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*Author’s note: A few years back I attempted this concept, but with little success. The idea was relatively simple, to listen to each of Bob Dylan’s albums in chronological order (as they were released), reflect, and then write about the whole experience. Truthfully, I am not going to stray far from the original idea, except instead writing about an entire album each week, I will only be writing about one (or maybe two) key tracks from the albums. After the introspection I will then turn to this blog and talk about what I learn from the music each week. I hope you enjoy what follows, and I will try my best not to keep it too Dylan-centric.

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#1 “Song to Woody” off his first album Bob Dylan (1962)

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My story and His

 

“I’m out here a thousand miles from my home
Walkin’ a road other men have gone down”

I discovered Bob Dylan during my junior year at Hoover High school in North Canton, Ohio. It happened in my English class with a standard assignment to read a biography from the library, write a two-page report, and then give a short one minute speech about our subject. Simple stuff really, and had I been any kind of average student, I should have been able to complete the requirements with ease. But per usual I took the easy way out. I had picked up a short Dylan biography from the public library, but when it came to the night before the due date of the project, I ended up just reading the back cover of the book and a short two paragraph summary on his life from the 1970’s encyclopedia in my house. My (barely) page and half paper and subsequent awful 35 second presentation was filled with about 20% fact and 80 % fabrication. Surprisingly enough my teacher saw right through it.

 

Turns out my teacher was a bit of Dylan fanatic himself, and therefore my lack-luster efforts not only insulted him as a teacher but on a much more personal level, as a Dylan fan. I was forced to not only redo the essay, but I also had to present my findings once again to my peers, thus illustrating how much of a liar I had been. So this time I actually did the assignment right, I picked up the actual biography of the man and I read it from cover to cover. I also decided to give his music a chance as well, and at the Quonset Hut (a local record store) I bought the cassette of “The Times They Are A-Changin.” To say that moment changed my life would be a slight understatement.

 

Up until the moment that I discovered Bob Dylan, my musical world really only consisted of two major components: the oldies radio station of northeastern Ohio and Led Zeppelin. The oldies music was thanks to my dad, who still to this day has an uncanny ability to remember the names of almost all the one-hit wonders between 1955 and 1965 (especially if it was an old soul song.) Zeppelin on the other hand came from a mixture of friends and teenage angst, all in the hopes that our loud Rock N’ Roll music would represent the soundtrack to our rebellious ways. I am fairly certain that all of suburban America in the mid 90’s followed this same design, unless of course you feel under the pressure of grunge music. Anyway, I listened to so much Led Zeppelin in high school that I can still tell you almost anything about their music. For example did you know that ‘Achilles Last Stand’ is the 1st song on the album Presence, and that the song ‘Houses of the Holy’ does not actually appear of the album with the same name, but is actually the 4th track disc one on Physical Graffiti. I did not even have to look that stuff up! Bob Dylan thankfully came along and saved me from a musical path that would have eventually landed me in the world of heavy metal, the appropriately named “butt-rock,” or perhaps even the scarier world of “progressive rock.”

 

“I’m seein’ your world of people and things
Hear paupers and peasants and princes and kings”

            Dylan’s music offered up a new world to me, one filled with lyrics that made me think and visual imagery that painted a new portrait of the world that I lived in. His voice was something new to me as well. Although most people I knew found it rough and unharmonious, I heard something raw and captivating. His music was minimal, torn down to its simplest roots. All that truly mattered was what was being said, and maybe more importantly what you yourself took away from the song.

 

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“Hey, hey, Woody Guthrie, I wrote you a song
‘Bout a funny old world that’s comin’ along”

 Bob Dylan arrived in New York City in January of 1961, and he only had one mission to fulfill. He simply wanted to meet Woody Guthrie. To make a long story short (read his autobiography Chronicles to get a better picture of his life in the East Village in 1961), Bob Dylan quickly made a name for himself as an up and coming folk musician.

            He ended up meeting the right people, which one day landed him in a studio meeting with Columbia Records A&R Director, John Hammond. His covers of standard folk songs were good (copies of what everyone else was doing at the time), but his original songs absolutely knocked them out. It is reported that he played “Blowing in the Wind,” and that by the end of the 1st verse, Columbia was ready to sign him. He was Columbia Records first folk artist, and for his first album they wanted him to follow his folk roots and record a set of standard covers, such as “Man of Constant Sorrow,” and “House of the Rising Sun.” Bob also recorded one original song in that session, a tribute to his hero and inspiration called, “Song to Woody.” Whether he ever performed it for Woody himself when Dylan would go and visit him at the Greystone Park Psychiatric Hospital is unknown. But what is important about this is that Dylan got a chance to honor someone who was important to him. Like so many of his songs, Dylan says that this one was something he “had to write.” And I for one am glad that he did.

