Dylan's birthday present: Free Bob from the Bobolator cult.

Dylan's birthday present: Free Bob from the Bobolator cult.

Dylan's birthday present: Free Bob from the Bobolator cult.

Scrutinizing culture.
May 16 2011 10:31 AM

Dylan's Birthday Present

Free Bob from the Bobolator cult.

See our Magnum Photos gallery on Bob Dylan.

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I know the first Dylan song that really got to me was "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right," a song with a sarcastic title and yet filed with regret, remorse, romantic longing, and a wish that things had turned out differently. His words are sarcastic, but he's almost sending up his self-portrait of detachment, portraying it as false bravado for a broken heart. He's thinking at least twice.

And I'd like to close on a personal note involving that song and its fusion of love and sarcasm.


There's something about this breakup song that, rather than indulging in bitterness and self-recrimination, lends itself to a romantic feeling. I can testify to this. I was at a party some years ago, feeling morose. A girl I didn't want to lose had left because I didn't do enough to keep her, and she had just taken off for the United Kingdom to marry a banker. The very next night at that party—it was in a sixth-floor garret in the Village—I was oversharing my sadness. I did it by quoting one of Dylan's most beautiful and overlooked songs of love and loss: "I Threw It All Away."

"I must have been mad/ I never knew what I had/ Until I threw it all away."

It just so happened that a poetically lovely young woman in a brown velveteen mini shift (hey, there are some details that linger in your memory) had been curled up on a couch taking note of this with a kind of knowing smile (she was onto my self-romanticizing game, yet in a forgiving way), and after I repeated "I threw it all away" one more time she spoke up and said,

"Yeah, but don't think twice, it's all right."

We ended up living together the next three years. I look back on it now as "Love at First Cite."

I have Dylan to thank for it.

Happy birthday, Bob.

If you're in Manhattan this Tuesday night, Ron will be speaking about his latest book, How the End Begins: The Road to Nuclear War, at the 92nd Street Y with The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg.