“…hearing Danny Gallivan’s voice changed my life…
hearing Dylan’s made it more meaningful…” Mitch Melnick

I’ll never forget the first time I heard Bob Dylan. My older sister Cherise was listening to music on her record player at our home in Chomedey, Laval while I was reading about Ken Dryden in The Montreal Star. I recall Red Fisher trying his hardest-and only in the best possible way-to avoid calling Dryden cheap. From the other room came this voice rasping its way through an acoustic guitar. I was jolted. Little did I know then, but it eventually led me to the word epiphany.
I liked music enough back then. A huge Elvis fan, I once drew sideburns on my 10 year old face with my mother’s eyebrow pencil, walked a couple of blocks to the nearest candy store while mentally taking notes that it was obvious that I could not yet be taken seriously as an Elvis impersonator.

That would have to wait at least until I could shave.

I remember watching The Beatles live on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, spending the next two days responding to anything anybody said to me by yelling, “She Loves You, Ya Ya Ya!” .

“Mitchell”, my mother would say to me, “Clean up your room”

“She Loves you, ya ya ya!”

“Honey”, my sister Rhona would ask, “Would you like to watch tv with me?”

“She loves you, ya ya ya!” was again the answer.

“Want to take a drive to Dairy Queen?”, my father offered.

“She Loves you, ya ya ya!”

You get the picture.

So while I definitely liked music my life was not defined by it. I was still at that mysterious fork in the road for a 12 year old. Turn right and I could spend the next 10 years studying my ass off to the soundtrack of The Monkees, Tom Jones, Neil Diamond and Top 40 radio. Follow that weird raspy voice in the other direction and who knew what might follow?
Thank God I turned left.

I still don’t remember the song I heard that day in the early 1970’s. But I do remember buying Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits the next day.

“Blowin’ In The Wind” kind of buried “Last Train To Clarksville” for good. “Just Like A Woman” turned “It’s Not Unusual” into a nursery rhyme. And “Like A Rolling Stone” obliterated “I Am I Said”. This was mind-blowing for a mind that clearly ached to be expanded.

My interest in Dylan led me directly into a world I had just missed-The Sixties. Oh, I can remember the day JFK was assassinated like it was yesterday. And I remember the sadness in my home when Martin Luther King was killed. And then Robert Kennedy. I watched on television when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I remember the concern when my oldest sister said she was heading to Woodstock (and the relief when the New York State Thruway was closed). And I watched pitcher Dan McGinn hit the first Expos home run, off future Hall of Famer Tom Seaver. I was around alright but still too young to fully understand how rapidly the times were-a-changin’.

While my sisters were away in school I devoured their record collection which included a couple of Dylan discs. I still own their original (with a now badly faded cover) Blonde On Blonde. Plus The Freewheelin’ album with a 22 year old Dylan walking the streets of Greenwich Village with his girlfriend Suze Rotolo. I’ve lost track of the number of times I have tried to retrace those footsteps. If Dylan was able to accomplish so much in such a short period of time I figured, then those very streets must have played a role. To this day New York City, especially The Village, has become my home away from home. And I swear I feel the same burst of energy, creativity, excitement and soul with just enough of a dash of danger to stay alert every time I’m there.

Blonde On Blonde is my all-time favorite album. It starts with that cover. An out of focus shot of a wild haired Dylan, peering into the camera. A key to Huxley’s Doors of Perception perhaps-a full year before Jim Morrison invited one and all to “Break On Through “to the other side? The cover was, at the very least, the first mass produced shot of Dylan looking otherwordly. And then there’s the music.

But I would not be so all alone
Everybody must get stoned
-“Rainy Day Women #12 & 35”

Early in the morning to late at night
I got a poison headache but I feel alright
-Pledging My Time

In this room the heat pipes just cough
The country music station plays soft
But there’s nothing, really nothing to turn off
Just Louise and her lover so entwined
And these visions of Johanna that conquer my mind
-Visions of Johanna

Now the rainman gave me two cures,
Then he said “Jump right in.”
The one was Texas medicine
The other was just railroad gin
And like a fool I mixed them
And it strangled up my mind,
Now people just get uglier
And I have no sense of time.
-Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again

I stood there and hummed,
I tapped on her drum and asked her how come.
And she buttoned her boot,
And straightened her suit,
Then she said “Don’t get cute.”
-4th Time Around

While Dylan sang and strummed and plugged in and blew his harmonica he was backed by a team of Nashville session “cats” that included Joe South, Charlie McCoy and drummer Kenny Buttrey, plus Dylan pals Robbie Robertson and Al Kooper. They created what Dylan later referred to as “that thin, wild, mercury sound.” They also created a work of art that I believe best captures the urban feel of love, sex, drugs and yes, rock and roll in the mid sixties.

