Bob Dylan is enjoying yet another resurgence of popularity. He is a social-media sensation, as his friends and followers continue to rave about his recently concluded tour.
And if the never-happy rock critics didn’t unanimously love it, big deal? Facebook and Twitter are what matter now.
That Dylan has concluded the year 2014 with such a bang that he also reminds us of his command of what I call Bob Dylan’s Rule of 17 Years.
To wit: Not long after John Hammon signed him to Columbia Records in 1961 to 1978, Bob Dylan was just about the biggest continuous star in all of popular music. He wrote Blowin in the Wind. He recorded the rocking Like A Rolling Stone. He re-invented country music with Nashville Skyline. He made a major comeback with Tour 74 — landing on the cover of Newsweek — and followed that up with the release of his landmark album, Blood on the Tracks. He filled Madison Square Garden and other large halls in 1978.
In 1979, Dylan confounded almost everyone by all but declaring that he had become a born-again Christian, presumably renouncing his adventurous, left-leaning beliefs (not to mention his native Judaism. His heavily spiritual album, Slow Train Coming, was a terrific piece of work, but few seemed to notice. Instead, all the tok was about Born Again Bob. Lots of the man’s fans were irate at this 180 turn.
Then came 1980’s disappointing and heavy-handed Saved album and a relentless stream of poorly received gospel concerts across the USA. That ushered in the fallow portion of Dylan’s career. The next 17 years were marred and marked by underwhelming album releases, underwhelming concert pairings with Tom Petty and the Grateful Dead, a debacle at the Live Aid show. embarrassing interviews and an inability to connect with Ronald Reagan’s cheerful Morning in America movement and the new and influential MTV Generation.
Dylan limped through the 1980s and much of the 1990s. By 1996, he was biding his time, touring a lot but not releasing new music. He also had a health scare, which hospitalized him for a week or so, in the spring of 1997. By then, he had recorded in Miami a new album called Time Out Of Mind. On the surface, it seemed to be rather dreary and not a likely candidate for any kind of major recognition.
But it contained Dylan’s innate understanding that he wasn’t a kid any more and that he needed to act his age. The album came out in later 1997 and was quite well received. The critics respected it, too. Almost right away, a movement cropped up about getting Dylan a long overdue Grammy award for Best Album of the Year. Miraculously, that is exactly what happened at the Grammy ceremony in early 1998 (remember Soybomb!). In fact,
Since then, Dylan went on to win an Oscar for the song Things Have Changed, receive numerous awards from heads of state, get honored at the 30th Anniversary of the start of his career in a gala concert at Madison Square Garden and play sold-out concerts all over the world. He is everyone’s darling, again.
Do the math: 17 and 17 and 17 + Bob Dylan. The man is full of wonder and surprises, eh?