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Happy Birthday, Bob!

On his 70th birthday, famous friends and admirers pen tributes to Bob Dylan

Dylan/Milton Glaser Poster

Artist Milton Glaser created the iconic psychedelic Dylan poster (left) in 1968 and gave it an age-appropriate makeover (right) for our 70th birthday salute to the singer. Read more about Glaser's poster — in the artist's own words — in the article below.

Click on the names below to read more birthday tributes to Bob Dylan.

Donald Fagen

In September of 1965, my father and I loaded up the trunk of his Olds Dynamic 88 in preparation for the drive to upstate New York  — this was to be my first day at Bard College. When he turned on the ignition, "Like a Rolling Stone" came blaring out of the radio. My dad and I had just had a nasty argument (I had wanted to drive up alone in my own car) and Dylan's majestic rant  — an angry, surreal, logorrheic demolition of an ex-girlfriend who'd hit the skids  — seemed to mirror my feral, adolescent rage.

Four decades later, there's no longer a vocabulary to describe the effect that Dylan had on my particular subculture in the mid-'60s. Moreover, there's no longer a context in which to communicate the impact of his work and his person to the several generations of TV babies that have rolled onto the scene since that time. Be that as it may, I know I'm not the only grizzled, world-weary survivor who hears Dylan's voice and is instantly transported to that short-lived era during which many of us seemed to oscillate daily between extremes of ecstasy and horror film-level paranoia. We were all yowling inside and, lucky for us, Bob Dylan yowled back.

Mick Foley

In the fall of 1991, a little over six years into my professional wrestling career, Jake "The Snake" Roberts gave me a valuable piece of advice: "A wise man knows where to steal his material." This was in the days before there were any official wrestling writers; though wrestling was presumed to be "scripted," there were never any actual wrestling scripts, and those lucky enough to make their living on the road as full-time wrestlers were expected to have their own material for a multitude of promotional interviews. 

Infidels had been a favorite album of mine in the mid-'80s, with "I and I" standing out as my favorite all-time Dylan tune. It was full of great lyrics and wonderful imagery, and best of all, it wasn't well-known. So despite the fact that I picked the bones of that song for so many different wrestling promos, no one knew enough about it to accuse me of the thievery I was, in fact, so guilty of. With a gleam in my eye, microphone in hand, I would spout out "I and I" lyrics like "I'll make shoes for everyone, even you, and I'll still go barefoot," and seem simultaneously profound‚ and a little scary. Thank you, Bob, for writing songs that allowed this wise man to steal from the very best.

Nick Cave

I never really knew Bob Dylan's stuff as a kid, so he was never a fundamental part of me as he was with some. There are those out there, you can see it, who have Dylan scorched into their flesh like a brand and every artistic action that he takes or has taken is cause for celebration, debate, hand-wringing, concern, mourning or whatever. I never got that. I missed all that early stuff of his, the '60s, most of the '70s.

But I did, in the end, have my Dylan moment.

I was sitting, on my own, in a bar, in New York  — it was the first time I'd ever been to that city  — and I went over to the jukebox to have a look at what was on offer. I saw a song, "Gotta Serve Somebody" by Bob Dylan, and thought that that was a great title for a song, so I put it on, and that, as they say, was that. I was knocked down. What I heard seemed so simple, yet so full of ideas  — chilling, funny, absurd, perverse, audacious, but heartfelt and mind-bendingly beautiful. I felt like grabbing the guy next to me and saying, "Did you hear that song?" I felt like running out on the street and waving my arms around and yelling, "Hey! Has anyone ever heard of Bob Dylan?" It was like I'd missed the moon landing or something.

So, I started a slow trawl backwards, down the years, through the records, and it was like stepping into Aladdin's Cave  — there it was, oceans of the stuff  — all the terrible love and beauty you could ever want to hear.

Happy birthday, Bob.

Steve Earle

The term "genius" gets thrown around, and I've gone through periods of time where I wanted to discount Dylan, because as a songwriter it's just so overwhelming to think that he's the measuring stick. It was a very liberating thing for me to finally accept the fact that this guy was some kind of an alien. He had this incredible photographic memory for songs, which allowed him to assimilate a lot really quickly at the right time of his life, between 17 and 22 years old. And he did it pretty efficiently and ruthlessly, and I don't mean that in any sort of negative sense.

