Tuesday was Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. To mark the occasion folks everywhere from the web to newspapers shared what little tidbits they had. More surpassingly, Dylan himself turned the internet recently, refuting critics who accused him of succumbing to Chinese censorship. In the rare post Dylan closed with this little wink:
Everybody knows by now that there's a gazillion books on me either out or coming out in the near future. So I'm encouraging anybody who's ever met me, heard me or even seen me, to get in on the action and scribble their own book. You never know, somebody might have a great book in them.
Or who knows—maybe the old cranky wizard is serious? As I've written before, I think the fucker is capable of magic. Don't be surprised if he lives to be two-hundred.
And of all the writers who took to their platforms and sermonized on Dylan's 70th, two pieces from the New York Times stood out. Indeed, it's amazing that after so much has been written, dissected, re-assembled and mythologized about the man, the well has yet to run dry. (Really, I'm just hoping for "Chronicles Vol. 2.")
In an interview from 1966 rediscovered by then Times pop and folk critic Robert Shelton, Dylan describes a smack addiction that seems gnarlier than anything I'd heard before.
Mr. Dylan is heard saying: “I kicked a heroin habit in New York City. I got very, very strung out for a while. I mean really, very strung out. And I kicked the habit. I had a habit, about a $25-a-day habit, and I kicked it. Yeah, I kicked it then.”
This means that during the creation of two of his very best records, Another Side Of Bob Dylan and Bringing It All Back Home, there's a good chance Dylan was high as a kite. Which reminds me of another tale of Dylan and drugs...
It's was mid day in Manhattan and Dylan slid his way into some swanky, aristocratic, wooden old-New York restaurant—the kind of place where you had to have a suit and where rich women and real heavies got their red meat and daytime buzz. Dylan supposedly sits at the piano, dumps out a pile of cocaine, and begins playing away. Eventually the maître d asks what he's doing?
From the behind the pile of coke and the piano Dylan looks up at the maître d with a scowl. His eyes clinched tight in absolute seriousness Dylan drawls: "do you know who I am?
Who knows if it's true, and I can't remember where it came from. But damn, I sure like it.
What I do know is that the other bits from the BBC interview are genuine, uniquely raw and darkly humorous. "I'm not the kind of cat that's going to cut off an ear if I can't do something," Dylan says. "I'm the kind of cat that would just commit suicide."
The second piece in Tuesday's Times celebrated in a more scholarly way. Using the birthday boy as a jump off, David Hajdu's op-ed piece suggests that the kind of music one listens to at the age of 14 becomes a big part of what makes ya'.
“Fourteen is a sort of magic age for the development of musical tastes,” says Daniel J. Levitin, a professor of psychology and the director of the Laboratory for Music Perception, Cognition and Expertise at McGill University. “Pubertal growth hormones make everything we’re experiencing, including music, seem very important. We’re just reaching a point in our cognitive development when we’re developing our own tastes. And musical tastes become a badge of identity.”
Biography seems to bear this out. When Robert Zimmerman (the future Bob Dylan) turned 14 as a freshman at Hibbing High School in Minnesota, Elvis Presley was releasing his early records, including “Mystery Train,” and Mr. Dylan discovered a way to channel his gestating creativity and ambition. “When I first heard Elvis’s voice I just knew that I wasn’t going to work for anybody, and nobody was going to be my boss,” Mr. Dylan once said. “Hearing him for the first time was like busting out of jail.”
That's a powerful fucking feeling. And so I began to think about my own musical tastes at 14. I had gotten my first guitar the year earlier, and spent my sumers hanging around a punk tea house called Icky's in Eugene, watching punk bands more about ideas than sound, but a few I still remember: Artless Motives, The Readymen, The Soils, The Rickets... probably the most cherished records I own.
What about you? What do you think about this year 14 business?