Dylan hits 80. It’s not dark yet… Happy birthday Bob (part 4) from Mike

Dylan’s birthday: Dylan hits 80. It’s not dark yet…

By Mike Johnson (Kiwipoet)

He has always been there. Telling me things. Explaining things. Probing the mysteries of heart and soul. Making me uncomfortable with that voice, that wah-wah voice.

When I was young, impressionable and idealistic, in the early sixties, he was there, sounding the battle charge although he said he wasn’t. His rhythms were in our heads as we marched against the Vietnam War. We all gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing. The times would always be a-changing, and in our direction. He  was, and still is, the spokesman of his generation, although he said he wasn’t. He was the king of protest, and the masters of war were breathing down our necks. And that voice, thin and plaintive. Insistent.

A little bit older, when the worlds of certainty dissolved into an intoxicated haze, he was there again, guiding us through the subterranean world of his circus, the queasy, unsteady world of surrealist nightmares and attendant craziness. I can’t tell the number of times I saw the ghost of ‘lectricity howling in the bones of her face, or felt trapped inside of the frozen traffic. It didn’t matter where you lived, everywhere was Desolation Row.

When the reckoning came and everything got stripped back, he was there again with a sloppy grin saying howdy and singing country songs, sounding a bit like Johnny Cry Ray. He was there, on the other side of the Baroque. For a moment we thought  he’d thrown his suitcase out the window. A  decade had slipped by.

A little further down the track, in the mid seventies, when things got emotionally tangled and we had relationships going to pack, and children, and histories, he was there again with his pain and his resilience. Through his pain and desire we came to know our own.

And when that all came crashing down and we had to face issues of faith and belief, he was there again, like a prophet from the old testament, reminding us that we had to serve somebody, that the world was as full of hypocrisy and madness as it had always been, but there was hope, maybe even salvation, and that being in your forties wasn’t the end of the world. We didn’t have to subscribe to his religious beliefs to know that the jig was up and it was time to feed the soul. Besides, another decade had gone by.

When our strongly held beliefs began to fade into the grey years he was there again, reminding us of our despair. A place where we could cope with the world most of the time, and smile in the face of mankind, but we knew the shooting star of faith had passed and that love could always be a lie. We hardly noticed that another decade had gone by.

Then he wasn’t there. For six years in the nineties he had only his old songs to sing us. We all thought the man in the moon had finally gone home. That there would be no more guiding voice. Then he was back, with a vengeance, but there was little comfort to be found in this latest confrontation with mortality. The old resilience was there but sorely tested. Time leaves us all standing in the doorway, crying. We can envy youth as we stroll through the lonely graveyards of our minds, but we can’t get any younger. We were past the consolations of religion by then, and that voice left us nothing to hang onto but a shadow.

But we did have the past, the glorious past of music, magic and myth. We relearned how to love and steal, how to transform ourselves into ancient warriors of the spirit. Sword in hand, we could walk through the cities of the plague untouched. And always the hour of our departure grew nearer. Our Virgil, our guide, our voice, then took us through tempests and killing floors where our sense of identity and being became split and entangled, but always returned to the altar of love. And  another decade or two slipped by between his back pages.

Throughout my life the voice of Bob Dylan has never been far away. Dylan has been my spirit guide, my uncanny echo, growing old with me, showing the way and giving voice to everything that would otherwise remain voiceless. He opened his voice to let the world come through.

And now he is eighty, maybe three miles north of Purgatory and one step from the great beyond. And I’m not too far behind. What’s a few years here or there? There’s no getting off the hell-bound train. It may not be dark yet, and it will certainly get there. But please, not just yet. And maybe you could keep writing those songs as the darkness gathers. The world’s in need of them. As ever.

Let there be more birthdays. More songs. After all, it’s not over until that darkness finally falls, and that open door closes behind you.

That Dylan remained vital, before covid ended the Never Ending Tour, is evident in this wonderful performance of ‘It’s Not Dark Yet’ from 2019. On the 24th of May I will play this song. Maybe twice.

Kia Ora


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *