The name Bob Dylan evokes images of an Americana maverick who, despite slipping into countless musical styles, has maintained his reputation as one of the great songwriters of the 20th century. But lately there have been blasphemous murmurs across campus of Dylan’s failing voice and poor stage manners. And now that Dylan is returning to his college-touring roots tonight at Hill Auditorium, I am forced to remind everyone why the ’60s icon is still relevant to the youth of today in spite of his supposed cantankerous antics.

Now, I don’t have much to add to the decades-long conversation concerning Dylan, but I do have the requisite Dylan posters plastered to my walls, and I still defend his quirky voice to my unconvinced friends. So even though I’m intimidated by the wealth of Dylan history, I will speak with authority and humbly soldier on.

Bob Dylan’s command of generations of eager listeners is nearly unmatched. How can one man appeal to so many demographics? Personally, I can’t even remember how or why I started listening to him. My parents are staunchly anti-Dylan. My father does a terrible impression of Dylan’s vaguely nasally voice that he thinks is just hysterical. So I don’t remember who introduced him to me, but it feels like I’ve been humming “Tangled Up in Blue” my entire life. Dylan is ingrained in American youth culture, and his lyrics still resonate with politically conscious youth the same way they did back when Dylan first started out, which is why Dylan still deserves your unwavering adoration.

Dylan’s musical career has spanned decades, and he’s had just as many musical transformations: from folksy ’60s revolutionary to authentic rock’n’roller on Blonde on Blonde, to at one point even dabbling in evangelical Christian rock with two gospel records, and well, everything in between. Dylan has weathered all sorts of criticism, and I’m appealing to you, dear readers, to give cranky old Bob Dylan one more chance.

Dylan’s return to Ann Arbor may also be a return to his earlier, folkier days. This version of Dylan, a wandering, counterculture hero advocating on behalf of the downtrodden and spit-on, is not the image Dylan has always seemed to be comfortable with, which might explain his unseemly stage manner toward his adoring fans. Although he often protested the idea he was some sort of incendiary protest singer, his songs were undoubtedly socially conscious and some of them became anthems for the Civil Rights movements, including the classic “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

But there has to be a reason, besides the political undertones, that Dylan appeals to fans young enough to be his grandchildren. Why do they continue to flock to his concerts and buy his posters and watch tedious movies about him? I know that in my case listening to Dylan, especially The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan and The Times They Are A-Changin, causes an inexplicable wave of nostalgia for a world I never experienced. Dylan’s ability to evoke such a pivotal time in American history could send any politically active college student into a fit of tears. Or it could just be Dylan’s appeal to stoners, like his sexy track “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35,” when he proclaims with his sharp wordplay, “They’ll stone you when you’re playing your guitar / Yes but I would not feel so all alone / Everybody must get stoned.”

Dylan fans are sprinkled across campus and I attempted to round up a few fellow Dylan lovers to fawn over the enigmatic troubadour for his upcoming show. Though it generated some interest, self-proclaimed fans were more cautious. One prospective concert buddy shocked me with a callousness that is being echoed by a lot of “fans” these days:

“I don’t know… I love Dylan but I hear (he) sucks live these days.”

Another “friend” (we’ve since cut all ties due to his slanderous attacks on Mr. Dylan) carefully warned against getting my hopes up for a good show.

“Love him to death, seen him twice. But don’t expect to be blown away.”

Even though Dylan has been on his “Never Ending Tour” for the past couple of decades, there have been rumors that the moody singer has been less than courteous to his fanbase. Friends who have seen Dylan in recent years cite many affronts, like refusing to interact with the audience, tearing apart and rearranging classic Dylan songs much to his fans’ chagrin and even turning his back to the audience.

In my head Dylan is immortalized in black and white, forever young. The picture I have burned into my memory of Bob is the one featured on one my posters: cigarette dangling precariously out of the side of his mouth as he rakishly salutes the photographer. So with this image and Dylan’s discography in my mind, I choose to ignore the fact that maybe at 69, Dylan’s iconic voice isn’t quite what it used to be.

When friends breathlessly warn me about Dylan’s antics, I can’t help but shrug it off. When someone is as brilliant and groundbreaking as Dylan, I couldn’t care less if he treats me as just one-in-a-million. Hell, I’d let Bob sit on me while he performs if it means getting to hear “Masters of War” live, an incredibly relevant song that still gives me chills. Cut Dylan some slack for his rougher vocals and curmudgeonly stage presence. This is a chance to see one of the great icons of the century perform at one of the best venues in the country. Don’t let haters sway you from making the right choice.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.