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Bob Almighty

Who knew a career in music could last so long? Now approaching 75, Bob Dylan is still creating profound and moving work

The first time I came to London on my own, I came to see Bob Dylan. He was playing at the Hammersmith Apollo. I had tickets for three of the shows. I remember freezing in the queues outside. I remember the stampede to get to the front when the bastards finally opened the door. And I remember the sheer visceral excitement—awe, relief, disbelief, euphoria—of the moment when he appeared on stage from out of the darkness. The strange affirmation of being in the same physical space as him. The gratitude that I wasn’t too late to witness him live. Sure, I had not had the chance to see him in the 1960s, but at least I had the chance to see him at all.

Back then—in 1990—Dylan was already 28 years into his career and nobody had any idea that he had more than another quarter of a century of great works and live concerts ahead of him. Indeed, as it has turned out, I was seeing him for the first time at roughly the halfway point of his career.

Dylan turns 75 on 24th May. For millions of devotees like myself—many of whom consider him the world’s greatest living artist—it is a moment of celebration tinged with apprehension. Joan Baez, his most significant early anointer-disciple (Joan the Baptist), best expresses what might be described as “the Dylan feeling” in the excellent Martin Scorsese 2005 documentary when she says: “There are no veils, curtains, doors, walls, anything, between what pours out of Bob’s hand on to the page and what is somehow available to the core of people who are believers in him. Some people would say, ‘not interested,’ but if you are interested, he goes way, way deep.” I love this for lots of reasons but most of all because it captures not only the religious devotion that many who love him feel, but also the bemused indifference of the sane and secular who do not.

Of course, the first order of business when writing about Dylan is to urge readers to ignore writers who write about him. We are like Jehovah’s Witnesses, forever tramping door to door with our clumsy bonhomie and earnest smudgy leaflets; in all honesty, you would be much better offseeking out the resonant majesty of the actual work. Indeed, you’ll be relieved—and possibly endeared—to hear that Dylan himself considers his disciples to be deranged. “Why is it when people talk about me they have to go crazy?” Dylan asked in a recent interview for Rolling Stone. “What the fuck is the matter with them?”

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About Prospect Magazine

In Prospect’s May issue: Simon Taylor and Bronwen Maddox on why Hinkley Point C is an expensive gamble that might not pay off. Philip Collins examines Iain Duncan Smith’s tenure as Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, and Lionel Shriver reveals why she stopped fighting being female. Alan Rusbridger responds to last month’s piece on the Guardian by Stephen Glover. Also in this issue: Nicholas Soames says there’s no such thing as "Project Fear” and Howard Davies reviews Melvyn King’s new book and suggests that we are vulnerable to another financial crisis. Plus Ruth Dudley Edwards examines the fading myths of the Easter Rising and Owen Hatherley suggests it’s time to look for a Plan B to solve London’s housing issues.