Bob Dylan was awarded the Medal of Freedom at the White House. Seventy one years old. The old troubadour, the perennial shape-shifter, who dug deep into his own life, and hit a raw nerve in America. Who found himself riding a fast rolling wave of protest and discontent. One of many waves he would ride in a long career.
He spoke to something in me and many more like me. Validating the stirrings and pointing out the impending sense of futility and meaninglessness the young feel when they are about to turn the handle on adulthood, especially at a time when the seams of everything were coming apart in the 60's. Bob Dylan gave voice to things before we knew they existed. He drew a map for me, marking all the treasure tucked deep inside me, and his enduring power was that he kept disappearing. It was always his journey, public and yet eminently private, and by extension, it was always my journey as well. The places where our journeys overlapped were wonderful and magic. The places where our paths diverged allowed me to grow. To find my own voice and where my voice fit in the larger scheme of things.
It was well deserved that Bob Dylan should be honored in the White House, and at the same time, strangely unsettling. President Obama, the unlikely African American President of the United States, fastening the Medal of Freedom on the man whose voice would never have led you to believe that he would make his living and earn this honor as, of all things, a singer. There he was, a mass of contradictions, dressed in a tuxedo, hair as wild as ever, hands folded meekly, wearing shades, shades?! Does he want to look cool? He looks a little like the last surviving member of the three blind mice. Being honored by the America he helped birth long ago, when he was little more than a boy himself. When we were all babies, really.
Here was the man who had revealed so much, like an old stripper, still clinging to her bubbles and feather boa. No matter how many pictures I see of Dylan, I never really feel that I have seen him. He's always just out of reach, even the camera lens falls short. Now, as I look at the photo of him at 71, wearing shades, he is still not quite there. There is a part of him not finished, evolving, spinning great webs of lyrics, alternative narratives and lives, behind the shades.
Bob Dylan has passed through every stage; obscurity, rebellion, fame, celebrity, and now finally, respectability — the most dangerous stage of all. Thank you for everything, and by all means, keep those shades on Bob. There's still more to say. We still have a ways to go, together.