Retaking the Test of Time

They don’t play Dylan on 93.3, Denver’s modern rock station. Not today, not in 1999 when I spent the summer burning stencils and cleaning ink off silkscreens at a family-owned t-shirt factory.

I had to crank the radio to 11 to hear Everlast remind me that I really don’t know what it’s like to lose. My power washer made it hard to hear Lit explain why his car was in the front yard and why he slept with his clothes on. Luckily if you miss a lyric or two the radio is quick to rotate the song until the earworm takes hold.

The owner’s barefooted son wasn’t a fan of my radio station choice. Too young to experience the 70’s firsthand, still he was as true blue a hippy as you can be short of attending Woodstock. He mesmerized me with stories of his spiritual quest, his escapades with women, drugs, and drinking. How could a college kid not be fascinated by a guy like that?

I envied his free spirit, his ability to shrug off the square culture blaring on my radio, his disdain for the “Sunday, Sunday, Sunday” advertising, and his immunity to earworm. So when he told me my life was incomplete because I hadn’t experienced Dylan, I was convinced before I heard a single track on the five cds he lent me. The stack contained:

  1. Desire
  2. Nashville Skyline
  3. John Wesley Harding
  4. Bringing It All Back Home
  5. Greatest Hits

I popped the first disc on my Walkman and prepared to have my mind blown. What I heard was, uh, underwhelming. I scanned the second cd.

The music was impenetrable, a bitter blast to my syrup-craving senses.

There was nothing for my virgin ears to grasp on to. Bob Dylan’s voice seemed tuned to some alien key. I couldn’t find the hooks. What was he doing with that harmonica? The lyrics referenced people I didn’t know and events I didn’t care about. Even the greatest hits compilation hit my ears like dud bottle rockets, all fizzle and no fireworks. I dutifully listened to the albums a couple times and gave up.

I felt guilty when I handed the cds back to my hippy friend. I was just too square to appreciate his groovy tunes, man.

My guilt lingered until a few years later when I tried a different entry point into Dylan’s immense catalog. This time something clicked when I heard Blood on the Tracks. Encouraged, I dug deeper. After Blonde on Blonde won me over I was on my way to becoming a Bob Dylan fan.

It’s a lesson I have to re-learn again and again. Opinions solidify quickly but the first pass of judgement is usually wrong. It takes work to deconstruct preferences, to battle the lazy acceptance of whatever the culture puts in front of us. If you aren’t uncomfortable, you aren’t growing. The more you look, the more you see. The more you listen, the more you hear. And if you don’t get something the first time, try again until it clicks. You can retake the test of time as many times as you need.

Thanks for reading. If my writing hasn’t taken hold yet, try again. I will be back next Saturday with another attempt to get you to hear me. Stay creative.

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