There aren’t many superlatives that haven’t found a comfortable home in the description of Bob Dylan and his songwriting prowess. Rightly revered as one of the clearest voices of the 20th century, Dylan’s work morphed out of the folk scene of the 1960s to become a ubiquitous boom that swings from port to starboard at will, guiding the noble notion of the songwriter on a clear course for pleasant, artistic waters. Like all songwriters, Dylan’s work rarely arrived fully formed.
Never content to make music for anyone but himself, often Dylan would arrive at the studio with only the germ of an idea in his guitar case. Son, after a few strums and the odd lyric, he would scurry back away from the microphone and begin to re-sketch and re-shape his initial drawings into something far grander. That can certainly be said for his anthemic song ‘Forever Young’. Released on Planet Waves in 1974, below, we’re checking out the rarely heard acoustic demo of the track.
The track is an especially poignant one for Dylan as it is a letter to his eldest son, Jesse. Still, despite its highly personal significance, the genius songwriter managed to find the universal within the personal affections of the track. This dual notion makes the lyrics feel intimate and relatable for anyone who listens.
‘Forever Young’ has a warming lullaby feel to it as Dylan battles the worry he has about his child and, more poignantly, how he wants them to stay with the optimistic childlike nature that genuinely keeps you young, even when you’re old. It opens with the lines, “May God bless and keep you always / May your wishes all come true”, echoing the Old Testament’s Book of Numbers, which has lines that begin: “May the Lord bless you and guard you / May the Lord make his face shed light upon you.”
These words hit particularly hard when coupled with the gentle strum of Dylan’s guitar, in comparison to the elevated arrangements heard on the album. On the demo, we hear the song exactly as it was intended — a tender letter written about and for his eldest son, as the uncertain world loomed heavily over his future.
The demo was recorded in New York City in 1973 and later released on the Bob Dylan album Biograph from 1985. Although Dylan would later say that he was trying to avoid being “too sentimental” when writing the track for his son, the reality is as heartening as a warm hug at the end of a hard day.
Gentle, vulnerable, and bundle with the raw emotion of fatherhood — a sincere desire to protect and develop in equal measure — the demo version of Bob Dylan song ‘Forever Young’ is arguably better than any other.