Bob Dylan at 70: Still alive

Happy birthday, Bob Dylan.

He merits the congratulations, of course, but not the sort we extend to famous people whom we celebrate for simply making it through another year. As anyone who’s seen him perform live over the past few years knows, Dylan can still put on fierce, machine-gun-blasting, nostalgia-free concerts. And he’s still capable of releasing new albums containing cocky, disconcerting, headlong music.

Dylan retains the sort of fundamental mystery that  a younger entertainer such as Lady Gaga has to work very hard and nobly to try and equal. As the rock critic Ellen Willis put it, “His masks [are] hidden by other masks.” To take just one slight, recent example: When I reviewed his 2009 holiday album Christmas In The Heart, I described his rendition of “I’ll Be Home For Christmas” as “slow, deliberate — more like a threat than a promise.”

One great thing about advancing age for Dylan is that he’s always putting more distance between himself and the hoary old labels, the ones he ridicules almost every night in the introduction to his “Never-Ending Tour”: “The poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll! The voice of the promise of the ’60s counterculture! The guy who forced folk into bed with rock! Who donned makeup in the ’70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse! Who emerged to find Jesus! Who was written off as a has-been by the end of the ’80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late ’90s! Ladies and gentlemen — Columbia recording artist Bob Dylan!”

Dylan is all of that and none of it. He is a symbol of “authenticity” and the most calculated, enjoyably corny showboater. He is cool and he is square.

I don’t have a favorite among Dylan’s performances. Or rather, I have too many to settle on just one. I could change my mind tomorrow, but today, I am extremely fond of his great, howling-into-the-storm version of “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine),” the lead-off track from his tumultuous 1974 live album with The Band, Before The Flood.

You have your own list of favorites, I’m sure. Share them below, if you like. Happy birthday, Bobby.

Twitter: @kentucker

Comments (71 total) Add your comment
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  • Michael Godfrey

    He was fantastic three weeks ago in Auckland New Zealand … though once I have seen him better. Recorded moments? For me the blazing fury of Hard Rain. But whatever …

  • Matt in Vilnius, LT

    Happy Birthday Bobby, you spring chicken. Blood on the Tracks for me this mornin.
    Saw him like an ancient mirage in the National Palace of Culture in Sofia, Bulgaria, last year, on the Never Ending Tour, and he almost blew the mind outta my skull.

  • Topher

    Seeing Dylan’s first show after 9/11 will always be burned into my memory. Favorite recorded songs are “Positively 4th Street” “Man In Me” and “One More Cup of Coffee”

    The best live performance of any song ever was “My Back Pages” at the Dylan 30th Anniversary Concert.

    Dylan, McGuinn, Petty, Young, Clapton and Harrison playing together on the same stage. Beat that!

    Happy Birthday Bob!

    • Jeff R

      I concur with My Back Pages. I was there at MSG in October 1992 and that was a magical moment…..

      • rick

        I hope you weren’t among the dopes who booed sinead


    “Everything is Broken” is a long-time favorite.

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  • valerie jordan

    Happy Birthday Bob have a good 1

  • Jennie Cahill

    Happy Birthday Mr Dylan – thanks again for the awesome memories from Wollongong 2011

  • Terry M

    His best ? The iconic ” Hey Mr Tambourine Man” – – just listen to the words.

  • dylan fan

    Lots of favorites but an unexpected one that really grew on me…

    Bob Dylan’s 115th Dream… I smile every single time I hear the ending of this song…

  • Lily

    You mentioned “fundamental mystery” in your article. This is true. I heard him 45 years ago and he was so up on dope it was a mystery what the hell he was saying. Truly a gimmic that “caught” because he can not sing.

    • Rich

      When you can write like Dylan, you don’t need to sing.

    • Joey Joe Joe

      @Rich: Agreed. Dylan has always been more about the amazing writing than the singing (see how many of his songs have been huge hits for others), but the singing is not without its purpose. However, if you insist on a more traditional voice, he has pulled that off too. Listen to Nashville Skyline for examples.

      • WI

        I really hate the agrument that he can’t sing. He can – it is just not some people’s cup of tea. There are many artists with technically great voices and you know what? They are dull. No life, no inflection, no emotion. They way Dylan sings his songs – wow, can’t be matched imo.

    • John Jacobs

      45 years ago he was touring the South and West with the Rolling Thunder Revue. There are many,many recordings of those shows. In none that I have heard are the lyrics slurred or unintelligible. Nor do any of the films or written accounts of those shows agree with you.

  • jim

    Blind Willie McTell, Tangled Up in Blue, Visions of Johanna, the live version of Isis, Mississippi, the list could go on forever. Happy birthday, Bob!!!!

  • Barry

    Happy Birthday Bob. May you stay forever young!

    • WI

      Well said Barry!

      Happy Birthday Mr Zimmerman!

      • Rohit

        My daughter Carlie turns 13 this year. She cotnmemed this morning (as I was making a fuss about an upcoming four year old’s birthday) that I was putting forth more effort for this four year old than I do for her birthday. In my defense, her birthday is 12/28, and, frankly, who has time to bake a cake the week between Christmas and New Years? Much less build a dream house? Where was I going with this? Oh, yeah, you’re a much better mother than I am.[]

  • daviddavid

    Gaga is fun; but, will only be a memory a year from now. Forever Yong indeed … a true, American classic. Great write-up Ken.
    My fave has got to be “Knocking On Heaven’s Door” … aren’t we all?
    A true classic!

  • David King

    I agree with daviddavid.
    Bob became my hero partly as a result of the way he opened the eyes of a generation of young people to the possibility of poetry being something they could mix with.

  • John Edmiston

    Happy Birthday Bob. It’s always great to see you here in Texas. A favorite: waking up in the morning with frogs inside my sox … and always, Like a Rolling Stone and Desolation Row on Highway 61. Stay forever young, Bob.

  • roberto

    the sun’s not yellow….it’s CHICKEN!!!!Tombstone Blues forever.

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