HAVANA TIMES — In 1985, at the end of a party, a friend invited me over to listen to a Bob Dylan album. At first, the music surprised me. Then I felt that it was something different. The songs, played with a guitar and a harmonica, were endless.
I was very young and, even though I wasn’t able to capture the message clearly, I sensed there was something unique in Dylan’s way of singing, with that voice that someone once said sounded like filing paper being scratched. For me, it is a voice that breaks with the familiar, which can travel long distances, hide and leap at you, as well as flee from us, like a playful and surreptitious animal that mocks everyone.
I immediately asked my friend to translate his songs, aware as I was of the poetry behind them, that marvelous imagination he relied on to tell stories, mixing the human with the symbolic and often speaking about simple folk, the icons of literature, cinema and religion. Listening to his pieces was like being treated to a feast of creativity.
With his words, Dylan expresses what others need to hear. He has the gift of wisdom and the irreverence needed to mock power. In his love songs, he describes delicate feelings and pain, and many of them evince a refined form of irony.
Unconditional followers from different generations must follow him in the endless tour he has been on for years. I suppose seeing and listening to this living legend is a privilege for those who can make such a dream come true.
Todd Haynes’ 2007 film I’m Not There, recreates the many lives of Dylan. It is one of the most original tributes to the artist I’ve seen. To portray him as several different characters (and even a black child who flees from his home town with a guitar on a train, to sing at different towns), as the film does, is in some way to give form to Dylan’s alter-ego, Woody Guthrie, the folk musician and composer who became an emblem of protest songs. The child’s journey is Bob’s escape from his native town.
The dissection of each of these different Dylans – his loves, his personal tragedies – reveal the structure of a man who still has a lot to show us, who lights up a spark of the surreal within the real.
The singer-songwriter, who has experimented with a broad range of genres, including folk music, rock and roll and blues, has recorded an album with his own versions of songs by Frank Sinatra. In this connection, he admits that “He is the mountain. That is the mountain you have to climb, even if you only get part of the way there.”
It would have been more conclusive to say: “I am a daring mountain-climber. I am going to climb that mountain.”
Dylan also defines himself as an elderly man, conscious of the fact that passion fits better with youth.
That sense of spiritual ease, might it not be another trick to keep us interested in his life and music?
It’s best not to take him literally, unpredictable as he is.