As I get older, I appreciate the greatness of Bob Dylan more and more. (This, perhaps, proves that Dylan is, after all, God: my increasing respect contains an echo of the bet-hedging interest in religion that people traditionally discover in their later years. I’m scared that I’ll be met at the Pearly Gates by a Dylanologist who will tell me that I haven’t listened to enough mid-sixties bootlegs, or that I’m too ignorant of the 80s albums, to be let in.) I have always liked his music, but for real Dylan fans, this isn’t good enough: saying that you like his music is, to their strange way of thinking, the same as saying that you don’t like it – there’s not enough wild-eyed zeal in your enjoyment for them.
I’m getting there, though. I saw ‘I’m Not There’ over the holidays, the best film about a musician, or indeed any artist, that I can think of. And I’ve just listened to the soundtrack, all the way through, and even the more ploddingly faithful cover versions (the soundtrack is essentially a very classy tribute album) contain something in them that freshens up the originals, and makes you want to hear them again. One is reminded, though, that one of Dylan’s enormous strengths is his conviction: many of his best songs are long, and wordy, and yet he never once lets his grip go. I love Cat Power, and her version of ‘Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again’ is lovely, and entirely honourable. But around about what must be the fifteenth verse, you can almost hear her thinking, “Oh, my. These lines just keep on coming, don’t they?” He, of course, will always be the only one who ever understands them properly, and that must help.