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Music

The strange hitchhiking habit that Bob Dylan developed during his born-again phase

@TomTaylorFO

In 1964, Bob Dylan penned a letter that reflected on the sudden fame he found himself thrust towards. His poetic script began: “[Sic] A LETTER FROM BOB DYLAN / for sis and gordon an all broads of good sizes / let me begin by not beginning / let me start not by startin but by continuing / it sometimes gets so hard for me — / I am now famous / I am now famous by the rules of public famiousity / it snuck up on me / an pulverized me… / I never knew what was happenin / it is hard for me t walk down the same streets / I did before the same way because now / I truly dont know / who is waitin for my autograph…”

He then poetically postulates: “I dont know if I like givin my autograph / oh yes sometimes I do… / but other times the back of my mind tells me / it is not honest… / for I am just fulfilling / a myth t somebody who’d actually treasure my / handwritin more’n his own handwritin… / this gets very complicated for me / an proves t me that I am livin in a contradiction… / t quote mr froyd / I get quite paranoid / an I know this isn’t right / it is not a useful healthy attitude for one t have / but I truly believe that everybody has their fears / everybody yes everybody…”

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This very notion would be one that Dylan mused on throughout his explosive 1960s period, culminating the full regress of New Morning, his 1970 record that disavowed all the political prose and ‘voice of a generation’ posturing for which he had become known. He had only been 23 years old when the weight of the world landed on his shoulders and this step aside was a move that helped to reclaim his youth, as he once sang: “Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger now.”

In short, as one of Dylan’s favourite songwriters, the masterful Randy Newman once wrote: “It’s lonely at the top!” However, when you’ve been perched at the lofty peak for a while, you can be a bit more wily with the way you navigate it. In the end, Dylan eschewed the full glare of fame and found a way to do Dylan things all the same. 

During his born-again Christian phase of the late 1970s / early 80s, he embarked on a particularly singular hobby. When Dylan was delving fully into the realm of Christianity, Keith Green was the foremost musician in this circle. In fact, Green had even been described as the Christian John Lennon

In the Biography No Compromise: The Life of Keith Green, there is a section when Green’s wife, Melody, recalls that Dylan would drive around with her late husband. “He told us that he loved to pick up hitchhikers and tell them about Jesus. They never recognised him because they drove a beat-up old car and he wore a knit ski hat over his famous curls,” she writes.

With a dented fender and the car strewn with a hoarders slew of knick-knacks and throwaways; the unsuspecting hitchhikers overlooked the driver sharing Dylan’s voice of sand and glue or else they found the whole thing a little too wild to reconcile. Thus, Dylan was free to simply plough along the long roads with his friend extolling the world of Christ as he pleased. You can only imagine the wry smile he would’ve sported if he had popped up on the radio.