Robert Allen Zimmerman turns 75 today—though he may seem to have existed since time out of mind. (Forgive the pun.) Here’s a song for Bob. I don’t mean it to be mocking, though a cutting humor is an essential ingredient in the man’s work.
“Forever Young” was written as a lullaby for Dylan’s son Jesse, but when he recorded it on 1974’s Planet Waves, the songwriter (then a spry 33) worried that the song might be viewed as too sentimental. So while he released the original slow version—which closed side A—as a single, he also cut this more rollicking version to kick off side B. (Indeed, a friend’s girlfriend heard the slow version and teased him: “C'mon, Bob: What! Are you getting mushy in your old age?” Little did she know he’d be cutting back-to-back Sinatra tribute records in the 2010s.)
In any case, Dylan, unlike most of his peers—and indeed most musicians—has continued to make vital music well into his eighth decade. If that’s not eternal youth, what is?
As befits a magazine dedicated to the American idea, The Atlantic has written about Dylan at length over the years. From 1999, the great Francis Davis on how Dylan changed popular music. From 2010, here’s Eleanor Barkhorn on how Dylan changed the ‘60s. From 2012, Tom Hawking on some of his best lyrics here, Scott Beauchamp and Alex Shephard on his friendship with John Lennon here, and Jack Hamilton on his long-lasting brilliance here. From 2013, an impressive lyrical defense of Dylan from Conor here. Last year, I reviewed Dylan’s Shadows in the Night and wrote about how he just maybe coined a Millennial catchphrase. Forever young indeed.