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Music

When Bob Dylan told Pete Townshend why he never stops touring

Before any of this started – and by this I mean publications lionising the great and good of the art world, pop culture painting our dismal daily lives with colour, the voices of folks with dogeared guitars hitting headlines, the full shebang of modern times – there was one scruffy vagabond following in the footsteps of his heroes and capturing culture on the wing. Eventually, Bob Dylan wandered in Greenwich Village, spread his ways like a wildflower that had found a favourable meadow, and soon the pastures of culture would never be the same again. 

That journey hit the brakes when the times a-changed a little too much and threatened to subsume him as an overly serious voice with an unbearable weight to shoulder. But in time, Dylan shrugged this off with shrewd steps of absence and now he wanders around the globe telling his tales forevermore. On the day that his first UK tour in five years was announced, we look at why he still roves the lonely highways of folk traditions.

When Pete Townshend met up with him at Desert Trip, he recalled: “I asked Bob Dylan why he does so many gigs. He told me, ‘I’m a folk singer. A folk singer is only as good as his memory, and my memory is going.’ He’s doing it to keep his memory alive.” Naturally, it’s a typically Dylanesque answer shrouded in a smokescreen of possible ambiguity, but as ever, it has poeticism and some sort of mystic design at its heart. 

Ultimately, he has become the definitive folk singer. As Sam Shepard wrote when he found himself a cog in his first roadshow engine with the Rolling Thunder Revue: “Dylan has invented himself,” he wrote. “He’s made himself up from scratch. That is, from the things he had around him and inside him. Dylan is an invention of his own mind. The point isn’t to figure him out but to take him in. He gets into you anyway, so why not just take him in? He’s not the first one to have invented himself, but he’s the first one to have invented Dylan.”

Many artists have taken inspiration from this constant act of creative invention. As Townshend said himself: “[I work] every day. I just don’t do what Dylan does. I don’t drag myself around the world, and I don’t put out an album every six weeks [laughs]. But I’ve got loads of songs. I’m working on a big project at the moment, which might be half rock opera, half art installation. I don’t know where it’s going to go. I’m going to start with a book. I don’t want to talk too much about that now.”

Despite recently cresting the hill of 81 years, Dylan continues to weave his fabled legacy. He has partaken in a whopping 74 shows since getting back on the road in 2021 and the reviews paint him as a prophet back to his ‘Gates of Eden’ heights.

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