Bruce Springsteen on the song that “changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll for ever and ever”

The novelist Graham Greene once wrote: “There is always one moment in childhood when the door opens and lets the future in.” For many of us, that Promethean juncture, where the surface of the world unzips and reveals a sense of depth and identity beneath, occurred at the hands of Bob Dylan. Bruce Springsteen was no different.

He would later be likened to his hero when he was first signed. In fact, when Dylan heard ‘the next Bob Dylan’ he said, “He better be careful, or he might go through every word in the English language.” However, when Springsteen’s debut was presented to the world with the PR tagline of ‘the next Dylan’ it became clear that the issue wasn’t the fact that he was verbose; it was that Dylan had hardly gone anywhere.

As it happens, Springsteen knew that Dylan’s impact would be lasting from the second that he first heard him. He was 15 at the time, and when it came blaring through the radio, it seemed to prognosticate his future. “The first time I heard Bob Dylan, I was in the car with my mother listening to WMCA, and on came that snare shot that sounded like somebody’d kicked open the door to your mind,” he recalled when inducting Dylan into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

He continued: “The way that Elvis freed your body, Dylan freed your mind, and showed us that because the music was physical did not mean it was anti-intellect. He had the vision and talent to make a pop song so that it contained the whole world. He invented a new way a pop singer could sound, broke through the limitations of what a recording could achieve, and he changed the face of rock ‘n’ roll for ever and ever.”

Indeed, it did. As Paul McCartney said, “He showed all of us that it was possible to go a little further.” But more importantly, it seemed to cut through an awful lot of bullshit. It was an anti-counterculture counterculture anthem; it refused to be part of rock ‘n’ roll platitudes, and yet it was decidedly rock ‘n’ roll; it was as sharp as a razor yet more considered than many best-selling novels, let alone songs.

This is how Springsteen viewed Dylan in general, let alone the song. As he recalls in his autobiography: “Highway 61 Revisited and Bringing It All Back Home were not only great records, but they were the first time I can remember being exposed to a truthful vision of the place I lived.“

This unflinching view of America exhibited the same token that James Baldwin spoke of when he announced: “I love America more than any other country in the world and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.” This is something that Springsteen has reflected continually in his own work. As he poetically continues: “The darkness and light were all there, the veil of illusion and deception ripped aside. He put his boot on the stultifying politeness and daily routine that covered corruption and decay.”

He continues to eulogise Dylan’s exacting encapsulation of society, adding: “The world he described was all on view, in my little town, and spread out over the television that beamed into our isolated homes, but it went uncommented on and silently tolerated. He inspired me and gave me hope. He asked the questions everyone else was too frightened to ask, especially to a fifteen-year-old: ‘How does it feel… to be on your own?’”

With this simple statement, Dylan stirred an entire generation like no artist had done before him or even since, for that matter, albeit Springsteen has upheld the same tenets. “A seismic gap had opened up between generations, and you suddenly felt orphaned, abandoned amid the flow of history, your compass spinning, internally homeless. Bob pointed true north and served as a beacon to assist you in making your way through the new wilderness America had become. He planted a flag, wrote the songs, sang the words that were essential to the times, to the emotional and spiritual survival of so many young Americans at that moment,” Springsteen concludes.

That flag is still very much waving; however, you’d be hard-pushed to say that anyone has surpassed ‘Like a Rolling Stone’ as the ripples of its impact are still reconciled.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *