“are you a dylan fan?”

I was asked a week or two ago if I knew the song ‘Love Minus Zero’. And then, as a follow up question, if I was ‘a Bob Dylan fan’.

I guess the girl who asked me wasn’t to know. How could she?

And yet, she knew three or four other things about me – how could she not have deduced what Bob Dylan would have to mean to someone like me?

It’s actually the time of year that I start listening to a silly amount of Bob – always around Autumn – and I start actively looking out for conversations where all the little anachronisms about my Dylanism creep out. Like, that I think “Love and Theft” is his best album (you read that right); that I can’t help but find The Times They Are A’Changin kind of annoying, but think that Street Legal is actually pretty good…

I remember first listening to Dylan records when I was about 17 or 18 – it felt like there was a Dylan-shaped gap in my knowledge of pop history, and so I started borrowing CDs from my stepfather’s pretty comprehensive collection of Dylan albums.

Within days, I’d learned all the lyrics to ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’ and was announcing to anyone in my English Literature class that would listen that if you just wrote down the lyrics from Bringing It All Back Home and Highway 61 Revisited then it would be the greatest poetry anthology of the 20th century.

And more than that – I started playing and singing the songs. I think (coincidentally) that the first one I really wanted to sing was ‘Love Minus Zero’. It just felt like the perfect song.

But by singing the songs I soon found that the gap in my pop-history knowledge had been filled with some kind of goldmine, a resource so fluid, so broad and so deep, that singing Dylan’s songs could fill other gaps in my life, too. So many other songs I went through fitted my mood perfectly, healed any wounds and strengthened me like some miracle tonic – ‘…Rolling Stone’, ‘I Want You’, ‘Tombstone Blues’… And then, of course, the Live 1966 ‘Royal Albert Hall’ recording came out and I, as a lovesick fresher at Liverpool, just realising that Dylan had invented punk too, sang ‘I Don’t Believe You’ so often and so hard in my little room in Halls that I must have annoyed the hell out of the rest of my flat… It’s embarrassing to think of now – but not regrettable (it did, at least, get me the girl I was after…)

I don’t remember a time since then when there haven’t been a few specific songs that I have on repeat in my head; they last a few weeks and then get replaced by others. Right now, ‘Love Minus Zero’, which had sat just below the surface of my consciousness for a year or two, has made a comeback; also ‘Visions of Johanna’ and the bootleg recording of ‘I’m Not There’ which they dug out for the film soundtrack.

And then there are a handful of songs I’ve never been able to sing; the songs that are too heavy with life and death for a young man like me to even attempt – I don’t feel worthy. ‘Not Dark Yet’. ‘Mississippi’. Those songs. I can’t sing them. Not yet.

But I know they’re there. And they’ll be there when I need them.

So, am I a Dylan fan? Yeah. Yeah, I guess I am.

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