Bob Dylan: A genius and probably some other things
I don't know why, but I'm getting so I know a scary amount of information about Bob Dylan.
Well, OK, I do know why. I just read another book about him a little gem I found at the outlet mall in Lincoln City for $7.99 called The Ballad of Bob Dylan: A Portrait by Daniel Mark Epstein and it contained a number of insights, which I will be happy to share with you.
Bear in mind, though, that over the years I've read pretty much every Bob Dylan book I've come across. Among them are ones penned by Anthony Scaduto, Howard Sounes, Robert Shelton, Greil Marcus (more than one), Clinton Heylin, Jonathan Cott, Sean Wilentz and more, including one by the man himself, his own Chronicles: Volume One, a 2004 autobiography that was a pretty good read.
Almost every one of these books has had something new to offer. For example, one of the more recent ones disclosed that Mr. Dylan had a previously unknown second marriage to a former backup singer, Carol Dennis, and that they had a daughter together.
OK, first a disclaimer. Yes, I am a hopeless Bob Dylan fan of his songwriting AND his performing. I am not one of those who take the easy way out by saying he writes a great song but can't sing to save his butt. I think he could sing just fine, thanks, before his voice took on the croak of a bullfrog.
I have been to eight Bob Dylan concerts over the years, but I don't take notes on what he sang (like some I could mention), and I don't spend hours poring over set lists trying to find deeper meaning in that.
In fact, I never even thought there was anything all that mystical in the words to his songs. He's a world-class poet and a world-class songwriter. And a good share of his music I like primarily because it sounds good. Good tune. Dramatic chord changes. Clever lyrics. And that's as true today as it was in 1963.
It's also true that he's something of an oddball. He mumbles, he talks in circles, and even though is a poetic and musical genius, socially well, not so much. As he once hinted (about someone else), in many situations he really doesn't know how to act.
He also has had to fight that voice of a generation label the rest of us tried to put on him, and being as famous as he is has got to cause problems. Just the stupid questions he's been asked over the years are ample reason to forgive him some of his shortcomings.
But I promised to share some of the things I've learned recently about the man formerly known as Robert Zimmerman.
He's short. OK, not freakishly short, but a mere 5-7. Standing next to Paul Simon, though (as he was in 1999, when the two shared a bill at the Rose Garden), he's downright average. For the record, Simon is a firepluggish 5-3.
He's lefthanded. Yes, I know he plays guitar righthanded, which kind of blows my mind imagining myself trying to learn to use my other hand that way. But he writes and signs things with his left hand. Learning that from Epstein's book was about as revelatory as hearing that Dylan is Vulcan or a Rotarian.
There really never was a motorcycle accident at least not in the way we all imagined it. The Google version of it goes like this: On July 29, 1966, Dylan crashed his 500cc Triumph Tiger 100 motorcycle on a road near his home in Woodstock, N.Y., and was thrown to the ground. Though the extent of his injuries was never fully disclosed, Dylan said that he broke several vertebrae in his neck. Mr. Epstein says what really happened was Bob was pushing the Triumph along the road near his Woodstock home and the bike fell on him. That was the accident, he said.
n He likes to perform at his grandkids' schools. But it's not always mutual. Some kids reported that a weird man came to school and played scary songs. Anyone who's noticed that Bob is gradually becoming a cross between Salvador Dali and that spooky white Guy Fawkes mask knows what I mean.
He owns weird things. Because he always liked boxing, he owns a gym near his Malibu home where boxers go to train and hang out. He also owns a coffee shop in the area, so I guess he likes coffee, too.
I've never been one of those people who wishes they could spend some time talking to Bob Dylan. I would have to be paid a lot of money to even approach him.
A co-worker of mine spotted him at the airport years ago and did not hesitate to greet him.
Mr. Dylan, I really enjoy your music, she said.
Oh, yeah? he countered. Name three of my songs.
She got so flustered she couldn't think of any and he left her there flabbergasted and embarrassed.
I'm telling you, I'm pretty sure he's a genius.
I'm also pretty sure he's a knucklehead.
Former managing editor of several community newspapers, including the Woodburn Independent, Lake Oswego Review and the Times papers, Kelly is chief of the central design desk for Community Newspapers and the Portland Tribune, and he contributes a regular column.