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July 29, 2014

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Bob Dylan: Renewed love for a music icon

IF YOU GO

  • Who: Bob Dylan
  • When: 8 p.m. Sunday
  • Where: The Joint at the Hard Rock
  • Tickets: $55.50-$81; ticketmaster.com

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Beyond the Sun

Five things I know about Bob Dylan: He’s the voice of a generation. He’s written more great songs than I can remember. Some of the best versions of his songs were done by other people. He’s always on tour (his “Never Ending Tour” stops Sunday in Las Vegas). And Bob Dylan is weird. I gave up trying to figuring out what he’d do next — or why — early on. For years I’ve just been sitting back and enjoying the ride. If you are of a certain age, Dylan is a touchstone and his songs chronicle the phases of your life. Here are mine:

“Rainy Day Woman No. 12 and 35”

The kids in my neighborhood would gather round the boxy stereo and devour the latest album. Our conspiratorial joy reached a crescendo in 1966 with the rapid-fire releases of “Revolver,” “Aftermath,” “Buffalo Springfield” and “Pet Sounds.” I’ll always remember the brass band, harmonica and drums opening “Blonde and Blonde” and Dylan laughing as he warned, “They’ll stone ya when you’re trying to be so good.”

“You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere”

“The Basement Tapes” disc sits on my shelf next to Robert Johnson, the Stax box and Harry Smith’s anthology. These are albums I return to when I need a fix of America’s soul. Dylan and the Band produced this little jewel in the basement of Big Pink. “Nowhere,” which is better known by the Byrds, fits perfectly in this loosey-goosey mix of traditionals (“Ain’t No More Cane”), oddball vignettes (“Tiny Montgomery”) and classics (“Tears of Rage”). Pair the down-on-my-knees pleadings of “Please Mrs. Henry” with the heartbreaking postcard of love left behind in “Katie’s Been Gone.” It doesn’t get any better than this.

“Gotta Serve Somebody”

I never got sucked into debate with those who felt betrayed by born-again Bob. I loved this gospel-infused phase of his musical journey. So I was excited when Dylan brought his Muscle Shoals big band to San Francisco for a two-week residency. I was hooked through the lip the second Tim Drummond dropped into the loopy bass line of “Man Gave Names to All the Animals.” But I looked over and noticed my date was fidgeting. When Dylan preached “You gotta serve somebody,” she was overcome by the music, bolting from her seat with tears streaming down her face. By the time I got into the lobby, the usher was pointing into the night.

“Masters of War”

Over the years I got a chance to see Dylan perform many times with lots of great backing musicians. He was always at least interesting — even if he often seemed less compelling. Dylan set up at the local hockey rink a few weeks after 9/11. When the old troubadour launched into “Blowin’ in the Wind,” he was once again relevant. You could feel the electricity as he sang “Come you masters of war.”

“It’s All Good”

Dylan and I are old friends again. His latest CD gets constant play in my car. No, not the oddball Christmas album, which appeared in stores this week along with the holiday displays. “Together Through Time” sounds timeless, like vintage Sun and Chess, and has Dylan collaborating with Robert Hunter, David Hidalgo and Mike Campbell. What sounded so simple and raw has unfolded into complexity. As Dylan sings, “I wouldn’t change a thing, even if I could. You know what they say, they say it’s all good.”

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