Blonde On Blonde was my jumping off point. I dove headfirst into a world populated by Jack Kerouac and The Beat Generation and Hunter S Thompson and William S Burroughs and Lenny Bruce and Andy Warhol and Ken Kesey and The Grateful Dead and Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin and Leonard Cohen and Norman Mailer and James Baldwin and Tom Wolfe and The Velvet Underground and Joseph Heller and Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie and Hank Williams and Leadbelly and Robert Johnson and Lightnin’ Hopkins and Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf and Miles Davis and John Coltrane and Johnny Ray and Odetta and John Lee Hooker and Dave Van Ronk. I traveled along Highway 61 and Route 66. I heard the seagulls at Big Sur and the cymbals at Golden Gate Park. I saw Haight-Asbury and the corner of Bleeker and MacDougal. I read at City Lights Bookstore and drank at the White Horse Tavern. So even though I might have just missed it the first time around, I lived it. Thanks to Dylan.

Fast forward 40 years. Bob Dylan is now a 66 year old grandfather. He has outlived most of his contemporaries. He continues to outperform those few who are still around. I’ve seen every live Dylan show in Montreal since his reunion tour with The Band in 1974. I’ve also become a “Bobcat”, traveling across the Northeast in Canada and the U.S. with fellow Dylan fans. True fans who never threw in the towel while he went through various phases and stages including country and gospel, had his ear pierced, co-wrote with Michael Bolton and Carole Bayer-Sager, performed on MTV Unplugged and began his umpteenth “comeback” with the release of Time Out Of Mind in 1997. We follow him not simply to re-live the past

Leave your steppin’ stones behind, something calls
For you.
Forget the dead you’ve left, they will not follow you
-It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue

But to celebrate the present

Hey! Mr. Tambourine Man, play a song for me,
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to.
-Mr. Tambourine Man

And squint into the future, for Dylan has always been more of a prophet than a preacher; miles ahead of the pack no matter how lonely that road gets

All my loyal and much-loved companions
They approve of me and share my code
I practice a faith that’s been long abandoned
Ain’t no altars on this long and lonesome road
-Ain’t Talkin (Modern Times)

When Dylan steps onto the stage at Place Des Arts for his first ever Montreal Jazz Fest appearance, he’ll do so with his popularity nearly as high as it was when he first graced that stage in 1966. His latest album Modern Times hit #1. It finishes off a trilogy of albums (Time Out Of Mind, Love & Theft) that rival the artistry if not importance of the spectacular 14 month span of March 1965 to May of ’66 which produced Bringing It All Back Home, Highway 61 Revisited and Blonde On Blonde.

She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand
She’s looking into my eyes, she’s holding my hand
She says, “You can’t repeat the past.” I say, “You can’t?
What do you mean you can’t? Of course you can.”
-Summer Days (Love & Theft)

The last five years have also seen Dylan write his own best selling memoir (“Chronicles Vol. 1”) and become the subject of an acclaimed Martin Scorcese documentary “No Direction Home”. What’s left? His performances.

While older fans might complain about Dylan’s voice or new arrangements or refusal to play the guitar they are missing the point. Like a true jazzman Dylan on stage is truly in the moment. No concert is ever the same. Ever. And wherever he plays there’s some kid who’s going to be as mesmerized and curious about that voice as I was. And a trip into another world awaits.

Strange how people who suffer together have stronger
connections than people who are most content.
I don’t have any regrets, they can talk about me plenty
When I’m gone.
You always said people don’t do what they believe in,
They just do what’s most convenient, then they repent.
And I always said, “Hang onto me baby, and let’s hope
that the roof stays on.”
-Brownsville Girl

Editor’s note: Mitch Melnick is the host of Melnick In The Afternoon, on The Team 990 weekdays from 4 – 7 pm, with an eclectic cast of characters and regular guests including; Steven Brunt of The Globe & Mail, TSN hockey analyst Pierre McGuire, and former Expo Bill “The Spaceman” Lee

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