Photo of Bob Dylan by Barry Feinstein

I was up early, filling water bottles and charging batteries. I checked out a few maps. It’s always a good thing to know where you’re going in my corner of Alabama, especially if you live in the middle of nowhere and your destination is even more remote.

Chance of rain, according to the forecast. I was ignoring the gray skies. Given the vicissitudes of 21st century weather, I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had started raining locomotives and Gummi Bears.

Does anyone really know what the weather is going to do these days? I keep waiting for a TV weatherperson to tell it like it is:

“Right now it’s pretty nice out there. Last time I looked out the window, anyway. The forecast for tomorrow is … (shrugs). Hey, your guess is good as mine, Einstein! It might be a beautiful spring day, or we might experience a meteorological event straight out of the Old Testament. My advice, folks, is have a few drinks and don’t worry about it. I’ve been into the Absolut since lunch, and, frankly, I feel great. [Expletive] the [expletive] weather. Back to you, Todd.”

Before I headed south to hike the Sipsey Wilderness in Bankhead National Forest, I had to have a talk with Bob Johnson.

“I know you are President of the United States of Dogs,” I said. “Your approval rating is high. However, I will be gone all day, and I humbly implore you to be on your best behavior. There are certain activities I ask you to forego, including but not limited to strip-mining the lawn, destroying infrastructure and property, and eating all manner of vile and disgusting things.”

Bob Johnson put his paw on my arm. His eyes welled with self-pity.

“I know, Bob Johnson. These are indeed the best things in the world. I am asking you to voluntarily restrict your fun-loving American behavior for a period of no less than six hours and no more than eight hours. Try to enjoy the milder pleasures of life’s rich pageant today.”

When I left, Bob Johnson was plopped down in some clover, chewing on what I hoped was an old catcher’s mitt. Good enough!

As I drove down the mountain, I realized I’d forgotten to grab some music for the road. I only had one CD in the truck, but it was a fine one, a collection of Bob Dylan songs from 1965 and 1966.

I have my friend and B2L2 contributor Bob Hate to thank for this CD, which he compiled. It’s a cherished possession. (The Gang of Bobs also includes poet and B2L2 mainstay Bob Hudson. All fun-loving Bobs are eligible for membership in the Gang of Bobs. Apply below.)

I’m not a serious Dylan fan. Serious Dylan fans know the exact date he shared a cheese sandwich with Joan Baez at the Newport Folk Festival, and who got the big half. Serious Dylan fans scoff at your puny knowledge of Robert Allen Zimmerman, born May 24, 1941, in Duluth, Minn.

Dylan grew up in the Minnesota mining town of Hibbing. Hibbing is located on the Mesabi Iron Range, next to the largest open-pit iron mine in the world.

In 1940, the population of Hibbing was 16,385. In 2010, the population of Hibbing was 16,361.

That’s probably all you need to know about Hibbing.

When young Dylan was taking New York City by storm in the early 1960s, he told a bunch of whoppers about his background and experience.

The scrawny folk singer claimed to be an orphan. He’d been riding the rails his whole life. He’d spent six years with a traveling carnival. He’d been everywhere, man.

The media, which in those days was a far more gullible creature, printed these ridiculous assertions as fact. Later, of course, it was revealed that Dylan was a middle-class college dropout from the Midwest. But by the time people started to catch on, he was already an international icon, and the music was doing all the talking.

I’m not a serious Dylan fan. I just love everything about the man.

As soon as the tires hit the four-lane, I cued up like a “Like a Rolling Stone” (1965).

Whap boom. A snare shot followed by a single thump of the kick drum. The six minutes that followed changed American music and culture forever.

This is not hyperbole. You can look it up, Mookie.

As the chorus approached, I cranked the volume. The sun broke through the clouds. (Mystery solved. Bob Dylan controls the weather.)

How does it feel?

“Like a Rolling Stone” is by turns pastoral, caustic and jubilant. As a recording, it’s no great shakes. Listen closely, and you’ll hear plenty of bum notes and blown cues.

Yet these moments crown a ramshackle perfection reminiscent of Howlin’ Wolf or Hank Williams. Lyrically, it’s a tour de force of storytelling and poetry, immediacy incarnate.

It’s been almost 50 years since they rolled tape in Studio A of Columbia Records. You’d think someone else would have come along by now and written a song that, in terms of sheer significance, eclipses “Like a Rolling Stone.”

But what’s the rush?

Have things really changed that much?

Hey, America. How does it feel?

__________________________

John Hicks has seen ‘em come and go.

John Hicks lives outside the city limits, where eagles dare.

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