I’m 56 and in “another life” I was an opera singer. Despite playing a minor role, I know vocals fairly well. At the time, in my mid to late 20s, I would have never entertained the idea of listening to Dylan. I just didn’t get that voice – thought it was horrible – or so my limited experience told me. Really, I hadn’t heard much Dylan, but I didn’t let that stop bias.
During that time in college and by chance, I decided to go into a record store that was off the beaten path. CDs were just coming around in popularity and LPs were very cheap as no one wanted them. LPs in very good plus and near mint condition were going for only $1.50-3.00 a piece back then! I always liked the out of the way areas whether it be an antique store or an eatery that few knew about but had great food. So, the little record store that was really one and half mobile homes put together kind of became my hangout.
Honestly, when it came down to it, I went into the record store because of its cool name on the sign, “Blue Gravy Records”. And it was cool. Like going back in time to the early 70s. Gary, the owner, with his wavy wiry long hair parted down the middle and his giant star of David necklace always had a “juicy batch” of records for me to look through as in time I became a regular. Great times as we sat and ate tomato bacon and onion on white bread that his hippy wife Candy made. Great times indeed. Pretty sure there was a familiar smell wafting from the back too, but Gary never partook when I was there. I’m pretty sure he thought I was an innocent kid, which makes me laugh.
Candy would always talk about Dylan when she came into the store. She was a big fan. One day when Gary and I were by ourselves and I was browsing record bins in the store, the Dylan topic came up. I mouthed off something about how Dylan couldn’t sing and didn’t understand how he was appealing to folks. Kind of making jest. Gary being laid back Gary didn’t argue, he simply chuckled a little and nodded his head in a way that was dismissively accepting. I checked out the stack of LPs I purchased and was on my way with my digs for the day.
When I got home, I had a little surprise. Gary had snuck “Times They Are A Changin” and “Bringin It All Back Home” in my buys as freebies. I laughed and kind of blew it off and forgot about the two Dylan LPs as I listened to probably The Babys or perhaps a Firefall LP. A week or more went by until I ran back across the Dylan LPs leaning on the side of the couch late one evening.
Picking up the “Times” LP, I looked at the cover and thought about how Dylan looked so old and looked like a dirt farmer from the 40s. I decided, what the heck, and put the LP on the turntable, turned the light off and laid on the couch in the dark listening.
As I laid there, I can still remember this change within my mind as Dylan sang about injustice, death, the unfairness of life at times, hope of change, the wrongness in being right, sea scenes in troubled waters, distant love and boots made of leather memories. And though those subjects had been addressed in simple ways before in song, I had never heard anyone tell the stories with such realism and depth. Words that painted scenes I hadn’t been to in my mind and heart before.
Looking back, I think being in the darkness experiencing that album without any distractions was definitely a musical moment for me. The words turned corners that I didn’t expect. One could look into the story and see different aspects of the human condition. I could go on and on, but it truly was a musically changing and mind opening experience.
The next day, I’m sure I listened to “Bringin It All Back Home” and I remember how different it was from the other album, yet it had as much depth and realness to it as “Times”. Humor, the mystic, romantic relationship mishaps, apocalyptic scenes, etc. I just shook my head in disbelief pondering how anyone could write like that.
I went back to the record store later that month as was my habit. I was rather quiet browsing through the wooden dirt-stained bins. As I brought my stack of finds to be checked out by Gary, I stood there I muttered …
“Dylan’s the man isn’t he?”
Gary simply said “Yep” and grinned.
I threw in an extra ten for Gary and his musical gift of Bob to me from the month before and thus began my journey discovering Bob Dylan.
Now, many years and even decades after that little store closed and my friend Gary has since passed, I still am an opera fan though I no longer perform, but funny thing is, my favorite singers are Cohen, Waits and Dylan, a good change I believe as so much musical joy has come from areas I never expected as a young man. A good musical moment in time that I will always be grateful for.
To me this is how I understand Dylan:
Good writers can make one feel certain emotions, great writers can do this and make it universal. Then there is Dylan. He can make you feel combinations of emotions and thoughts of insight that you never even knew existed.