If Homer were pushed into a space vacuum by time bandits and landed in the year 2020, Rough and Rowdy Ways would be his favorite album. Because when you’re great, you settle for nothing less than epic.
I’m not here to provide historical analysis to Dylan’s venomous prose. If you want a pair of glasses telling you what everything means, I’m sure one of those Pitchfork pussies that break everyone’s expression of self down to a number would love to chew your ear off and drop it in a kale smoothie. You don’t need a master’s degree to like Rough and Rowdy Ways, you just need an understanding of the man who wrote it and the time he comes from. Supremely, you need the understanding that he is just that: a man. Fuck the myth surrounding him and listen to his story. The geezer has seen a lot. He was the first plugged punk on the Lincoln Memorial. He was the last unplugged punk on MTV. He’s one of the wisest people making music today (RIP John Prine). He knows when to be pissed, he knows when to be sympathetic. He knows when to speak out, the poet laureate even knows when to shut up (and accept his Nobel Prize like a man).
This album is ten different looks deep into the life and times of the American condition, from the acknowledgement of his over-idolization (“False Prophet”) to the greatest crescendo of the cultural decade we could ever hope for. It really is one of the greatest songs ever written, because it’s not a song, it is what it is, and it’s “Murder Most Foul.” This man lived through a time where there were real ruts, and he wants you to know that the modern comparison is moot.
It’s raining now and the news is on, so I’ll part with this: Dylan serves as red, white and blue clay, allowing any and all to mold him into their idea of the world. He knows it is inevitable, as all things are. The determinist existentialist, the tambourine man. Yet the stone keeps a-rolling, and even if we burn America down and start over, Bob Dylan will remain a Phoenix. And even when Bob Dylan is sixty feet under, the soot will rumble from above. Because that old bastard never stops kicking the shit, and he will outlive us all.
Rough and Rowdy Ways