That Time I Heard Bob Dylan

May 24, 2016


Bob Dylan was born 75 years ago today. I must admit that, despite being a musician and lover of music, I never really delved into Dylan’s music. As a teen in the 80s and 90s, I owned his greatest hits collection. The one with the blue and white cover and a silhouette of his head and hair. I learned to play and sing some of those songs — particularly “It Ain’t Me, Babe” and “The Times They Are A-Changin’.” It was good music and I appreciated Dylan’s songwriting. That was about it.

One day I was away at college and was really wanting to be home. Not just for a visit, but I wanted to move back home. I didn’t like school, I didn’t know anyone except for a handful of friends from high school who had all joined a fraternity (something I had no interest in), and I had no idea why I was there or what I wanted to do with my life. This was 25 years ago, yet I vividly recall lying on my twin bed, alone in my cell of a dorm room on a rainy Saturday morning, wishing like hell that I was home, when “Like a Rolling Stone” came on the radio.

I had heard the song many times, and I liked it a lot. But that particular day I really heard it. It was like it was written for me. I had always had friends, done well in school, and was expected to be successful at whatever I chose to pursue. Yet here I found myself floundering in college, with no direction or interest. Dylan’s song spoke to me that day as it crackled through my cheap mono radio.

How does it feel? How does it feel? To be on your own, with no direction home, a complete unknown, like a rolling stone. 

It would be kind of cool if I could say that, as the triumphant organ solo faded out, I rose from my bed, threw my few belongings in an old duffle bag, and jumped on the first train home. That’s not how the story ends, though. While Dylan’s song tells the story of someone falling from social grace, it is equally about dealing with uncertainty, isolation, and the unknown. I realized that I wasn’t alone at all — I was actually very similar to many others. Most of us are sometimes lost for a number of different reasons. That was very comforting.

So instead of some dramatic, romantic result, I simply decided to just keep on keepin’-on as well as I could. Boring, I know, but sometimes that’s the best (or maybe the only) choice. They say a rolling stone gathers no moss. I think sometimes that means learning to roll with life, rather than running from it. Happy birthday, Bob. Thanks for helping me out that day so long ago — and when I still occasionally feel a little lost now.

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