How many roads, indeed?

Published 7:25 pm Thursday, May 27, 2021

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Editor’s Note: This column is dedicated to the life and times of, and the legend that is Henry Goodman.

“And how many ears must one man have

Before he can hear people cry?

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Yes, and how many deaths will it take ’til he knows

That too many people have died?”

—Bob Dylan

ROLLING FORK — Any regular reader of this column knows my theory that songwriters were the poets of the Baby Boomer generation and on Monday, he who is undoubtedly, really inarguably the best of them — Bob Dylan — celebrated his 80th birthday in what I am relatively certain was some sort of the same unorthodox manner in which he has lived long and prospered.

“The Guardian” magazine, which just might be the best of such things published these days, meanwhile marked the occasion by asking famous people whose lives have intertwined with Dylan’s to name their respective favorites of his songs. As example, Mick Jagger chose “Desolation Row,” while his one-time girlfriend, Marianne Faithfull, opted for “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue.”

One can go wrong with neither.

For those who care about such, a poll of musicians, writers and the (usually painfully pompous) academics who study these things a decade ago (released on his 70th birthday) found his best song to be 1965’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which Dylan himself once said was his most honest and direct work. I don’t necessarily agree with that, but neither am I either foolish or pompous enough to argue with Bob Dylan about the comparative worths of Bob Dylan songs. (And yes, for anyone giving a rip I will name my own favorites before I am through typing this day.)

If those of you who know the basics about the man who influenced so many of the men and women who so thoroughly influenced our adolescences will bear with me, allow me to address those painfully ignorant for a moment: Born into a Jewish family in Duluth, Minnesota, Bob Dylan’s given birth name is Robert Allen Zimmerman and after some lesser efforts, chose his stage name in tribute to the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas.

He has won 10 Grammy awards, was inducted into The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988, won both an Oscar and Golden Globe for a Michael Douglas movie, was awarded the US. Medal of Freedom in 2012 and the Nobel Prize for Literature four years later, the first such honor ever awarded to a songwriter, for what its judges said was creating “new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition.”

Dude is pretty good.

And now for you superior humans who are not only more familiar, but a touch reverently so with one of the most influential musical geniuses of his or any other time, what follows are a few facts about Dylan that you may or may not know:

• Despite having sold more than 125 million albums worldwide, he has never had a number one single in the United Kingdom or the United States.

• When asked by “Playboy” magazine in 1966 what his songs were about, Dylan (quite properly) answered, “Some are about four minutes, some are about five, and some, believe it or not, are about eleven or twelve.”

• Dylan did not perform at Woodstock, although he was a resident of that community, living about 40 miles away from its site. Instead, he headlined another now lost to history festival, attended by the Beatles, among others.

• Dylan was the first to introduce the Fab Four to marijuana, an act which makes a recent one by the Miss. Supreme Court look a mite silly.

• Married and divorced twice, Dylan and fellow songstress/icon Joan Baez have maintained what some in the South might call a “special friend” relationship throughout the years. (Baez has said the lyrics of her song “Diamonds and Rust,” are about their relationship.)

• Dylan was a university drop-out, having never finished his Liberal Arts degree at the University of Minnesota.

•  Dylan went through a period of Christian revelation in the late 1970s, but by 1997, he was to tell “Newsweek”: “I don’t adhere to rabbis, preachers, evangelists all of that, I’ve learned more from the songs than I have from any of this entity.”

Oh, and not that it matters a whit, but to keep a promise, I guess if pushed, I would name “Blowin’ in the Wind” as my absolute favorite Dylan creation, but one followed so closely as to tailgate it by “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “Positively 4th Street.”

Wish you were still here to tell me how full of it I am, Henry.

Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.