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Diary of a Dylanhead
On April 15, 2011, in the middle of the Timbre Rock & Roots Festival in Singapore, the big screens went off, photo-journalists were asked to vacate the area next to the stage, the audience told to refrain from taking pictures and the screen at the back covered to blank out all branding. Commerce was out and Bob Dylan took stage. I only managed to sneak a few photos of him, but I didn't really mind, because finally I was in the presence of the God of my imagination.
It had taken me 27 years to see Him after I first heard Blowin' in the wind when I was just seven. At that point, I liked the style, the croaky voice and the simple poetry of the words. Around then I also heard The times they are achangin', his rousing comment on the changing social order, where he prophesied that the "loser now may later be win" and that those who did not keep pace with the change would "sink like a stone". It took me a few years to understand the world around me and the politics that influenced wars and human rights. Once I had the context, I began to truly understand the greatness of Dylan. And while exploring him, I realised I was exploring life and myself and the way I looked at reality.
At the height of the Cold War he sang, "I've learnt to hate Russians all through my whole life/ if another war comes it's them we must fight/ to hate them and fear them to run and to hide/ and accept it all bravely with God on my side," addressing the hypocrisy of the religious and the God-fearing. In A hard rains a-gonna fall - a song on the disastrous effects of chemical warfare - he evoked a series of powerful and disturbing images. "I've stepped in the middle of seven sad forests/ I've been out in the front of a dozen dead oceans/ I've been ten thousand miles in the mouth of a graveyard. " Another of my favourites is Like a rolling stone, a song about social mobility, money, conceit, and failure. "Once upon a time/ you dressed so fine/ you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn't you?. . . . Now you don't talk so loud/ now you don't seem so proud/ about having to be scrounging for your next meal."
If he was great on politics, he was equally insightful on love. Love was about acceptance, not about future promises and flowers. "People carry roses/ and make promises by the hours/ my love she laughs like the flowers/ Valentines can't buy her," he sang in Love minus zero/No limit. But love was also about individual freedom and zero expectation. He underlined these thoughts in It ain't me babe: "You say you're looking for someone who will promise never to part/ someone to close his eyes for you/ someone to close his heart for you/ someone who will die for you an' more/ but it ain't me babe."
My collection of Dylan biographies, vinyls, CDs and DVDs has grown steadily over the years. The man himself may be elusive but his powerful lyrics compel one to go back to them again and again to fully grasp the simplicity and unpredictability of his message. What you take away depends entirely on who you are and who he is and how you connect. In one of his interviews he said that none of his writings were addressed to anyone. "If you don't get it, you don't really have to think about it because it's not addressed to you! All I can do is be me, whoever that is." At 70, he's still finding out.
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