‘Just Like a Woman’
Bob Dylan claims that he’s not as great as people make him out to be. I know some people who would disagree with him. When asked to choose one song, the first one I came up with was “Just Like a Woman.” Most of the time I’m a woman, and then the song simply speaks for me. I believe that in every woman, as strong and mature as she may be, a little girl is hiding, who breaks down and cries. Dylan wrote that with simple and exemplary accuracy.
‘A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall’
At the age of 22, Dylan presents questions from an older speaker and answers from a young man. The song is rich in visions and in burning, scathing phrases that create awareness. He reports on the spirit and the state of humanity, but I chose it because of the penultimate line, which is seemingly the most private: “But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’.” To me it expresses Dylan’s commitment to his exalted work. And it’s etched in me as the essence of an entire philosophy, for musicians and for all mankind: Know your life, commit yourself to fulfilling it, don’t waste it.
‘Changing of the Guards’
I’m not a Dylanist, but I have recently been listening to and playing a lot (as a DJ) is Frank Black’s version of the song “Changing of the Guards.” It’s very faithful to Dylan’s arrangement, but still sounds like a song of Black’s. There is an epic atmosphere and something very strong about the repetitiveness of its six minutes. One of the nice things about this song is that it sounds very natural, although it does not have a conventional pop-rock format of stanza-chorus, but only two stanzas with an identical structure and with instrumental lines connecting them.
‘Tweeter and the Monkey Man’
I’m crazy about “Tweeter and the Monkey Man” and I’m not even sure I know why. It’s not a protest song and not a love song and not even his song - it appears on a Traveling Wilburys album. But I don’t know anyone who has managed to explain anything about Dylan, so I won’t be the first to fail at that.
‘Lay, Lady, Lay’
Only in recent years have I started to listen to Dylan again and to understand why so many people have fallen in love with his work. When I participated in an evening dedicated to Dylan, I chose to sing “Lay, Lady, Lay,” which sounds at first like a simple and gentle song. While working on it, I felt how complex it is. I translated it, and by dealing with it I increasingly felt its Dylanesque quality - the plays on words, the melody, the precision and the possibility of transferring the Dylan “phrasing” into another language and performing it in a way that would sound natural and perfect.
‘My Back Pages’
One of my favorite songs (not only of Dylan’s but in general) is this immortal song, in which Dylan sang about how he was a belligerent young man who set out for the world and life, fought a just war, became a man with ideas and ideals and saw the world in black and white, didn’t compromise over anything. But at the end of each stanza he sums up everything in the wonderful line “Ahh, but I was so much older then / I’m younger than that now,” a line that says so much about our lives in so few words.
‘If You See Her, Say Hello’
The lovely album “Blood on the Tracks” (1975), which somehow did not receive sufficient attention among Dylan lovers in Israel, includes one of the most beautiful farewell songs in history, “If You See Her, Say Hello.” Dylan asks his interlocutor to send regards to his beloved, who apparently is in Tangier, Morocco: “She still lives inside of me, we’ve never been apart.” He sounds broken, but delicate and restrained as well, longing but trying to grant the freedom to leave, and you can feel his inner struggle. “She might think that I’ve forgotten her, don’t tell her it isn’t so.” This song accompanied me in my youth when my girlfriend left me; it’s all about heartbreak.
A 16-minute blues song from the album “Time Out of Mind” (1997), which was written after Dylan had a heart attack. That is why the nearness of death is clearly felt, and there is a sense in it of almost humorous acceptance: “Well, my heart’s in the Highlands / I’m gonna go there when I feel good enough to go.”
‘All Along the Watchtower’
A social protest song with touches of nonsense, a kind of wake-up call. In sated America, which sells dreams about getting rich, this song expresses the gap between rich and poor. The poor in the song are aware of the fact that the affluent classes are eating away at them, but they also know they have something the rich don’t have. Dylan’s strength lay not only in writing and performing songs, but in his enormous impact on other artists and the power he gave to them. He greatly influenced John Lennon and others, and this song, for example, became even more famous in Jimi Hendrix’s version.
‘Most of the Time’
It’s a type of injustice to choose one song from such a huge selection. And still, one point in time and place: The song “Most of the Time,” from the album “Oh Mercy” (1989). There’s the moment when it appears in one of my favorite films, “High Fidelity” with John Cusack, in a heartbreaking scene. It also receives a top grade thanks to its very melodic bassline, which conducts a dialogue with Dylan. Dylan is not known for freeing a track for bass roles, and here he pampers properly.
‘Not Dark Yet’
In 1997, after seven years when Dylan didn’t publish anything new, and after many more years when he didn’t publish anything interesting, suddenly came the album “Time Out of Mind.” Sober, real, dark, wise − perfect. And if I have to choose one song it would be “Not Dark Yet,” a song full of heavy shadows and the practical sense of an old man, with a precise production by Daniel Lanois. William Burroughs, a good friend of Dylan’s, once said that “language is a virus from outer space.” In this album Dylan allows us to have a small taste of the cure.
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