Bow down to him on Sunday, salute him when his birthday comes. Because Bob Dylan celebrates his 79th on May 24. Here are eight ways to salute the living legend as he embarks on his 80th trip around the sun.
1. Listen to his three new singles
When the Never Ending Tour was forced to grind to a halt, what did you expect Zimmy to do? Sit around the house? “Rough and Rowdy Ways,” the Nobel Prize winner’s first album of original tunes in eight years, releases June 19. Three tracks are on Spotify and YouTube now. “Murder Most Foul," a 17-minute elegy ostensibly about the murder of JFK, is actually a patchwork quilt of Americana. Its strings of cultural references — old blues songs, ‘50s doo-wop, rock, noir movies, fast food — make for a musing on the country’s culture and politics in general. “False Prophet” is quintessential late-Dylan blues, a grizzly, swampy romp that feels like a leftover from 2001’s “Love and Theft.” And "I Contain Multitudes” may be Dylan’s most honest self-reflection yet: “I’m a man of contradictions/ I’m a man of many moods.”
2. Watch (or rewatch) “I’m Not There”
What we must always remember is that “Bob Dylan” is a creation. He was brought to life by a scruffy kid from northern Minnesota, who wanted to find Woody Guthrie, to “join Little Richard” (according to his 1959 yearbook). Robert Zimmerman is always changing costumes. In making his 2007 biopic, director Todd Haynes figured the best way to portray a man constantly shedding skins is to use a new actor for each incarnation, from Lil’ Woody Guthrie-wannabe to born-again Christian zealot. Cate Blanchett captures a favorite Dylan era — the brooding, flip, chain-smoking, pistons-blazing artist of the mid-‘60s. It makes you want to go back and watch the press conferences.
3. Watch the 1965 San Francisco press conference
Ah, that ol’ arrogant schoolboy charm. Dylan’s mid-60s press conferences — flippant and witty — are the stuff of legend. (This is how you write your own myth.)
4. Stream "Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese” on Netflix
Speaking of myths, Scorsese’s “story” about the iconic 1975 tour — which rolled through Massachusetts — sees Dylan blending fact with fictional characters, and yarns about Sharon Stone. It’s not parody — it’s just pure Dylan.
5. Read “Why Bob Dylan Matters,” by Harvard professor Richard F. Thomas
When Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016, readers were divided into two camps: those who saw this as a long time coming, and those who thought, as the synopsis here states: “How could the world’s most prestigious book prize be awarded to a famously cantankerous singer-songwriter who wouldn’t even deign to attend the medal ceremony?” Here, Thomas — an expert on classical poetry, who teaches a popular Dylan seminar — enlightens.
6. Sip his Heaven’s Door Whiskey
You gotta serve somebody. It may as well be yourself. Serve up Bob’s Tennessee straight bourbon, double barrel whiskey, or straight rye. Each bottle is decorated with one of Dylan’s welded iron gates (yup, he welds) created in his Black Buffalo Ironworks studio. You can order a bottle via www.heavensdoor.com or just browse his canvas art. (Yup, he paints.)
7. Play “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie”
Dylan wasn’t named the 2016 Nobel Prize Winner in Literature for nothing. Songs that showcase his most Nobel-worthy lyrics would take up a whole other article. But there’s one track that demands mentioning, because it gets at something True. (It ain’t in the dime store dummies or bubblegum goons.) Listen to the spoken-word “Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie” alone, around sunset. Goosebumps.
8. Plan your 2021 trip to Tulsa
Let’s hope we can safely travel by 2021, because (drumroll, please…) the Bob Dylan Center, dedicated to the study and appreciation of Dylan and his cultural significance, plans to open next year in Tulsa, Okla. Fittingly, it will open near the Woody Guthrie Center. According to the website, it will be the primary public venue for the Bob Dylan Archive — some 100,000 items, including handwritten manuscripts, photographs, artwork, memorabilia, and personal documents. In the meantime, check out www.instagram.com/bobdylancenter to hear some great chats from Dylanologist Mitch Blank, and Sonic Youth’s Lee Ranaldo.