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Knockin' on Heaven's Door He's still rough and rowdy at 80 but Bob is in tune with what life's really about

Dylan singing from same hymn sheet as a trappist monk


Bob Dylan still earning

Bob Dylan still earning

Bob Dylan still earning

When Bob Dylan was 80 in May there were tributes galore from a huge variety of 'important' people claiming to know the inside of Dylan's mind.

I got weary listening to these experts. Typically, there was in-depth talk about his words and music; there was hardly any of his music played - or if it was, they played short snatches from songs.

This for me was proof they didn't understand the music of Dylan, never mind his soul. You listen to the whole song and you enjoy the experience. The ­composition talks for itself.

I have been listening to Dylan for close on 60 years.

I am not ashamed to admit that I know very little of what Dylan meant to say in his songs.

I know what I take out of his songs - whether he meant it or not. I find different meanings at different stages of my life. What a song meant in 1970 is not remotely similar to what the same song means to me in 2021.

That's the way it should be.

Poetry is full of imagery and has different layers of meaning which even the writer might not fully appreciate when they followed the muse. Poets continually ­discover new meaning in their own compositions. Poetry at its best is both mystical and mythical.

Last year, in the midst of the pandemic, Dylan unexpectedly released a new album called Rough and Rowdy Ways.

That was his assurance that as he approached 80 the search for meaning was far from complete.

He was not settling for an old man's musings. The road goes on forever, the journey never ends.

There were dark insights in the lyrics and sound but he was still striving to inspire his listeners to think deeply about life - it's never too late to grow or to change.

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It may not be common knowledge that Dylan was part of that group of protestors in the 1960s who ­philosophised about the meaning of change. Most of them, including Dylan, were influenced by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton. His book New Seeds of Contemplation was accessible to protestors like the Berrigan Brothers and even the Kennedys and to folk heroes like Joan Baez and Dylan.

Merton frequently referenced Dylan's insights in his talks.

Merton and Dylan, sort of speak and sing from the hymn sheet but from very different backgrounds.

Even more amazingly, the Trappist monk, and the father of Existential Philosophy, Jacques Maritain, often listened together to Dylan's albums.

We can only imagine what they took out of Bob's meanderings. We know Dylan was influenced by Merton's ethics and his thoughts on the connection between death and new life.

Those themes underlie the lyrics from the older Dylan, obviously wondering what comes after death; he is, after all, like some of us, in the departure lounge now.

He is contemplating what's ahead. Merton said that "contemplation is always beyond our knowledge, beyond our own light, beyond systems, beyond explanations, beyond discourse, beyond dialogue, beyond our own self. To enter into the realm of contemplation one must, in a certain sense, die: but this death is in fact the entrance into a higher life. It is death for the sake of life…"

This is the theme of Dylan's Rough and Rowdy Ways album.

'What more can I tell ya, I sleep with life and death in the same bed' (I Contain Multitudes). The whole point is that we don't find our identity in doing, but in being. As he hinted in another song - sometimes it is not enough to know what things mean; sometimes you have to know what things don't mean.

But then again he also told us that you can never be wise and be in love at the same time.

One of my favourite Dylan quotes is appropriated here: "A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do."

Here's the thing.

What Dylan is saying is simple enough, if we don't deliberately complicate it.

"You're gonna have to serve somebody; it may be the devil, or it may be the Lord, but you're gonna have to serve somebody."

I couldn't have put it better myself.

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