Bob Dylan released his 35th album this past Tuesday–50 years to the day after releasing his first. The album, entitled Tempest, has been both panned and praised by a wide range of critics. I personally love the album, but then I’ve loved most everything he has done for the 40 years that I have been listening to his music. I guess you could say I’m a fan.
The critics that have panned this record have focus on two things. They say that the quality of Dylan’s voice, while never his strength, has greatly declined of late. They also say that the quality of Dylan’s songwriting–something that has most definitely been his strength–has also declined. The implication almost seems to be that if Dylan’s music is not at the same quality as it was in his younger days, he should perhaps think about no longer recording and releasing new albums. When you are one of the greatest songwriters to have ever lived, I guess that legendary status can become a burden later in life.
This is a column about wellness though, and not about music, and so let me get to my point. I believe that Dylan continues to write and perform music at the age of 71 for the shear joy and delight he gets from performing his craft. I don’t believe he spends much time worrying about how he compares to his younger self and to the music he wrote and recorded 30, 40, or 50 years ago.
Dylan is a model of wellness for me because in a culture that idolizes youth, he stands out as one example of what it means to age and still be fully alive, doing what he loves most. Does he do it as well as he did when he was younger? Probably not. But that misses the point. Physical decline is inevitable for every one of us as we age. There is much we can do to slow the decline, but there is no avoiding it. That’s why, for example, all singers’ voices will decline as they age.
While physical decline is inevitable, spiritual decline–the decline of the soul most definitely is not. In fact, our souls can continue to grow and expand until our last breath. And that’s what inspires me about Dylan. His soul is as alive and well as ever. His love of creating and performing live concerts (he still does over 100 concerts a year all over the world) is refreshing.
Music critic Andy Downing, after listening to Tempest, wrote that Dylan has “a gravelly voice as gnarled and knotted as an ancient oak.” How true this is. Now, young oak trees are plentiful and are indeed enjoyable, but ancient oaks are much rarer, and therefore more special. Ancient oaks have a depth, a heft, and a weathered wisdom about them. They are in a category by themselves, one in which no comparison to their younger selves is necessary. Ancient oaks, whether in the form of a tree or a person, have a majestic quality all their own.
The times they are a changing indeed, and Dylan continues to grow and change with them. He reminds us that as we age, just because we may not do something as well as we did it when were younger, it doesn’t mean we should stop doing it. In fact, as long as we are able, let’s keep doing what it is we love, enjoying each moment with all our heart and soul.
And as Bob himself said a long time ago–1965 to be precise–“He who’s not busy being born, is busy dying.”