And he's still good at it. He'll mess around for four or five albums and then he'll do something that's stunning. And he'll do it again before he leaves the planet, I firmly believe that.

Paul Shaffer

I grew up an Orthodox Jew at the end of Highway 61, in Thunder Bay, Ontario. And when I heard Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited, I immediately knew that it would be the Talmud to the Torah of my life. I learned Al Kooper's high organ line and Paul Griffin's piano part on the majestic "Like a Rolling Stone," note for note.

Years later, I was the musical director of Late Show with David Letterman and Bob Dylan was our musical guest. After his set, I couldn't help but knock on heaven's door. I had to bond with Dylan. His girlfriend, the singer Clydie King, opened the dressing room door. 

"Hi, Bob," I said, and smiled in Clydie's direction. "What's a sweetheart like her doing in a place like this?" 

Bob didn't say a word.

"You know, Bob, you grew up just 130 miles south of where I did. We're Highway 61 landsmen. Just like you, I spent my formative years with my ear pressed to a transistor radio listening to Southern stations. That's how I learned to love rhythm and blues, just like you. And hey, Bob, how about that Bobby Vee? You played piano with him. I could sing both parts to 'Take Good Care of My Baby.' We're soul brothers, my man."

No response. Bob just seemed to be staring into space. So I kept it up.

"When you sang Roy Head's 'Treat Her Right' in rehearsal, it killed. You should record it."

Bob looked me straight in the eye. Obviously I had finally made a deep connection.

"Paul, do you think you could introduce me to Larry 'Bud' Melman?" he asked, referring to the lovable nerd who was a running character on the show. "When I'm in the hotel room at night, I flip on the show only to catch a glimpse of Larry 'Bud.' "

I thought he was kidding. But he wasn't, and he dutifully followed me to Bud's dressing room, where a confused Larry Melman, who had no idea who he was meeting, shook hands with the greatest poet of our generation.

Richard Belzer

Twenty-five years ago I wrote this song along with Larry Charles of Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fame. Two Dylan scholars in a loving tribute to Bob Dylan:

I'm the skinny Jew, one of the few from Minnesota. They had a quota. 

I went to the big city, dreamed I was Walter Mitty, wrote folk songs that I thought were witty.

Someone said I'd be the next big thing, until they heard me sing, but it's too late to change their mind, because the contracts are already signed.

Had a few hits, lived by my wits at the Chelsea Hotel, but then I fell off a motorbike.

But I didn't like being out of work, so I came back and sang with a country twang "Lay, Lady, Lay."

Got some airplay. Had to change my voice, didn't have no choice, had to make the payments on a new Rolls Royce.

Played in Nashville, played in Japan, didn't sell no tickets when I played Iran. Jack Nicholson called me "the voice of a generation." I can't get played on most radio stations.

When I found Jesus and I found Moses, people thought it was psychosis.

Commercially I cut my throat while all the critics sat and wrote "he is through, his day has passed" but I think I'll be laughing last, singing at Live Aid, singing at Farm Aid. I'll be singing when they're drinking the Kool-Aid.

Well, I'm a skinny Jew, one of the few from Miiiiiiiiiiinnesota.

 

I first heard Bob when I was in college in 1963. I saw this little kid on the cover of an album with a golf cap unsnapped and this guy in my dorm put the record on and it was bizarre because his voice made me, and I'm sure everybody else, think that they could sing. But it was a devilish thing because you really couldn't unless you're a genius like him writing those amazing lyrics and have a whole sense of the history of folk and jazz and gospel music. So part of Dylan's genius for me was this humbling, weird challenge that you don't have to be Frank Sinatra or Elvis or Sam Cooke to be a great singer. 

Dylan keeps reminding us how great and how important he is. He'll do all this weird stuff, mumble his lyrics for two years on tour, infuriate all his die-hard fans and the critics and then he would resoundingly come back and redefine music again and you'd forgive him all his sins. He's the Obama of rock 'n' roll.

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