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Declan Lynch: On the border of extreme madness and extreme sanity

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'IN THE world news, Picasso at 79 years old had just married his 35-year-old model. Wow. Picasso wasn't just loafing about on crowded sidewalks. Life hadn't flowed past him yet. Picasso had fractured the art world and cracked it wide open. He was revolutionary. I wanted to be like that."

And he would be like that too. This was written by Bob Dylan in his magnificent memoir Chronicles, recalling the events that influenced him on his arrival in New York City in 1960.

Dylan too made it on to the world news last week, and while the TV reporters didn't go much deeper than Blowin' In The Wind, they told us something -- Dylan didn't have to marry someone 40 years younger than him to get their attention. Just being alive for 70 years, and continuing to do what he has always done, is enough to make him one of the wonders of the world.

Like Picasso, Dylan seems to be endlessly, almost ridiculously creative, but as far as I know, Picasso didn't also write his Chronicles, or take time away from his 35-year-old model to put together a renowned radio show, playing his favourite songs.

Yet they are both out there, perfectly balanced on the edge of some imaginary line between extreme madness and extreme sanity.

The very idea of being Bob Dylan would be enough to induce a certain madness in most of us. And perhaps in Robert Zimmerman too, who seems to have responded to the challenge by doing the unlikeliest thing of all -- he just plays his music. How mad is that?

Well, when you consider the alternatives, it is a most unusual response to the absurdity of his fame. Most other men who are even vaguely in that neighbourhood can be found enjoying the good life, and generally letting themselves go. Dylan just plays his music.

With the simplicity of genius, he knows what he is, and he acts accordingly.

What is he? He is a musician. And what does a musician do? He plays his music. And everything else is what? It is... and there is indeed no other word for it... it is bullshit.

Maybe it is that unfailing bullshit detector of his which has made his work timeless. I missed much of the first 20 years of Dylan's career in "real time", so I first heard Blonde On Blonde at least 12 years after it had been made.

And even in the aftermath of the punk uprising, when there was a ton of great music out there making Blonde On Blonde look like something of an antique, I thought it was not just a statement against every conceivable form of bullshit, but one of the most beautiful things I had ever heard. And I still do.

I can still feel that sense of being blown away by this double album which had been made so long ago, and which was still so powerful. And there was so much of it.

It was like hearing Van Morrison's Moondance album for the first time, thinking that it's bound to start tapering off a bit after the fourth or the fifth number, and eventually realising that there is no dud track, there is none of that forgivable filler, it is all good.

BIRTHDAY BOY BOB Living, Page 11

No sooner had I been converted to the cause of Dylan than he threw me by making a record which suggested that he had found The Lord -- something for which I now admire him, without reservation. After all, any artist who would be so royally indifferent to the prevailing attitudes of his loyal followers, is, to say the least of it, not like other men.

And some of us were also forgetting that gospel music is actually one of the ancient pillars of rock'n'roll, which gave the project an artistic as well as a personal integrity.

Ah, even when he seemed to be retreating for ever into the backwoods, he was always way ahead of us.

Yet, strangely, it is not the music which has most mystified me about Dylan. It is his memoir Chronicles.

For anyone to have written a book of that quality about Bob Dylan is quite a thing. For Bob Dylan himself to have done it, is frankly unnatural.

It is profoundly unfair that he could just turn his hand to the bit of autobiography, and emerge with such an accomplishment. Indeed, some part of me hopes that it will eventually be discovered that it was done

by a real writer who was paid enough to keep quiet about it. But I fear it is indeed Dylan on Dylan.

There were things in it that were odd and yet authentic, like the way he felt a kinship with and followed the careers of people like Bobby Vee and Judy Garland who were also from his part of the world, the North Country. You could get the impression that the title he most coveted was Minnesota Man of the Year.

And more recently he discussed the possibility of his voice being featured on a GPS system, instructing drivers to turn left or right or to keep going straight.

"I probably shouldn't do it," he said, "because whatever way I go, I always end up in the one place -- on Lonely Avenue."

Jokes too.

Sunday Independent