This past May 24th it was Bob Dylan's 70th birthday, and in commemoration of this event Rolling Stone Magazine published a special edition where they wrote about the '70 Greatest Dylan Songs'. Continuing a great tradition that Rolling Stone has been employing for a few years now, they had famous musicians write some of the passages. The following is what Dylan's peers had to say about this great evolutionary figure, who once wrote the words "a man not busy being born is busy dying". In the Martin Scorsese documentary about Dylan called No Direction Home, Dylan talks about seeing the art of Pablo Picasso in his early twenties and saying to himself, "I wanna be like that, always changing, always moving, always creating something new". Dylan has lived up to this self-promise. But not only is a Dylan a great iconic shape shifter, he's one of preeminent songwriters of all time too, and when you put those two things together, well- you get the unique tour on the planet that has been Dylan's life. And he's not done yet either, he's proving (along with Neil Young) that you can make intelligent, original, sophisticated, relevant music until late in life. Here's some excerpts from a (r)evolutionary life, sprinkled with a little music:
Bono on the song Like a Rolling Stone:
"It's a black eye of a pop song. The verbal pugilism on display here cracks open songwriting for a generation and leaves the listener on the canvas. "Like a Rolling Stone" is the birth of an iconoclast that will give the rock era its greatest voice and vandal...The tumble of words, images, ire and spleen on "Rolling Stone" shapeshifts easily into music forms 10 or 20 years away, like punk, grunge or hip hop...When the desire to communicate is met with the equal and opposite urge not to compromise in order to communicate- when those two things are in perfect balance- is when everything happens with rock & roll. And that's what Dylan achieved in "Rolling Stone"."
David Crosby on Mr. Tamourine Man:
"As far as I can tell, the Byrds recording of [Dylan's] Mr. Tambourine Man was the first time anyone put really good poetry on the radio...I had seen Bob back at Gerde's Folk City in New York years earlier. Everyone was talking about him. I saw him play and thought, "Fuck, I can sing better than that. Why are they making all the fuss about him". Then I really started listening. And I almost quit, right there".
Mick Jagger on Desolation Row:
"Someone said that "Desolation Row" is Dylan's version of [T.S. Eliot's] "The Waste Land". I'm not sure if that's true, but it's a wonderful collection of imagery- a fantasy Bowery- that really gets your imagination going".
Sheryl Crow on Mississippi:
"There's no fat in the song- every line has a purpose. He said he liked every line of his songs to have the possibility of being the first line of a new song. That's certainly the case with "Mississippi"...It's Dylan writing like a short story writer, like Steinbeck or Mark Twain- creating a story, but making these classical, sweeping statements. "Mississippi" is our introduction to Dylan as somebody facing mortality with an upbeat attitude. Bob Dylan may be turning 70, but he never gets older to me. That's what mythological characters are all about".
Lenny Kravitz on Lay Lady Lay:
"It's a very black song- very soulful and sensual. "Lay across my big brass bed" is a lyric you would expect to hear from Issac Hayes. The beautiful thing about Dylan is that he is such a chameleon. He's got so many characters inside of him, like a painter with limitless amounts of color. I love the vocal. I love the descending chord progression. I love the drum fills. It's a simple, beautiful love song, and love the whole feel of it".
Keith Richards on Girl From the North Country:
"Before he went electric and submitted himself to that relentless discipline of a rhythm section, there was a beautiful flow in Bob's songs that you can only get with just a voice and a guitar. He can float across the bar here and there. He's not restricted by anything; it's a beautiful form of expression. You let certain notes hang longer, and it doesn't matter because it all goes with the song".
Tom Morello on With God on Our Side:
"I never knew how politically radical Dylan was until I got The Times They Are A-Changin. He was 22, but he sounds like 80, like the wizened guy who's had a long life as a vigilante, croaking out songs of hard truth. But "With God our Side" is not some historical relic. It's a living expose of war crimes, past, present and future".
Sinead O'Connor on Gotta Serve Somebody:
"The lyrics are brilliant- what he's saying is that whatever you're going to do with your life, you're fucked if you don't stand for something. I quite like that, as a lesson from a master teacher on how to be an artist and also, I suppose, on how to live your life. What he's saying is, "Don't just get into your bed and curl up under the covers. You have to get the fuck up"."
Chris Martin on Jokerman:
"I'd thought I was a massive Dylan fan, but "Jokerman" was a shock: "How can this guy have a song that comes from this other world, and it's still so brilliant"...I don't think about who the Jokerman is- whether it's God, Satan, or Dylan himself. The beauty of Bob Dylan is in the mystery"
Jim James [of My Morning Jacket] on You're Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go:
"He's describing everything so viscerally. I can almost smell the trees and different people I've known over the years, the flowers, the sunlight- the way things look when you're falling in love and how that turns in on itself when you have to leave or move on or life changes you or changes the other person. He's reflecting on it in such a beautiful way, saying that person will always be a part of him. He'll see her everywhere"