This morning on my drive to work, I tuned in to CBC Radio 2 and was lucky enough to catch the latter half of what I, and many others, consider to be the greatest rock’n’roll song of all time: Bob Dylan‘s Like a Rolling Stone.
Lord, how good it felt to be reminded, through Bob’s admittedly rather impenetrable lyrics and Al Kooper’s amazing organ riff, of the thundering, snarly magnificence of that song. I remember how, when I was in my modestly bohemian late teens and wondering what to do with my life and where I would end up, it felt like Bob was speaking directly to me when he would howl out his question for the ages: “How does it FEEL?”
I spent a lot of time this evening trying to find a video of His Bobness actually performing Like a Rolling Stone to show you, to no real avail. (Though if you click here you can watch the astounding interactive version that Bob commissioned a couple of years ago, in which you can change “channels” on the virtual TV and watch many different kinds of characters “singing” the song. It’s quite something.) Anyway, thank goodness someone had the good sense to simply video the record being played – and because someone did, you can and should click on the video link atop this post and hear for yourself all over again how great the song is, in all its original vinyl splendour.
Hearing it by chance on the car radio this morning also got me thinking about Bob Dylan’s place in my Manse history. I have to confess that, even though by my middle teens I’d turned into a huge Dylan fan, he didn’t have a particularly big impact in the earlier days when my family lived in this house and I was growing up here in Queensborough. I mean, I read the newspapers and had heard of him and all, but no Dylan record ever appeared at the Manse. And he didn’t get played on CJBQ-AM radio; too radical for that, I guess.
Really the way I learned about Bob Dylan was through Joan Baez, who, as you are no doubt aware, was briefly his lover and always his champion way back at the beginning of the ’60s when he was just starting out and she was already a huge folksinging star. My father, The Rev. Wendell Sedgwick, was a fan of Joan Baez, partly because of her beautiful voice, I am sure, but especially because he believed in the causes she espoused in her life and work: an end to the war in Vietnam, and non-violent protest against injustice of all sorts.
So while we had no Bob Dylan records at the Manse, we had plenty of Joan Baez’s records, and rare was the Joan Baez record without a Dylan song or two on it. (Sometimes there were other connections. The liner notes on Joan Baez in Concert, Part 2, for example, were written by him; scroll down a bit here and you can read them, in full poetic weirdness.) And that’s how I got to know Dylan’s songs: Mama, You Been on My Mind; It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue; Love Is Just a Four-Letter Word; It Ain’t Me, Babe; I Pity the Poor Immigrant; With God on Our Side; A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall; I Shall Be Released; Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right; even Simple Twist of Fate.
But probably the most important of them all, to my dad and hence to me in those days, was Dylan’s antiwar anthem Blowin’ In the Wind, which of course Joan Baez sang too. Here is a lovely, very old video of a young Joanie singing that song, which I just wish my late father could hear now:
But you know, even though I’ll always love Blowin’ in the Wind – as who doesn’t? – I think that Like a Rolling Stone is the Dylan song that has meant the most to me in my own life and times. And no, it’s not at all because the subject and target of the song, the woman at whom Dylan is hurling all that snarliness, disdain and anger, is widely believed to have been Edie Sedgwick, the model/actor/socialite/muse to Andy Warhol (click here to check out a jaw-dropping appearance by the two of them on the Merv Griffin Show in 1965) – who of course shares a name with me.
(I once, in my misspent youth, wasted a perfectly good afternoon in Paris at a tiny art-house cinema watching one of Warhol’s Factory movies, a snoozer – literally – called Poor Little Rich Girl in which Sedgwick does little more than sleep and wake up. But, you know, it was art. If you’re a bear for punishment, you can watch some of it here.)
Anyway, back to Like a Rolling Stone, a powerful song that had a huge impact on me at an impressionable and important time in my life, my late teens. (That would be the time when you just know you’re going to live forever and conquer the world.)
There’s this: “With no direction home” is one of the most famous lines in that very famous song, and in fact ended up being the title of the wonderful Martin Scorsese documentary about Dylan a few years back. As I drove south this morning, listening to the song and thinking about making it the topic of my post here tonight, I was struck by the thought that I’ve managed to circumvent Bob’s pronouncement/prediction/curse.
Hey, I’ve returned to the Manse, the house I grew up in. If anyone in the whole world has found a direction home – I think it would be me.
But I still love that song.