Friday, October 14, 2016

The Characters of Highway 61 -- Just One Example of Dylan's Nobel-Worthy Imagination

Dylan receiving Medal of Freedom from President Obama*
By now Dylan fans everywhere have read or heard the news of his being honored with a Nobel Laureate for Literature. It will be interesting to see how he is received tonight at Desert Trip in Coachella. When you let it sink in you realize that this has to be a tremendous honor, and I can imagine some backstage acknowledgements from his peers out there. It only took minutes before the Twitterverse was abuzz with the news and not much longer for Wikipedia-world to get its list of Nobel laureates for literature page updated.

The Nobel announcement could not have been more suitably timed as here in the Northland as we've been gearing up for the celebration of a local Dylan-themed radio show that streams throughout the world from KUMD, Highway 61 Revisited. In anticipation of this weekend's celebration at The Rex I've been listening to this Dylan album from which John Bushey's show obtained its name and I couldn't help but be fascinated by the cast of characters that appear in his songs here. It would be fun to set aside a block of time to paint or draw them.

Our celebration of John Bushey's show and all things Dylan has been amped to a higher level now, with a proclamation by the governor added to our mayor's planned proclamation this Saturday night. The Nobel Committee's decision did not please everybody, of course. Yes, it added a spring to my step yesterday, but there were grumblers who seem dismissive. My only thought there is that no matter who wins the prize there are an incredible number of worthies left standing in the wing each year.

50 years ago
The good part of this award is that it will undoubtedly draw renewed attention to the work he has created, and this will lead many people to see why his long time fans were so impressed in the first place. It's been said that if a man is worth knowing at all he's worth knowing well. I would suggest this especially applies to the creative output of Bob Dylan.

For what it's worth, here's an overview of many of the world's reactions to yesterday's news.

And here are photos from around the world related to Dylan's achievement and career.

* * * *

What follows here is a fragment from what I'd originally intended to write about today, the characters in Bob Dylan's songs. In the mid-Sixties Dylan's imagination was in full flower. No one was writing songs like this young man. But he'd been deeply immersed in the folk traditions previous to this and once his mind was unbound his stories in song (Folk music is all about story, isn't it?) produced a fifty year shooting star that has never burned out.

So, on to the characters of Highway 61 Revisited. Here's a list, in the order of their appearance. My apologies if I've missed one.

Miss Lonely
The Mystery Tramp
The Diplomat
Napoleon in Rags
The Ghost of Belle Starr
Jack the Ripper
The Hysterical Bride in the Penny Arcade
The Medicine Man
John the Baptist
The Commander-in-Chief
The King of the Philistines
Gypsy Davey
His Faithful Slave Pedro
Cecil B Demille
Ma Rainey
Mr. Jones
The Geek
The Sword Swallower
The One-Eyed Midget
Queen Jane
Georgia Sam
Mack the Finger
Louie the King
The Fifth Daughter
The First Father
The Second Mother
The Seventh Son
The Rovin' Gambler
Saint Annie
Sweet Melinda
The Blind Commissioner
The Tightrope Walker
The Riot Squad
Lady & I
The Fortune-Telling Lady
Cain & Abel
The Hunchback of Notre Dame
The Good Samaritan
Einstein (disguised as Robin Hood)
His friend, a jealous monk
Dr. Filth
His Nurse, some local loser
The Phantom of the Opera
The Agents and the Superhuman Crew
Insurance Men
Nero's Neptune
Ezra Pound
T.S. Eliot
Calypso Singers

* * * *

This is just one album of dozens... and this weekend will be just one more acknowledgement that someone very special has passed this way.

Thank you, Bob, for all the great songs and the important stories.

* * * *

Saturday night we're celebrating the 25th anniversary of John Bushey's KUMD radio program Highway 61 Revisited. Everyone is invited, even if you've never been a fan before.

Saturday Evening Post, 1966


Scott Warmuth said...

That's one heck of a crowd. I'd try to squeeze Brother Bill in there.

Ed Newman said...

My bad. Good catch. Just gave me a thrill.