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Who’s the dude praising a woman’s sexy body in that godawful croak? My introduction to Robert Zimmerman was auspicious: the solo verses on the Traveling Wilburys’ “Dirty World.” Over seven hundred overdubbed acoustic guitars, a “Yakkety Yak” sax, and four other cooing coots, Dylan went on to celebrate her five-speed gear box — and disposition too!

I wanted more. Fortunately, the library carried several Dylan tapes: the recent Oh Mercy, and the beloved Down in the Groove and Infidels, available in their butt ugly CBS/Columbia Records tape casings. The spooky you’re-sinking-into-gumbo jive of Oh Mercy fit the voice; I was especially pleased with “Man in the Long Black Coat” and “What Was It You Wanted” (the harmonica sounded like a bird lost amid mangroves). Then I forgot about him for a few years. I bought Blonde on Blonde in 1994, struck by “Stuck Inside of Mobile…” and the jingle-jangle nonsense of “I Want You” (because love is supposed to make you recite bad poetry and shout glittering phrases); the rest was my being stuck with the double album blues again. The serious Dylanology began three years later: all the major albums and Desire, Empire Burlesque, Shot of Love, and at the end of the phase a new album called Time Out of Mind I played out of a sense of unecumbered duty. Today it still sounds like a geezer working himself up to a despair he can’t express in melody or song, and thanks to the instrumental overdubs it’s clear he tried hard to; the effort reminded me of a late eighties Bryan Ferry album, actually.

But I loved the rest and played them a lot. Too young for boomer politics but old enough to stand beside them in a voting booth, I don’t struggle with situating Bob Dylan in history and have even less patience with the mythos. He’s a man who wrote wonderful songs and quite a few terrible albums and stuck them on albums which rejected wonderful and terrible songs like a heart might the wrong blood type. From 2001 to 2009 he never sung with more humor; he had learned how to turn his rancid lusts and shitty ideas about women into a joke on himself, and hired players to give his shanties, 12-bar blues, Bing Crosby ballads, and bar band rock a zip and elegance he had never approximated. He doesn’t act like the genius his fans think he is, which means the joke is on us too.

1. I Want You
2. It’s All Over Now Baby Blue
3. I Dreamed I Saw St Augustine
4. Foot of Pride
5. Tombstone Blues
6. Jokerman
7. Day of the Locusts
8. Tight Connection to My Heart (Has Anybody Seen My Love)
9. Love Minus Zero
10. Lonesome Day Blues
11. Every Grain of Sand
12. Positively Fourth Street
13. I’m Not There
14. Blind Willie McTell
15. Things Have Changed
16. Please Mrs Henry
17. Buckets of Rain
18. High Water (For Charlie Patton)
19, Series of Dreams
20. Girl of the North Country
21. Brand New Leopard Skin Pill-Box Hat
22. Mississippi
23. Sign On My Window
24. Man in the Long Black Coat
25. Sugar Babe
26. Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again
27. Isis
28. Brownsville Girl
29 Dear Landlord
30. Clean Cut Kid
31. Going, Going Gone
32. Po’ Boy
33. Most Likely You’ll Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine)
34. Nettie Moore
35. Tangled Up in Blue
36. This Wheel’s On Fire
37. Nothing Was Delivered
38. As I Went Out One Morning
39. Huck’s Tune
40. Going to Acapulco
41. Tryin’ to Get to Heaven
42. Dirge
43. Sweetheart Like You
44. Workingman Blues
45. Highway 61 Revisited
46. Don’t Think Twice It’s Allright
47. Went to See the Gypsy
48. If You See Her, Say Hello
49. Sara
50. Shooting Star

ALBUMS

1. Blood on the Tracks
2. “Love & Theft”
3. Highway 61 Revisited
4. Bringing It All Back Home
5. John Wesley Harding
6. New Morning
7. The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan
8. Planet Waves
9. Oh Mercy
10. The Bootleg Series: Volumes 1-3.