Still Freewheelin' after All These Years, the Multi-Identity Mystery That's Dylan; Bob Dylan Today Celebrates His 70th Birthday but Retirement Is Not an Option for a 'Masked' Musician Who Shows No Desire to Get off the Road, Writes David Williamson

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 24, 2011 | Go to article overview

Still Freewheelin' after All These Years, the Multi-Identity Mystery That's Dylan; Bob Dylan Today Celebrates His 70th Birthday but Retirement Is Not an Option for a 'Masked' Musician Who Shows No Desire to Get off the Road, Writes David Williamson


Byline: David Williamson

JUST as Winston Churchill never quit the Commons for the cosy confines of the House of Lords, at the age of 70 Bob Dylan remains on a perpetual world tour.

The late Prime Minister's journeys to the green benches of the Commons were a reminder that he was the product of democracy. And when Dylan steps up behind a microphone to perform infamously unpredictable reworkings of his finest songs he proves that he is, at heart, a jobbing musician.

He may make headlines when he plays a landmark concert in China, but he is just as likely to appear on the draughty stage of a mid-size arena in a city not far from you.

Kurt Cobain, Jimi Hendrix, Brian Jones, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison passed away at the age of 27 but Dylan has avoided the plane-crashes - both real and metaphorical - which doomed so many of his contemporaries.

His relative longevity and his dedication to the craft of performance is one of the finest aspects of his contrarian character.

Even before the advent of rock and roll, poetic souls seemed to be destined for a short existence. Arthur Rimbaud was gone at 37, Keats at 25, and Percy Shelley at 29.

But just as Dylan rebelled against the purists of the folk music when he plugged his guitar into an amplifier, he has refused to subscribe to a poetic death cult.

While he was no stranger to the chemical temptations available to touring musicians with an international fanbase, he avoided the fate of his half-namesake, Dylan Thomas, who breathed his last at New York's St Vincent's hospital aged 39.

But, there's a strong case that the Minnesotan songwriter and the poet from Laugharne should be seen as great branches of the same tree.

David Boucher, professor of political philosophy and international relations at Cardiff University will today take part in a one-day conference on Dylan and explore the relationship with the Welsh poet.

At various times Dylan, who was born Robert Zimmerman, denied that he switched his name because he was inspired by Dylan Thomas. In 1966 he stated: "I've done more for Dylan Thomas than he's ever done for me."

Yet in his memoir Chronicles, he admitted that he had been toying with calling himself Robert Allyn but saw "some poems by Dylan Thomas".

Bob Dylan But the most important influence on Dylan's trajectory as a musician is not his choice of stage name but the way in which the writer of Under Milk Wood prepared the way for the author of Blowin' in the Wind. …

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Still Freewheelin' after All These Years, the Multi-Identity Mystery That's Dylan; Bob Dylan Today Celebrates His 70th Birthday but Retirement Is Not an Option for a 'Masked' Musician Who Shows No Desire to Get off the Road, Writes David Williamson
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