Interviewer: “Mr Dylan, what are your songs about?” Dylan: “Oh, some are about four minutes.”

Bob Dylan turned 74 recently, although he looks every bit of 140, and he was in the news because it happens to be the 50th anniversary of his recording one of his greatest hits, “Like A Rolling Stone.” This is a six minute plus ballad about a woman who used to be on top of the world but has since fallen on hard times. If there were a country named Schadenfreudia, “Like A Rolling Stone” would be its national anthem. A lot of Dylan songs reflect a certain personal bitterness. One of them, “Positively 4th Street”, begins with the lyric, “You’ve got a lot of nerve to say you are my friend.” You can’t help but think of all the girls who must have declined his prom invitations.


Born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, he dropped out of the University of Minnesota after one year and decided to become a performer. He began his career as a singer of folk songs, and his first album did indeed contain folk songs in the original sense of the term, that is, songs that had become familiar because they’ve been sung over the years by generations of “folks.” Many of his later and more popular songs were considered folk songs too, but they were composed and first sung by Dylan himself. If folks were involved they came much later. He once observed that folk music, as opposed to rock, had more of the sweep of humanity in it. This got the Idler to thinking that almost anyone could come up with a folk song, especially here in the steel valley where we’ve got lots of authentic folks and folksy things to sing about. Maybe we can start by borrowing some of Dylan’s melodies, though. First off, someone should address the oppressive soul-crushing nature of the PA Liquor Control Board.:

To The Tune Of “The Times They Are A-Changin’
Come gather ’round people
Come one and come all
And admit that you like to
Imbibe alcohol
And the whole state store
System drives you up the wall
Cause on Sunday you can’t buy a Riesling
Then you better stop voting for Neanderthals
For the times don’t seem to be a-changin’

How about a paean to the working men and women who keep us happy down at the ballyard:

To The Tune Of “Hey Mr. Tambourine Man
Hey! Mr. PNC man, bring a beer for me
I’m still thirsty and the Buccos have a 5 run lead
Hey! Mr. PNC man, have a beer on me,
In the sixth or seventh inning I’ll come lookin’ for you

You can’t get much more folksy than a song about trains and the plight of weary commuters trying to make connections

To The Tune Of “Blowin’ In The Wind”
How many roads can a man drive down
Before he stops for a train
How long a time must the 53 bus
Sit by the curb in the rain
How many cars will you have to cut off
To get in the Waterfront lane?
The answer, my friend is at Amity & 6th
The answer‘s at Amity & 6th

Anyway, if you pull out your old guitar and get to work on some folk songs who knows, maybe you can become the next Bob Dylan. Don’t worry about your vocal ability either. Dylan’s own voice has been compared unfavorably to a malfunctioning string trimmer. Just don’t start off with “You’ve got a lot of nerve.” That’s already been done.

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