Dylan All Around Me

“I woke up this morning, there were tears on my face,” begins one of Bob Dylan’s more forgotten songs, the 1971 single “George Jackson.”

As I wrote in 2008:

George Jackson . . . was an inmate in a California state prison who became a self-educated leader and political figure during his incarceration. He wound up dead in prison during the summer of 1971 in what some called an assassination, while others seemed to think that his death was simply the unsurprising end of a life of violence and crime. Folk hero or thug? I don’t know, and the page on Jackson at Wikipedia doesn’t really resolve anything. I recall the first time I heard the record: I was sitting . . . somewhere with Rick and a radio one day, and we listened intently, as we did in those days to anything Dylan did. I don’t know if the deejay was asleep at the switch or making a statement, but the radio station didn’t bleep the line, “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” and Rick and I looked at each other, startled. “Bob Dylan lays it on the line,” said Rick, laughing. In any case, the record – which never made it to an LP back then and, as far as I know, has since been included only on three relatively obscure Dylan CD anthologies – is an audio artifact of the tail end of the odd and bitter time we now call the Sixties. I sometimes wonder if Dylan ever regrets recording and releasing the song, but I figure not: I don’t think – at least as far as his music goes – Dylan has much time for regrets.

Anyway, as I woke up this morning, there were no tears on my face, but for some reason the line “He wouldn’t take shit from no one,” embedded itself in my brain not long after I wandered down the hall intent on brushing my teeth. I recognized the source of the line immediately, of course, and as I cleaned my teeth and went on into the morning, I wondered how often Dylan pops up, unsought, in my life.

Quite regularly, I would guess. Two examples come to mind from recent weeks. (I could, of course, hold off on this idea for a month and keep track of any other examples that come to mind, making this idea more flesh than bare bones, but hey, I’m not a scientist. And I’m already this far into the post . . .)

Standing in front of my music bookshelf and looking for something to browse through the other day, I grabbed The Band FAQ, a lengthy and somewhat oddly organized volume by Peter Aaron, and although Dylan is not mentioned on every page or even in every section, he of course shows up a fair amount in portions of the book and otherwise flits around the margins, as he does with almost anything written about The Band.

And the other day, Facebook offered up – as one of my memories from years past – my scan of a post card of Rome’s Colosseum. I’d sent the postcard to Rick when I was in the Eternal City long ago, and he’d given it back to me – along with other cards and letters I’d sent to him – when I returned home. So where’s Dylan in that?

Well, I began my message on the back of the postcard: “Oh, the hours that I’ve spent inside the Colosseum, dodging lions and wasting time . . .” Those are, of course, the opening words to Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece.” My choosing to open my message to Rick with those words wasn’t random, but Facebook offering my scan of the card as an “On this date . . .” certainly felt so.

So do bits of thought about Dylan pop up more frequently than bits of thought about other performers? Does Dylan permeate my life more than, say, Springsteen, the Beatles, The Band or Richie Havens? It’s an odd thing to ponder, but I’d have to say yes. There’s more music by Dylan on the shelves here than there is from any other performer or group. In my early songwriting days, Dylan was the major influence on my lyrics (with Lennon & McCartney being the greatest influence on song construction). And bits and reminders of Dylan likely pop up regularly.

So yeah, whether I always realize it, I’d have to say that Dylan is all around me. And here’s the acoustic version of “George Jackson,” the track that sparked this odd post. Interestingly enough, it’s found – as one can see below – on the 2012 album Listen, Whitey! The Sounds Of Black Power 1967-1974, and it’s the version that went to No. 33 around the time 1971 turned into 1972. (The flip side was the same song with a backing band.)

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