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Bob Dylan Turns 70 

An L.A. Weekly birthday tribute

Thursday, May 12 2011

I'm 56 years old. Old enough to remember one president's assassination and another's resignation, black people getting beaten for insisting on the right to vote and later a black man being elected president, people walking on the moon, and more wars than I care to think about. A constant throughout my last 46 years has been Bob Dylan.

When I was a kid, my father would drive me and my siblings on Saturdays from Manhattan to Roosevelt Raceway on Long Island. We'd always stop at the same diner for a hamburger and iced tea. Each booth had its own jukebox. I'd flip through the rows of the juke and for a nickel I'd get the Four Seasons, "Little" Stevie Wonder, Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs and, of course, the Beatles.

As one of those kids in 1964 whose life trajectory had been irrevocably rerouted by the Fabs on The Ed Sullivan Show, I devoured every pop music magazine I could get. The hippest was Hit Parader, which, in addition to covering the British Invasion, Motown and surf music, covered the world of folk — including a rebellious protest singer named Dylan.

click to flip through (3) PHOTO BY LESTER COHEN/GETTY IMAGES - Just like Al Jolson's blues: Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammy Awards
  • Just like Al Jolson's blues: Bob Dylan at the 2011 Grammy Awards

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For my 10th birthday in '65, my folks got me a shiny new nylon-string acoustic guitar. Ed Sullivan, here I come! I learned basic chords and, with the help of a song folio of Bringing It All Back Home, I began applying my rudimentary chord knowledge to its contents. The only problem was I'd never actually heard the album, so I made up the melodies. But the words opened up a fantastic new world. "He said his name was Columbus/I just said good luck" was the funniest thing this 10-year-old had ever heard, a reminder of the sinking feeling that something was wrong in post-Camelot America and that it could be addressed with all the sneering impudence of youth.

I'd soon memorize every lyric on that album, including "Subterranean Homesick Blues," and after saving up my allowance (50 cents a week), I dropped a whopping $3.44 for a mono Bringing It All Back Home at Korvette's. Interestingly, my ersatz melodies weren't too different from the real ones.

After another Saturday jaunt that July, we stopped at the diner; as always, I checked out the juke. Hey, what's this? "Like a Rolling Stone" by Bob Dylan. The nickel rolled into the slot and like millions of other kids, my life was never the same after hearing that first snare-drum gunshot that kicks off the party.

How does it feel? I can tell you this: Hearing "Like a Rolling Stone" for the first time is a feeling one doesn't experience often. It sounded like freedom.

Now a rabid Dylan fan, I found a paperback devoted to my guy called Folk-Rock: The Bob Dylan Story, by Sy and Barbara Ribakove ("With 16 pages of exciting photographs"). I read the book over and over again with a flashlight under the covers when I was supposed to be asleep. In it Dylan claimed he'd run away from home 15 times, and it was obvious to me that if I was to wander in his boot heels, I'd need to do the same. I spent five hours roaming around Greenwich Village in August 1967, only to be talked home by a kindly commune leader. The farewell note to my parents I'd left on my bed was not well received when I returned. I found out soon after that Dylan had in fact never run away and had embellished the accounts of his youth. I can personally attest that young people are impressionable. Thanks a lot, Bob!

Forty-four years have flowed under the proverbial bridge since then and he's still delivering the goods. Time Out of Mind, "Love and Theft," Modern Times and the appropriately titled Together Through Life are among the finest albums of the last decade-plus by anyone.

To celebrate Bob's 70th birthday, which is May 24, we've asked a gang of his fellow musicians, friends and fans to tell us stories and share their thoughts about him. Given that we're L.A. Weekly, we've encouraged tales of the Left Coast — after all, Malibu has been where our neighbor Bob Dylan has been getting his jury-duty notices for over three decades.

On behalf of everyone whose lives were enriched by your words, your music, your films, your art, your humanity: happy birthday, Bob. And I forgive you for getting me in hot water with the folks back in '67.

Sat., Dec. 18, 1965

Pasadena Civic Auditorium

"Joe, Evelyn and I went to see Bob Dylan tonight. He was TOO MUCH. He came out dressed in a brown and black houndstooth suit, all by himself. With just his guitar and harmonica, which was strapped around his neck. His skin looked like the color of sour milk and I have never seen anyone so skinny before. Evelyn was really digging it and I was glad. He ended the first part of the show with a song called 'Desolation Row.' It was really beautiful. I haven't any idea what it's about. His stuff is real hard to pin down.

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