Bob Dylan turns 71 today. On 29 May, the song-and-dance man will receive the Presidential Medal of Honour at the White House alongside the former US secretary of state Madeleine Albright and the novelist Toni Morrison. The Bobcat rumour mill, meanwhile, continues to spin, grinding out theories about a new album expected later this year. (A Mexican influence? A song about the sinking of the Titanic?)
Despite his recent(ish) return to form that began with the 1997 album Time Out of Mind – and despite the Oscar and Golden Globe he received for the song "Things Have Changed" in 2001, the acclaim heaped upon the first volume of his memoirs, his painting exhibitions, his radio shows and his 2008 Pulitzer Prize for Being Bob Dylan – he seems far from ready to go gently into the night. Where he once urged his listeners to stay "forever young", however, he now more readily admits: "It's not dark yet, but it's getting there."
In a 2006 interview, Dylan said: "I always wanted to stop when I was on top. I didn't want to fade away. I didn't want to be a has-been, I wanted to be somebody who'd never be forgotten." With fading away out of the question, one major cause for reflection seems to be the ageing process. The mind can remain alive to the world; but what of the physical body?
Below is a top-five list of his Grand Statements on Growing Older, chosen somewhat undemocratically by me. Do use the comments section below if you can think of any better.
5. From "Highlands" (Time Out of Mind, 1997):
I see people in the park forgetting their troubles and woesThey’re drinking and dancing, wearing bright-colored clothesAll the young men with their young women looking so goodWell, I’d trade places with any of them in a minute, if I could
4. From "My Back Pages" (Another Side of Bob Dylan, 1964):
Ah, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now
3. From "Bob Dylan’s Dream" (Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, 1963):
With haunted hearts through the heat and coldWe never thought we could ever get oldWe thought we could sit forever in funBut our chances really was a million to one
2. From "Red River Shore" (Tell Tale Signs, 2008):
Well we're living in the shadows of a fading pastTrapped in the fires of timeI've tried not to ever hurt anybodyAnd to stay out of the life of crimeAnd when it's all been said and doneI never did know the scoreOne more day is another day awayFrom the girl from the red river shore
1. From "Floater (Too Much to Ask)" ("Love and Theft", 2001):
The old men ’round here, sometimes they getOn bad terms with the younger menBut old, young, age don’t carry weightIt doesn’t matter in the end