One of the most amazing pop culture stories of the past few years is the resurrection of Bob Dylan as a vital and relevant artist. Since 1997, Dylan has recorded three albums that have been critically acclaimed, used in movie soundtracks, and even sold well. In late 2004, he published Chronicles, Volume 1, the first of three projected volumes of memoirs, and it, too, was widely praised and purchased.
Then, in 2005, Dylan sat down for a long on-camera interview for Martin Scorsese’s PBS American Masters documentary No Direction Home. In those interviews, Dylan actually looked into the camera and answered questions about his life and how it has felt to live it. He was grouchy, funny, and, especially when he talked about Joan Baez, achingly sad.
In September 2006, Dylan’s most recent album, Modern Times, hit number one on the Billboard sales chart, making it his first number one in 30 years. The very next month saw the opening of a Broadway musical, The Times They Are A-Changin’, based on Dylan’s songs and choreographed by the legendary Twyla Tharp. Meanwhile, Dylan has been moonlighting as host of a weekly radio show on the XM satellite network where he plays American roots music interspersed with wisecracks, hep talk, and history lessons.
He’s also stayed on the road constantly, playing at least 100 concerts a year. And did I mention that Dylan turned 65 last year?
FOR MOST PEOPLE who care about American music, Dylan disappeared from the screen sometime in the 1980s. I formed a vague impression that his endless touring had turned into his own version of an oldies act, recycling endless, eccentric, and almost unrecognizable covers of his own legendary material—like the speed-metal version of Masters of War that he played at the 1991 Grammy Awards.