|Dylan onstage during “A Tribute to Michael Douglas,”
in Culver City, Calif., June 11, .2009.
One of 29 fantastic photographs at Life.com.
Yes, today Bob Dylan turns 70. There’s a fascinating article by Tim de Lisle on Dylan’s late-life success. “‘Modern Times’,” de Lisle notes, “released in 2006, went to number one in America, the first Dylan album to do so since ‘Desire’ 30 years earlier. His last set of new songs, ‘Together Through Life’ (2009), went to number one both in America and in Britain, where he hadn’t topped the chart for 39 years. No living person had ever returned to number one after such a long gap.”
Contrast de Lisle’s piece with this bilious review of three books on Dylan by Peter Aspden (yes, his last name is real, which does not prevent it from being an apt projection of his inner life) in the Financial Times. Aspen says of Dylan that “we know, not so deep down, that Dylan’s life and art are becoming less interesting by the day,” then goes on: “His voice is shot to pieces, his melancholy and over-praised recent songs make no mark on the zeitgeist, he releases material that is comically bad. Dylan is in decline. Dylan is old. Like many of his generation, he does not look his age; he looks 80. That is the bald fact that the new literature must address.” Considering that the zeitgeist is currently all ate up with Lady Gaga, one has to wonder if Dylan’s “failure” in that regard isn’t actually a sign of artistic strength. But then so are the 2,045 concerts he performed from 1990 through 2010, as de Lisle notes (quoting the fan site Expecting Rain)—an average of more than 100 concerts a year. Yeah, that Dylan: how irrelevant can he get?
Well, here are a couple of relevant personal favorites from Dylan’s late-flowering period. I feel confident that Peter Aspden has never written anything this good. The first one’s a light but sharp cultural critique (guaranteed to erase that idiotic phrase “it’s all good” from your vocabulary); the second is a soulful, image-rich meditation on loss.