.”

61) Actress Jenna Elfman reportedly lost her virginity while listening to “Lay Lady Lay” but I can’t listen to Dylan while having sex because, for me, there’s no tuning him out; I can’t write while he’s playing, either.

62) Hard Rain is a phenomenal live album, and don’t even try talking to me about the distortion and poor sound quality.

63) If it weren’t for the Rolling Thunder Revue, I wouldn’t know about T-Bone Burnett and Mick Ronson and Ronee Blakley and Scarlet Rivera.

64) Come to think of it, I started reading Crawdaddy magazine in hopes of finding a mention of Dylan, and was introduced to all sorts of musicians along the way.

65) From the very start my attraction to Dylan had as much to do with his use of language as the music and while I never mastered the guitar or harmonica or singing, or anything even remotely musical, I consider him a huge influence.

66) I still haven’t landed in Publisher’s Marketplace but it’s cool Bob’s gotten deals for turning songs into picture books; however, it’ll be hard to take if he sells a middle-grade before me.

67) I can’t remember ever putting on a Bob Dylan record and deciding it wasn’t what I wanted to hear; no matter the mood, it’s always a good time for a little Dylan.

68) And with his catalog, a little Dylan can easily turn into a marathon listening session.

69) So many people were outraged when he went electric and, in their minds, turned his back on “the movement,” but Dylan’s Dylan no matter whether he’s singing about a miner or a clueless reporter or the exquisite pain of a breaking heart.

70) When I listen to Joan Baez sing about Dylan in “Diamonds and Rust,” I want to weep for her lost love but then “Winds of the Old Days” plays and I’m in awe of her graciousness:
“singer or savior, it was his to choose
which of us knows what was his to lose”

18 thoughts on “My Top 70 for Bob Dylan’s Birthday

  1. Thank you seventy times over for this mind-blowing list. Brought back all kinds of memories. I only saw Dylan live once (awful!), but I think he’s best on his albums anyway.

    • Thank YOU seventy times over for taking the time to read it. I’m glad it brought back some memories and I’m sorry your one concert experience was bad, but glad he redeems himself for you on the albums.

  2. WOW! to number 2!

    When I was trying to teach myself harmonica, I did the SAME thing! What I got out of it was a line to a song I wrote titled Mia Farrow:

    Sometimes I think
    In congested traffic
    With cellphones and harmonicas
    Life ain’t so tragic

    • Re: WOW! to number 2!

      Hey, that’s so cool! Wouldn’t that have been awesome to look over and see someone in the car next to you playing harmonica, too?

      LOVE your line! You were much more productive than me. 🙂

      • playing harmonica, too?

        I would have SO welcomed that, Tracy—they all had their ears glued to phones—while I desperately tried to cross-harp in the key of A.

        Yeah, I loved that line as it really meant a lot to me. And when another harmonica player heard that, he said he did that, too!

        So, let’s line up our cars and maybe we’ll get those others to put down their cellphone!

      • Re: playing harmonica, too?

        We can start a movement!

        When I was doing it, no one had cell phones. I don’t know what everyone else did to pass the time. Maybe pounded their steering wheels and swore loudly.

  3. This is an stupendous list. If anyone ever wants proof of your genius (though I’m sure there is mucho proof elsewhere) you can print this off and hand it to them, Tracy! Seriously, wow. I especially loved numbers 5, 16, 29, 45, 47, 51, and oh my God I want to read #33!!!!

    • Aw, you are much too kind, Carolyn. It makes me all kinds of happy, though, that you found some little gems that resonated with you. As for #33, that book will always hold a special place in my heart. Who knows, maybe according to our “No manuscript left behind” motto, it might someday see the light?

  4. Seventy great memories!

    About #18, I knew about EN’s fandom; I wonder whether that’s why Carrie Jones’s first novel, Tips on Having a Gay (Ex) Boyfriend, contains a character named Dylan and another named Bob–“an old person’s name”. (And no one in the book seems to notice the irony).

  5. Re #4: *snort* We’re far too civilized in Orange County, I guess. Wouldn’t want to interrupt Dylan’s poetry with our own ignoble bleatings…

    Seriously, though, I love sitting next to L.A. folks at concerts, for this very reason. Bah to that wretched “Orange Curtain”!

    • Actually, I’d understand if that was the attitude but it was a Dylan/Tom Petty concert, and no one there seemed to know Dylan or care about him. They didn’t get animated until some tired Heartbreakers song started. It was aggravating. 🙂

      (You do know one of my all-time favorite people in the whole entire world lives behind the Orange Curtain, right?)

    • Re: It takes a lot to laugh, it takes a Chumlee to cry

      That’s excellent. I’m headed out to Vegas now with an armful of albums…apparently Bob just wanders the strip, waiting to be recognized.

  6. Awesome, wonderful post. At first, I thought 70 things?! That’s a big list. But it is a delight to read. Great job, Tracy.

    I had a friend in high school with a similar devotion to Bob Dylan, although I don’t think he did half the cool things you did. I wonder if he’s still devoted.

    • I know. Seventy things IS crazy and I’m humbled you (and others) have taken the time to read through them. It was great fun to write and I’m happy you enjoyed the read, Dot.

      As for your high school friend, let’s just hope he hasn’t shifted the Bob devotion to, I don’t know, Jack Johnson or someone like that.

    • Apologies for the late reply, Kelly, but wanted you to know your comment made me laugh out loud. Maybe you could share your ten Dylan-related thoughts. Hmm?

Comments are closed.