It Ain’t Me, Babe

“She’s a lone forsaken beauty and it’s don’t trust anyone. I wish I was there beside her, but I’m not there. I’m gone.”

Bob Dylan, the grand master poet Cheshire Cat full of backward riddles, lyrical dead ends, mistruths, fables, follies and mysticism. A modern day Bard that’s kept dorm room explorers and armchair sociologists guessing at each lyrical turn. Even 50 years later, the internet is still locked in heated debates on boards full of kids who just found his music as well as the ones who’ve been having the same argument since “Another Side.” Bob’s answer to all of it? Brushed off as absurdity, like a mad man’s circus, but never outright denying any of it. It’s a dance that many of us have been a part of, one where he’s firmly taking the lead for 50 years. We’re like a ball of yarn batted back and forth in his paws, and just when we think we’ve got a grasp on what he’s up to, it all comes unraveled once again.   

But what if he’s been telling the truth this whole time and we’re too invested not to see the forest for the trees? Wouldn’t it be the greatest magic trick of all? Maybe, just maybe, Bob Dylan hasn’t been here for longer than we’ve noticed. Maybe he dusted off the whole game decades ago. There was the motorcycle wreck that brought his career to a halt while he recuperated and reassessed his career. It had been the longest folks had gone without an album, let alone a report on his whereabouts. It was easy to speculate. So, he needed a distraction for us to focus on. Luckily there was Beatlemania and a lot of free time on people’s hands. We were all looking one way proclaiming Paul Is Dead, while Bobby was ghosting out of the party on a 64 Triumph.

What if he had? How hard would it be for Columbia Records to keep his output coming even without him not around? The scene was perfect really. Here you have a guy that sings in a way that if you’re not paying attention, you may not be able to understand him. Never lauded as a great vocalist by any means, how hard would it be to impersonate him, especially when he was changing his style from album to album anyway? And when it came to his live show, Dylan would regularly alter the time signatures of his songs to an unrecognizable arrangement, only familiar by picking out the stray word or two to complete the puzzle as to just which song you were hearing. Especially in his later years when age would take even his iconic nasal styling to that of an aged whisper. Why, you could almost get anyone up on the stage. 

Do you remember the story about him being stopped by police in Jersey? “He” was wearing a hoodie, riding his bike through a neighborhood after dark. When the cops stop him for looking suspicious, Dylan tells them who he is but they don’t believe him. “You don’t look like Bob Dylan.” The joke was on the officer later, but who knows?  If you can’t recognize someone face to face…

The movie that Dylan co-wrote was called Masked and Anonymous. A separate movie based on his life and mythology was called I’m Not There. The second album of the 70s was an album called “New Morning” and a few years later he was wearing face paint during his Rolling Thunder tour. And the ultimate smoking gun, would the real Dylan think that the Christmas album was a good idea? Looks like a well-worn formula from record label land.

Anyone could be up there in his place. Maybe it’s son Jakob, always reluctant to talk about his father. Or Cate Blanchet, who portrayed him so well in the film. Maybe it’s Robert Zimmerman, back from the dead himself. Or maybe Dylan really is one of the greatest character studies of all time, completely in control of his legend and legacy, well aware that the more we’re stuck guessing, the more we’ll want and wait for him. Job security by an expert hand, able to see every play on the chessboard before us.  A joker and a thief with a bird’s eye view from the watchtower.

Kyle Meredith is the music director of WFPK and host of the nationally syndicated “The Weekly Feed.” Hunting bears was never his strong point.