News Column

Bob Dylan at 70: He Isn't Talking, but Others Are

May 24, 2011
Bob Dylan in 2010
Bob Dylan in 2010

Bob Dylan's Never Ending Tour does not have a concert scheduled for Tuesday. So he won't be celebrating his 70th birthday onstage. What will he do?

A friend of Dylan since they attended camp together as pre-teens, St. Paul businessman Dick Cohn has witnessed some Dylan birthdays. When the Minnesota icon turned 50, Cohn shared his mother's advice with Dylan. "She told me that once you turn 50, you stop telling people your age. Bob said, 'That's easy for you. When I turned 50, my picture was on the cover of Time magazine.'"

A snapshot from that day captured Dylan's face aglow -- just like any other birthday boy -- blowing out the candles on a cake provided by a friend. Cohn doesn't know what Dylan will be doing Tuesday, but we asked some other music stars to celebrate his 70th with a favorite Dylan story or a reflection on his career.

Encounters with Bob Dylan:

Robbie Robertson

Guitarist of The Band, he toured with Dylan in 1966 in his first electric band, and again in 1974.

"The first time we toured with him, everybody booed and threw stuff at us. I have to give him a lot of credit for not bowing to the pressure. The next time we did it, everybody cheered and said they knew it all along. We didn't change a thing, but the world revolved and the world changed. And I thought: 'That's an interesting experiment in terror.'"

Sheryl Crow

She opened for him in the mid-1990s and he later gave her a then-unrecorded song, "Mississippi."

"The power went out on us onstage and I was in the middle of 'Leaving Las Vegas' so I continued to sing it at the top of my lungs so people could still hear me. He was standing on the side of the stage. The next night he called me into his dressing room beforehand and said, 'I watched you. I believe you've got something. I'm always available if you ever need any advice about the business or anything else.' And he's been very consistent from that point on. Every time I see him, he's been a very dear friend and I've reached out to him on a couple occasions about what I'm doing and what direction I'm going."

Al Kooper

He played keyboards on Dylan's "Highway 61 Revisited" (1965) and "Blonde on Blonde" (1966).

"'Highway 61' was like a proto-punk album because no one acted as a producer, per se, or music director -- plus Dylan's attitude, musically and singing-wise. When we went to Nashville (to record "Blonde") it was the opposite. He brought me along to play and as music director. The musicians were the best players in town but they didn't know much about Bob Dylan; he was off their radar.

"Bob was still writing the lyrics when he came to town. He taught me the song, then I'd play it over and over again on the piano and he'd sit there and write lyrics. The sessions were incredibly long. He'd take a break and still be writing lyrics -- maybe for sometimes five hours without budging from the piano -- and (the musicians) would play ping-pong, watch television, eat. And when he was ready, we'd go in and cut it."

Lucinda Williams

She met Dylan in the late 1970s at New York's Gerdes Folk City club when she was starting out.

"I was asked to sit in and do a couple of songs. Dylan was sitting at the bar with this tall, beautiful black woman. I didn't realize he was in there. (The owner) said to me, 'I want you to meet a friend of mine.' And I turned around and he said (Italian accent), 'This is a-Bobby.' And it's still not registering. "Bobby a-Dylan.' I put out my hand. He leaned over and said, 'Keep in touch. We're going to be going on the road soon.'"

Bob Gaudio

A member of the Four Seasons and later a songwriter/producer, he met Dylan in 1990.

"I was introduced to him by Neil Diamond when we were recording 'The Jazz Singer.' I apologized for our Wonder Who (a Four Seasons novelty project with manipulated lead vocals to sound like mice), extremely playful version of his not-so-playful 'Don't Think Twice, It's All Right.' He replied: 'I wasn't sure the first time I heard it that it was my song.'"

Rosanne Cash

She worked with Dylan twice in 1992.

"He invited me to sing backup on David Letterman's 10th anniversary special at Radio City Music Hall. The background singers for 'Like a Rolling Stone' were me, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris, Michelle Shocked and Carole King. Then at his 30th anniversary (with Columbia Records) show at Madison Square Garden, I sang 'You Ain't Goin' Nowhere' with Mary Chapin Carpenter and Shawn Colvin. My dad (Johnny Cash) introduced us. I remember I asked Bob before the show if he was nervous, and he said, 'I wish I was.'"

Merle Haggard

The country legend opened for Dylan in 2005-06.

"I was honored to go to his soundchecks every day. He came over, asked my opinion a couple of times. I don't think Bob Dylan asks very many people an opinion on anything. He asked, "How did the whole band sound?' I responded to him and his soundman came over to me about eight months later and said, "What the (bleep) did you say to Bob?' I said, 'How much bass pedal do you want?' The soundman said, 'Goddamn, he's been on my ass about that bass drum ever since you talked to him.'"

Bob Dylan as Lyricist:

Kris Kristofferson

"When I was a teenager, popular songwriters were writing 'How Much Is That Doggie in the Window.' He lifted songwriting up into a different art form. He's the reason that the rest of us who followed got any respect around the world." Lucinda Williams

"He was the first one that brought the two worlds together _ the literary world and the folk-rock world." Rod Stewart

"Absolutely overwhelming. He was a tremendous influence on me. Probably the all-time great lyricist. I can't say enough about Bob." Bob Seger

"There's never been anybody as good as him as far as writing lyrics. Ever. He'll never do any wrong in my book. But he should take better care of his voice."

Dhani Harrison

Son of George Harrison, who played with Dylan in the Traveling Wilburys.

"He put words to things that no one in my father's generation or in my generation can. There's no one like him. He's going to cut you in half with his tongue."

His Personality:

Kris Kristofferson

"I can't say I was ever comfortable around him but he made me laugh and I really respect him. He's kind of a genius. He's totally unpredictable. He has an innocence of genius. There's something about him almost like a little child."

Chrissie Hynde

"I recently read a great interview with him in Mojo magazine. He's just so lucid and poetic and funny. Yeah, he's the man."

Bob Dylan's Legacy:

Bruce Springsteen

"He is the father of my country."

Carlos Santana

"He's a great mirror for humans. We'll learn about ourselves. His music is forever. It transcended the '60s. He's the voice of just not one generation but he created some serious forever-hymns. And he did it when he was in his early 20s."

Randy Newman

"The work he did is just about the best it ever got. The early, early stuff. There was great song after great song on those records. It was the highest point in terms of lyrics that pop music has ever reached." Pete Townshend of the Who

"His contribution is as big or bigger than Brian Wilson or the Beatles, on the shaping and sharpening of modern pop music. True, in the late '50s there were rock artists like Chuck Berry who used smart lyrics, and those like Woody Guthrie who wrote political songs. But Dylan gathered it all up and made it seem possible to write a song about anything at all _ he tore down every boundary and yet remained true to a set of strong musical traditions. In other words, he did the impossible."

Merle Haggard

"Take him out of the picture and it would be a mighty hole. Not just in his music but in Johnny Cash music and other songs you didn't know he's written. The list goes on. The biggest impression he made with me was when he sang with just his guitar: 'The answer my friend is blowin' in the wind.' It don't get no bleepin' better than that."



Source: Copyright Star Tribune, Minneapolis 2011