Music legends from Tom Waits to Joni Mitchell immediately heard Dylan’s genius in songs like “Sad-Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,“ but not me. It took me two decades to warm to Bob Dylan. It’s a common story. He’s one of those artists that people say will “grow on you,” or, in more patronizing terms: You’ll understand when you’re older. No young person wants to hear that, but people I knew in high school loved Dylan, so I gave him a try.
Compared to all the loud, cutting-edge guitar bands my friends and I listened to in the ’90s, like Bad Brains and Meat Puppets, Dylan seemed to belong to what my naive teenage mind characterized as ancient rock dinosaurs like The Rolling Stones and The Who: historically interesting but obsolete. I was in high school. Shows what I knew. Dylan and The Who were nothing alike. As cool as Dylan looked in old photos with his cigarette and sunglasses, folk music could not have seemed less cool. My friends and I skated and moshed in the pit. Acoustic guitar didn’t move me. Then I heard about Dylan’s legendary 1966 concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall, from the tour where he played controversial electric sets. As a die-hard fan of live recordings, a legendary rock show seemed a great place to start with Dylan.
In the early ’90s I found a bootleg CD of the Royal Albert Hall show at the record store next to my high school. Swingin’ Pig released it. I had other Swingin’ Pig bootlegs, so I trusted it as much as you can trust black market record labels. When I played the album at home, it left me cold. This was what people fawned over? “Leopard-Skin Pill-Box Hat”? Compared to power chords and fuzz petals, Dylan’s rock sounded tame. His nasally voice grated, so I shoved the CD in a box where my unloved albums went.
In college, I spotted the CD buried in a drawer. I wondered how it would sound now. Even as a more worldly college undergrad who listened to Miles Davis and twinkly New Zealand underground like The Clean, Dylan’s music still bored me, so it went back in the drawer. This was my pattern during my 20s and 30s. I’d play the CD every few years, dislike it, and squirrel it away. As big of an idiot as I was, something about Dylan demanded respect. He was too venerated to just throw his CD away. Albums are like that. Sometimes your favorites find you at the time in your life…