When Bill Monroe celebrated 50 years on the Grand Old Opry, he said he was mainly proud that he had never missed a show and had only been late twice.
That’s the way I think of Bob Dylan at 70 ? not as a genius poet songwriter but as a working musician who always makes the gig. There are no stories of Dylan arriving late or not bothering to show up or fulfill a contract. Even that time he almost died and had to cancel a tour because he was in a hospital fighting for his life, he paid his band for the whole tour anyway. It wasn’t their fault they couldn’t play the shows. And later he more than made it up to fans and promoters.
When he stands there unmoving at the end of his concerts, receiving applause as if people were pelting him with it, no matter what kind of clothes he may be wearing he looks like a blue collar plant worker at the end of a long shift, waiting for the gate to open so he can go home.
He’s done his job, and he didn’t do it so you could praise him for it. He did it because it needed doing, he did with some dignity and now it’s time to leave.
Here’s a prediction: when Bob Dylan finally hangs it up and goes home for good, he’ll do it with class, the way Cal Ripken ended The Streak of consecutive games played. There’ll be no “farewell” tour, and certainly no endless reunion/comeback tours. One night he’ll simply take himself out of the lineup, and they’ll just stop listing new dates on his website. Most of us won’t know anything important even happened.
I also respect the guy as a journeyman piano player. On Modern Times he never solos, and he’s down in the mix, but what he’s laying down is really cool. I try to play like him when I’m backing a singer.
My favorite Dylan story is the one Little Richard tells. Dylan probably hates the fact that it ever got told at all. When the Architect and Originator was almost killed in a car wreck, he lay in a coma for weeks. When he finally regained consciousness, he opened his eyes to find someone sitting by his bed. The stranger squeezed his hand and left the room. When Richard asked the nurse who the visitor was, he says she told him, “Honey, that’s Bob Dylan. He’s been here almost every day since you were brought in.”
Who knows if the story is true, half-true, or another of Little Richard’s wonderful inventions?
I believe it, though, because it fits with everything any of us has ever heard about Dylan. Mythical, legendary, larger than life, but human and vulnerable at the same time, as though he had the heart of a child in a grown man’s body. That he would come almost every day, stay until he knew Richard was going to make it, then leave without a word and not come back ? and never mention it to anyone ? what could be more Dylanesque?
Happy birthday, Mr. Bob. May someone always be there for you, the way you’ve been there.
This article originally appeared on Oregon Music News.