My dad, one hand on the wheel of a ’91 sky blue Honda Accord, one hand reaching for the volume knob on the radio, feeding my brother and I the lyrics to “Like A Rolling Stone.”
He’s spitting them out fast, really fast, before Dylan is even done with the current line. He wants to make sure we know what comes next.
To which we echo, off-key in a prepubescent whine and nasal inflection: “To-bee withOUT a hoohhhhmmmee!”
No need to coach us on that last part.
I was 5, maybe 6. We were en route to the driving range/batting cages/mini golf place. It was early twilight in early June, not more than a week out of school. Even then, before the age of insecurity, I half-rolled my eyes at the corniness of it all. My disinterested older brother gazed out the passenger window — but did, in fact, sing along. I heard him. “Is this song still on?” It seemed so long. I knew there was a reason why Dylan wasn’t singing directly along with the beat, but I didn’t ask why. It was loud and the windows were down.
There are many ways to listen to Dylan. You can spin “Blonde on Blonde” and mine thrift stores for a checkered scarf like the one he wears on the cover. You can cite lyrics from “Mr. Tambourine Man” or “Blowin’ In The Wind” on your Facebook page. You can debate who really plays the definitive version of “Watchtower.” None of it matters. Why should it? Dylan is not the Beatles or the Grateful Dead or Led Zeppelin. At the end of the day, no one really, truly, “likes” or “dislikes” Bob Dylan. It’s not a question of whether Dylan is in your life, it’s merely how much you let him in. Dylan and Dylan culture and Dylan influence and Dylan haircuts and Dylan harmonica and Dylan sunglasses and Dylan quotes and Dylan New York and Dylan lies do not require your participation. Dylan is there, with or without you.
Me, one hand on the wheel, reaching for the volume. Pushing 90 on I-25 somewhere between Valmora, N.M. and Trinidad, Colo. — the last 350 miles of a 10-day horseshoe drive from Philadelphia to Denver. Driving to where I’d live and work for a summer, then eventually move back with more in the trunk than some collared shirts and khaki pants. It’s a CD this time.
Me: “With the mystery tramp, but now you uh-re-a-lize.”
My friend Andy riding shotgun, disinterested gaze out the passenger window, letting me have my cliched moment of Cameron Crowe B-roll.
It wasn’t until then, 16 or 17 years after sitting in the backseat before hacking at golf balls with a three iron for an hour, that I understood what my dad had been trying to do. Why he cranked the radio to scratchy, tinny, painful decibels. Why he fed us Dylan’s words. He was merely opening the door, never telling us to walk through.