The Disgruntled Dylanologist

All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie.

“Shelter from the Storm”: Bob Dylan comes in from the rain; finds his direction home


‘Twas in another lifetime, one of toil and blood

When blackness was a virtue and the road was full of mud

I came in from the wilderness, a creature void of form.

“Come in,” she said,

“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Every fall, Beloit College releases its ‘Mindset List.’ Comprised of 75 cultural landmarks, the list offers a revealing glimpse into how the roughly 300 freshmen of this small, liberal arts college view the world.

Admittedly, even for those of us born after 1991 (the year Beloit’s entering freshmen were born) it can at times be difficult to remember a world without the Internet; a world when wars weren’t fought on 52” flat screens in our living room; a world where Britney Spears wasn’t always a perennial staple of classic rock radio. But a world without Bob Dylan?

Welcome to the world as seen through the eyes of the Class of 2013.

Technically, Kristie Buble, the 24-year-old New Jersey police officer who failed to recognize the legendary musician last week should have been able to ID the iconoclastic singer. After all, Officer Buble was born in 1985, a good six years before Beloit’s incoming freshman class.

And while Empire Burlesque, also released in 1985, is hardly one of Bob’s most memorable offerings, his last two recordings—2006’s Modern Times and this year’s Together Through Life—both have reached #1 on the Billboard charts. Not to mention Bob has graced the cover of Rolling Stone—a magazine Buble has likely perused on more than a few stakeouts—three times in as many years.

In light of the fact that Dylan was found ambling aimlessly in the rain, disheveled and somewhat disoriented, the press has reveled in the reports that the 24-year-old rookie was unable to place the face of the “eccentric-looking old man” who just happened to be Bob Dylan.

To that end, much has been made of the now self referential 1965 lyric, “How does it feel / To be on your own / Like a complete unknown.” But maybe the joke’s on the J-men. Perhaps the fact that Dylan, one of the most iconoclastic people of the 20th century (and as a result one would also suspect one of the most recognizable) wasn’t recognized is the real testament to Dylan’s enduring eminence.

Because the truth is that there is another line nestled in middle of that the famous couplet that has been all but overlooked—

“How does it feel / To be on your own / With no direction home / Like a complete unknown.”

And while the lyric isn’t the most literal as it relates to last week’s incident, in hindsight it’s by far the most insightful.

Dylan begrudgingly began his career as the preeminent torchbearer for the burgeoning folk movement of the early 1960s. After going electric in 1965, he embraced the rock star status his new musical direction afforded, despite the self destructive toll it eventually took on him.

In the 1980s, he struggled with the growing enmity the burden of being labeled an ‘icon’ brought. But by the mid-1990s Dylan seemed to be at peace with himself, comfortable with the knowledge that he has spent a lifetime searching for not only for his roots, he’s spent a lifetime searching for America’s roots. And while the ultimate destination of that seemingly never-ending search still remains unknown, now more than ever Dylan seems doggedly determined that he’s headed in the right direction.

For some, the notion of being mistaken as an eccentric old man by a 24-year-old beat cop who‘s come of age in a world where “Magic” Johnson is better known for being HIV-positive than his high-flying hook shot may seem like a slap in the face to the legendary performer.

But if you step back for a moment to consider the fact that Bob Dylan can remain incognito in an era where recognition has become a direct correlation to our perceived social currency, then perhaps the ability to blend into what Greil Marcus famously referred to as an “Invisible Republic” may be the most telling testament of all to the fact that after spending a lifetime scouring America’s musical and cultural landscape in an effort to unearth the essence of the American experience, Bob Dylan has finally found his way home…

I was burned out from exhaustion, buried in the hail,
Poisoned in the bushes an’ blown out on the trail,
Hunted like a crocodile, ravaged in the corn.
“Come in,” she said,

“I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

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August 16, 2009 Posted by | Disgruntled, Dylanologist | , , , , | Leave a comment