 

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Hey, Woody Guthrie, but I know that you know

All the things I’m sayin’ and many times more

I’m singin every song but I can’t sing enough

‘Cause there’s not many men done the things that you done

 

My final thoughts over this song, and Bob Dylan’s first album are nothing grandiose or life changing. I see Bob Dylan in the same light that he looked at Woody Guthrie, as an inspirational figure. Bob Dylan has taught me a great amount throughout the past 15 years of my life, both through his music and through his own personal highs and lows. Just like all of us, he is not a perfect human being. In my opinion, he is a humble artist who has done well with the gifts that God gave him, in particular writing lyrics that go deep within our souls and help us make sense of the world. I probably will not ever write a song myself as a tribute to Bob Dylan, but perhaps this series is my way of saying thanks.

Thanks for reading.

NEXT WEEK: The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1963)

 

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Almost three years ago I strolled down Court St. in Brooklyn, NY to spend the day at the Tea Lounge and use their free wifi to send off some resumes to various corporations in the hope of landing some summertime employment. It was my second summer to be living in New York, and in the spur of a moment and basic boredom of filling out online applications I decided to create a blog. Here is the very first post I created, in all its sad, poorly written glory. LINK.

It has always been called The Western Wind, that was easy enough to decide. The purpose of my blog, however, well that has always been a bit of mystery to me. I guess I have wanted to share a bit of my life with whoever was interested enough to read what I had to share. Then again, I have never been one to reveal too much of the nitty-gritty of my inner thoughts and emotions. So basically I have kept most of what I have had to say on the surface level, and I am perfectly fine with that.

And so here I am writing my 250th blog post, and once again I am thinking about my return to writing. It is amazing to me how much I have grown, evolved, and all the events that I have gone through in this short period of time. I also would like to take the opportunity to thank everyone who has ever taken the time out of their day to read my random musings on life, and if you returned to read even more after that first visit, you are the reason I have kept writing.

Now I am heading into a new world of writing. I have ideas for short stories, novels, long epic adventures, graphic novels, screen plays, and everything in between. I also have big ideas for this blog too, ones that hopefully will even dive a bit deeper beneath surface level of my skin. What I need to do is just sit down and focus on these written words a little more, and hopefully that is what will be occurring soon enough.

It may be a good while, maybe a few years even, before I hit the 500th blog post. But hopefully all good things will come to those who wait.

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The Boy Scout Motto

“Be Prepared.”

Sure this may be a simple phrase to accomplish from the ages of 9-12, when things like how to tie a slip-knot can be useful in a given situation, but unfortunately following the famous motto of scouts in the real world can prove to be a little trickier. The idea is that any scout should “be prepared” in both mind and body always, being able to act at the right moment and be willing to do what is necessary to give help or assist others. But how is one to prepare against feelings of regret, or help others out of depression. How do you prepare with loved ones getting sick, or succumbing to the difficulties of old age?

Recently I have come face to face with some difficult challenges. As a teacher I get to help some of my students navigate through the trials and tribulations of life, which deals with issues from getting braces to divorce. It is easily the toughest part of my job, and the part that I take home with me every night. But listen, I am not complaining! I just hope that I am prepared enough to help these little ones, and give them enough guidance and support to help alleviate some of their problems, even if for only 45 minutes of the day.

And I could go on and on, but I imagine so could everyone else. We all have our own issues, our own baggage, and our own storage sheds where we keep the past locked away. No matter how truthful and open we may be, that world of our own and everyone else’s problems still exists. Unfortunately no matter how many merit badges we get or whether we make it to the Webelos or not doesn’t help us in our pursuit of a better or more understandable life. I wish it did… but it probably should be noted that I myself left the scouts after I got my ass delivered to me in the pinewood derby.

All that being said, I think it should be noted (and hopefully some niceness points will go to me here) that I have encouraged my current students in the scout program to stick with it. Despite what I may think about their motto and its application to the real world, I whole-heartedly think that people should join groups, work towards a common purpose, and try their best to make the world a better place to live. If anything they at least will learn various knots and how to use in the real world, which is already a step ahead of me.

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Voice

Both in life and in class I have been discussing the concept of “voice.” As I writer, it is perhaps the element that I am always pursuing the most in my own work, to distinguish what it is that I am trying to say versus how everyone else would say it. There are times in the past when I felt like my voice was completely in its own element and sharper than brand new hook ripping through the throat of fish. But then there are the times, like these last couple of years, where I fear that the monotony of life has dulled down that blade of what I am trying my best to convey.

This world we live in is a crazy, crazy place, and the pace of life only seems to quicken. I hear of difficult things that are happening around the world. I know people who are going through difficult patches of life that I may never even come close to understanding. So many of us seem to be lost, including myself…even though I hate to admit it.

So where is the solid ground? How can we find something out there in the world that seems to be eluding us at every turn?

My hope is that whenever I start to find these answers I can once again turn to the blank page, think about it, and add my own voice to it all.

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