After I'd played one album on a loop, stopping only to go to school, or sleep, I'd get another; I knew whole albums word for word by osmosis - I still do. Bob Dylan was the soundtrack to growing up, coming face to face with death for the first time, doing my GCSEs, hating everything then loving it all. He was always in the background when I was studying, or in the foreground when my books blurred and I puzzled about what he was singing. Joey "staggered out, into the streets of liddleiddaly"? Little Italy, my father told me, after maybe a year of wondering. Little Italy. So when I got to New York at the age of 21 I made sure to go there, walking around the place I'd imagined through Dylan's lyrics for seven years.
My father, I discovered, loved Dylan too. For one reason or another, all his Dylan records had been lost or stolen but he had already walked the same paths that I was tripping through now. He had listened to Blonde on Blonde incessantly 30 years before, lying in his attic room in Belfast, wearing out the scratchy grooves on the vinyl. The link across time between those two 15-year-olds in their bedrooms was important; a connection somehow preternaturally forged. Sharing genes helped, but this appreciation is more than genes: it's part of our relationship, drinking black coffee together and listening to Dylan. Roots formed in those times run deep. Dylan has somehow taken the zeitgeist of one generation and distilled it to such a concentrate that he's captured something of humanity. That is what appeals to my father's generation, to my generation. At the core of his music is a metronome that is on the pulse.
Age, then, is of no matter. On a bootleg album he sings about a man hunting for communists - just another war on terror - who discovers "red stripes in the American flag". He gasps out the name of the woman who sewed the first American flag - "Betsy Ross!". The audience laughs; the point is made: you don't have to have been from that time or place to get the significance. You don't have to move to NYC to know what he means when he sings "I'm going back to New York City, I do believe I've had enough". I don't have to have been around during the Sixties to understand why Bob Dylan is as relevant to me as he is to his contemporaries.