Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016: How Dylan changed my life

On Feb. 9, 1974, I drove to Seattle with a friend to attend a concert of Bob Dylan – who received the Nobel Prize for Literature today – and The Band at the Seattle Center Coliseum. It was a transformative show for me, a spiritual experience that changed my life – without being high on anything but the music and the energy of the crowd.

On the way back to Vancouver, I told my friend I was going to quit my job with the federal government and take a 40-day training with a mystical school called the Arica Institute. That was my first serious step on the path of spiritual growth, which has been an essential part of me ever since.


The photo is from that 1974 tour with Dylan flanked by Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm of The Band – my favourite band of all time – and here’s the tour poster too. The setlist for that concert included (thank you, Google, for all these details) “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door,” “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” and “Forever Young.”

“Forever Young” has become a personal anthem that picks me up when I’m down. I like to crank it up in the car and sing it at the top of my lungs. It’s Dylan’s take on the Priestly Blessing from Torah, which the temple priests from whom I am descended used to channel God’s blessings to the people, and is also used by Jewish parents to bless their children at the Sabbath table.

Seth Rogovoy points out in The Forward newspaper that “Forever Young” invokes “the story of Jacob (‘May you build a ladder to the stars /And climb on every rung’) to connect it to his own youngest son, who would grow up to be a rock star.”

I first encountered Dylan’s music when I was still in high school. “Blowin’ in the Wind” was released in 1963, and not long after I was on stage at a Burnaby South High School event plunking out the chords on my guitar while a classmate sang the song.

I was also first exposed to Leonard Cohen when I was high school age, to his poems in “Love Where the Nights Are Long,” the first anthology of Canadian love poetry. Leonard is now 82 and I hope he lives long enough to be receive such an honour as the Nobel Prize. To me, his books, poetry and songs add up to a body of superb work greater than Dylan’s.


4 thoughts to “Thursday, Oct. 13, 2016: How Dylan changed my life”

  1. Yes, I agree re: Leonard, much as i love Dylan’s songs. But it sounds as tho’ Leonard is pretty frail these days…

  2. Cohen is the more literary/literate of the two, but Dylan has crept into the collective, now global, psyche by virtue of his prolific output and his willingness to tour. Dylan, who will go anywhere for a rhyme or a gig, is the alternative showman of his generation; Cohen is an aesthete who takes years to craft songs and poems, decades to write a novel. I believe the Nobel Prize for literature is given for a body of work and although Cohen has written novels and books of poetry that are more than worthy, they just don’t add up to the quantity of Dylan’s oeuvre.

    1. Both magnificent bards of our times. There are enduring qualities to Leonard’s work that I highly value. It’s been many years since I’ve found something to love in Dylan’s later albums. Leonard’s releases continue to offer treasures. When I saw Dylan live in more recent years he seemed like an inexpressive shell of his former self. Yet when I saw Leonard a few years ago, even though his voice was not much more than a croak, he was so generous with his time, energy and connection with the audience.

      By the way, Anna, almost a year and a half ago I ran into Kathy Roberts at the 2015 Vancouver Folk Fest. Find her as Kate Brunton in Facebook. Sorry for the delay!

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