Pete's Blog

Bob Dylan

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My friend Steve Simels has a weekly group time-waster at powerpop.blogspot.com (a site well worth anyone's time if they're into '60s rock) where readers answer a my-favorite-this-or-that question. This week the topic is "Post-Elvis song that changed your life." Here is what I wrote - a bit grim, not terribly parent-friendly, but, hey. ********** So far nobody's mentioned the king of all life-changers: Bob Dylan. There are a lot of his tunes that changed my life at different times and for different reasons. One story will suffice. It was the fall of 1966, my first day back at boarding school for my second year, in my new room. My parents had just driven back to our home 1,000 miles away. I had been dreading this moment all summer, because the previous year had been the year that will always remain the worst of my life, the year I met the Suicide Salesman who lived in my brain, the year I learned that every ideal my parents had was wrong, that the world was not the way they told me it was, that I was on my own in it and everyone I would meet from now on wanted me out of the way. The room I was expected to live through another dark New Hampshire winter in was four feet wide and ten feet long. Most of it was taken up by a bed and a desk. It was separated from the room next door by a thin partition that stopped a foot below the ceiling. Through this partition, as I put away my clothes, I heard a needle drop on a record player, a harmonica intro, then, "Ain't it just like the night to play tricks when you're trying to be so quiet?" And I have never been the same. I felt like the Count of Monte Cristo, when he first hears tapping on the stone walls of his cell. This sound was going to keep me alive. It wasn't just that the writer was able to put my loneliness, depression, and fear into words and music. It was that under the loneliness, depression, and fear there was a toughness that could keep you alive wherever you found yourself, a toughness he knew I possessed, and that he was making me realize at that moment that I possessed, which had kept me alive so far even though I hadn't known about it until now. I am alive today because of "Visions of Johanna." I went looking for Mona Lisa with the Highway Blues, for the all-night girls who whisper of escapades out on the D train, for Louise and her handful of rain, and I found them, just as he said I would. And I wrote the journey down and sang it, because he had given me permission. It came out in my own voice, the way his came out in his, and I've been following that voice ever since, the voice he told me I have. As he wrote in a song from years later that I still sing from time to time, "I'm still carrying the gift you gave./It's a part of me now it's been cherished and saved./I'll take it with me into the grave/And into eternity."

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