My daughter, watching a Bob Dylan documentary: "If he was around today, he'd just rap all this. And he'd have to be cute."
— Tom Junod (@TomJunod) November 21, 2013
Tom! So what happened here?
We lost our dog in September. We just got a new one, five days ago. My 10-year-old daughter is obsessed with him, to the extent that she wakes herself up every hour or so to ask how he’s doing. That’s what happened when I was watching—again—Scorsese’s Dylan documentary. My daughter woke up, and asked about the dog. I said he was fine. She asked where he was. I said, “Right next to me.” She said, “What are you doing?” I said, “Watching a show.” She said, “I can’t sleep.” I said, “C’mon downstairs, and watch with me.” I wouldn’t have asked her if it were a school night, but it wasn’t—we had our parent-teacher conference the next day. So she came down. She happened to arrive at the point where Dylan was undergoing his second great metamorphosis—the first was from Zimmerman to Dylan, the second was from folkie to rocker. She knew of Bob Dylan; since she turned two, I’ve asked her to name the singer, whenever a Dylan song comes on, and she’s always been able to answer, “Bob Dylan!” But I think she was taken aback by the concert footage that Scorsese intersperses throughout the film—the almost sacrificial Manchester concert from ’66. Those old-school teeth, those seer’s eyes, rolling back into his head as he sings—she said, “This is a little creepy.” I answered in the time-honored baby-boomer fashion, misty-eyed nostalgia passing for wisdom: “Yeah, but look what one guy was able to achieve with just a guitar!” Then they showed him flipping the cards for “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” and that’s when she said, “If he was around today, he’d just rap all this. And he’d have to be cute.”
Do you think your daughter is correct in her assessment of how things would go if the young Dylan appeared for the first time in 2013 and tried to break into the music business now instead of during the 1960s? How would that alternative universe play out?
Unfortunately, I think she’s spot on. Like any geezer, I always worry about that—“Who’s going to be her Dylan? Who’s going to be her Stones?” But I don’t think she’s worried at all. She’s a 10-year-old music fan—she’s more worried about who’s going to be my Ke$ha, and my Katy Perry. Still, I wonder if there is ever going to be another Dylan—and what kind of conditions would have to arise in order to produce one. A new drug? A new war? A revolution? Peak oil? But even those things would produce something and somebody other than Dylan. It’s not just because, let’s face it, he’d be laughed at if he tried out for one of the singing shows. It’s because some things in music disappear and don’t come back—not just the song structures, or the styles, but the emotions they conjure. I want her to feel the way I felt—and still feel—listening to Bob Dylan. I can’t imagine my life, if those feelings hadn’t existed. They seemed to connect me to something much bigger than myself. But she doesn’t want to feel the way I felt listening to Dylan any more than I wanted to feel the way my father felt listening to Benny Goodman.
Lesson learned (if any)?
Um, the times they are changing? Sorry. The main thing I learned was what I learn all the time—I’m pretty old, and my daughter’s pretty smart.
Just one more thing.
It’s been a long time since my daughter was eager to answer when a Bob Dylan song comes on and I ask who’s singing. She used to proudly announce, “Bob Dylan!” But that was back before she had musical autonomy, and her favorite record was “Johnny Cash At Folsom Prison.” Now she just rolls her eyes, and has been rolling her eyes ever since she listened to “Dynamite”—her generation’s gateway drug for synthetic dance pop. But my favorite part about what she said watching the Dylan documentary was “if he was around today.” It echoes perfectly the way she prefaces her questions when she asks me, say, if they had Minecraft or red Mountain Dew: “Back when you were alive.”
Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.