Shavua Tov, 20th Sivan, 5776 / June 26th, 2016
Chillin’ With Dylan, Rhymin’ With Simon
Lately I’ve been told my blogs have been on the morose side: obituaries about Ali, Bowie, Haggard and, of course, the atrocity in Orlando, not to mention the mortality-laced Father’s Day tribute. I want both my readers to know that I hear you, and so, here’s an uplifting piece about 2 of my favorite Jewish dads.
Bob Dylan and Paul Simon, both born in 1941, grew up in Jewish households, became Bar Mitzvah, were involved, respectively, in Jewish camping and Jewish fraternities. They gained prominence in the increasingly popular folk music movement, in which Jews such as Peter Yarrow and Arlo Guthrie (who had a “hootenanny Bar Mitzvah and whose father, Woody – not Jewish – wrote some wonderful folk Chanukah songs released about 10 years ago by the Klezmatics) were disproportionately represented. Both were signed around the same time by Columbia Music. Both broke controversially from the folk movement by incorporating electric guitars, a folk heresy. Simon credits Dylan for influencing perhaps his most famous duet with fellow Jew Art Garfunkel, “The Sounds of Silence.” However, famously, Simon lampooned Dylan in “A Sort of Desultory Philippic,” with an ignorant hippy persona: “He’s so unhip/When I say ‘Dylan,’/ He thinks I’m talking about Dylan Thomas, whoever he was/ Man ain’t got no culture, but that’s ok/ Everybody must get stoned.”
Dylan does not confess to being influenced by Simon – the former sticking to his folk and occasionally rock style, while the latter experimenting with Latin and world music sounds. Both have proudly performed in Israel, and Dylan even wrote a scathing piece, “Neighborhood Bully,” decrying anti-Israel activism. Simon does not profess a strong attachment to Judaism, but Dylan has often been seen at Chabad events (A colleague sat next to him on Purim in the 80s, and he introduced himself as Bob Zimmerman, his given surname. My colleague didn’t recognize him. For the love of God…)
What impresses me most about these two Jewish men is that they’re still going strong. We don’t hear anything from Yarrow or Guthrie, but these septuagenarians have both released new albums this year! Dylan’s “Fallen Angels,” released last month, is a soulful album covering old jazz standards – not something you’d expect to enjoy from his overly nasal, pitch-challenged voice. But his treatment is simply beautiful. You realize that what makes his voice so compelling was not the quality of the instrument but the earnest passion behind it. Simon’s “Stranger to Stranger,” released earlier this month, reveals him at his usual experimental and philosphical self, but with a strong political tinge. His voice is also familiar and relatively unchanged, save for some age-related warble.
Hearing new work from Dylan and Simon is like hearing from a long-lost friend. They should live to be 120! Shavua Tov.