Click on the names below to read more birthday tributes to Bob Dylan.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Bob Dylan is a quintessential New York City success story. Like so many people before and after him, he came to our city with nothing but his dreams — and he found not only opportunity but also a community of people and ideas that profoundly affected him.
And like so many talented people who come to New York City, Dylan has never stopped looking forward — always embracing new ideas, new styles, new approaches, always pioneering new paths, always pushing the boundaries of our imaginations. Dylan would have been a great artist without coming to New York City, but he would not have been the same artist. Many of the songs that gave voice to a generation, and that challenged generations to come, might never have been written or recorded. And the world would be a lesser place for it.
Thelonious Monk said, "The genius is the one who is most like himself." Dylan always seemed to be writing so much from the heart and so little for the audience and yet letting the audience come along. That's what I've always loved most about him.
What's astonishing to me is that if you had told me a week after Blood on the Tracks came out in 1975, "This guy will do better music than this in the 21st century, when he's in his late 60s," I would have considered those chances to be absolutely zero. I think that "Love and Theft" and Modern Times are the best records Bob Dylan has done, and there is no one else, and you can include Miles Davis, Stravinsky, and Picasso, who have done their best work at that age after having done that good work at a young age.
Three cuts into listening to "Love and Theft", I thought, "Something's wrong with me; it can't be this good. I'm 48 years old, it can't be that something is touching me this much in music." This was the kind of feeling I would get at 18 or 19 years old. You just don't get moved that way, your heart is in some way solidified, you know who you are and what you feel, something can't really change the way you see the world by the time you're over 45, something is set in stone, and yet when I listened to "Love and Theft" and Modern Times, there was stuff that inspired me and changed me. How could that be?
Bob Dylan is both a conduit of the nation's musical heritages and their most astonishing re-creator. For half a century, he has conjured with the nation's soul, always as his irreducible self.
He was once a young man who could sound like an old man, in how he wrote and how he sang. He expressed defiance, vulnerability and bemusement, and he also melded them, sometimes with a snarl and sometimes with a gentle snicker. Now he is an older man who sounds like an older man, writing with defiance, vulnerability, and bemusement about how it all looks and feels, now that he is older.
And as he turns 70, he remains as elusive as he is riveting, keeping his fans and his critics wondering what in the world he's going to do next.
Scott Fitzgerald said there are no second acts, but Dylan shows you can have ten acts and still always be exploring. And while there were periods where you didn't seem to hear much of him, he'd then come exploding back. It's that migration, exploring loose roots; it's a very American theme. Americans are always searching for new frontiers and Dylan personifies that in the music. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't, but he doesn't stay still, he doesn't get in a rut. You never get the feeling that the man has lost his itch to create.
I know a recent Wall Street Journal piece urged him to retire, but you could have made that case in the '70s, as some did. He's had albums that have bombed, got terrible reviews, and he keeps coming back. Thanks to modern medicine, he could have 10, 20, 30 more years. Why retire? You don't like one performance, wait; Bob's going to come along with another.
Bob's lyrics go beyond timelessness. Take "Blowin' in the Wind" or "The Times They Are A-Changin'." We can't really imagine the world without those songs in it. The content is on such a high plane and so universal in nature it doesn't seem that anyone wrote them.
And I find it hard to believe that there was a time when they weren't in the air. It is remarkable Bob continues doing his art on such a high level. Modern Times came out about three years ago and its one of the best albums he's ever made. We are truly lucky to be alive while Bob Dylan is walking the earth.