I was 18 years young when Bob Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone dramatically surfaced in my life and changed it forever. Had just finished 3 months of voluntarily living the life of a homeless wanderer hitchhiking back and forth between Vancouver and Calgary stopping off once or twice to get recharged at the ranch my Mother lived on in Vernon, B.C.
The homelessness came about during the summer of my 17th year, the last year of High School. Came home one day from school to find the locks on the doors changed and the windows locked. At that point, I was the only one living in that house, my roomates had moved out the month before. I did not pay that months rent; expected the damage deposit to cover it but apparently the Lord of that particular land thought otherwise. Naturally, I broke into my own home. Someone saw and called the cops who showed up and promptly arrested me in the belief I was a thief. They did get me for possession of pot and hash. Also had a "failure to appear" warrant due to a bureaucratic mix-up from another marijuana possession charge - the arresting officer put the wrong court number on the summons with result that I spent 5 days in jail.
While in jail, the Landlord got rid of everything in the house I used to live in. Friends managed to rescue my stereo, record collection and some clothes.
A month or so later, my legal issues were cleared up but decided to take a break from "trading my hours for a handful of dimes." So I lived off the land for the next 3 months until it got cold.
Sometime in October, 1977 I to got a job and rented a room to live in from a family near my work. One friend had stored my stereo which I retrieved. Another friend, who later unfriended me, refused to return my record collection saying I owed him rent. As luck would have it, I soon discovered that the local library to where I'd grown up had begun lending out records. Kind of absent-mindedly picked up Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited. I heard it was supposed to be good.
Back home, I got into a receptive space, turned out the lights, put my headphones on and put the record on. It's quite impossible to describe exactly what happened next, suffice to say it was one of the most powerful peak musical experiences ever felt in this Universe by this one. I connected immediately and deeply with the street poetry of Like A Rolling Stone. I finally found someone else who had lived a similar street education and could articulate it so well. I'd been on my own since I turned 16. None of my peers, at that point, could relate to what that felt like. Dylan had quite obviously been there. I could hardly believe anyone else ha so profoundly found me. It seemed that the lyrics, accented and driven by Michael Bloomfield's searing guitar lines and Dylan's bright, loud harmonica, drew things out of my subconscious mind I barely, or never realized were there.
Bob Dylan and Michael Bloomfield on electric guitars, Al Kooper on organ, and a bass player at Newport.
I've read interpretations that describe Like A Rolling Stone as bitter and cynical. I don't know, for me it resonated so strongly of joyful recognition for what it's like to die to childhood illusions and to directly confront and survive the beauty, brilliance, disappointments, twists and turns, ups and downs of the Real World in all its glorious, sometimes harsh, sometimes comic, always interesting Majesty. In short, I took it as a celebration of Life.
Comparisons have been made betwixt Dylan and Shakespeare. Never saw that myself, maybe because I don't know Shakespeare enough. I do know, with 99% certainty, that William didn't have an amplified electric guitar and harmonica to help him out. One commonality I do recognize: the beginning of Like A Rolling Stone's chorus, which Dylan and others (not long ago The Rolling Stones themselves) deliver with so many different kinds and degrees of passion in various recordings that it qualifies for ' the eight and ninety rules of art', seems a corollory question to Hamlet's famous soliloquy which begins "To be or not to be, that is the question..."
Timothy Leary asked another related question: "What is the question for which Life is the answer?" in his book What Does WoMan Want? Leary juxtaposes Dylan onto himself making him the protagonist in this autobiographical adventure:
The central plot is the Quixotic saga of an evolutionary agent, Dylan, a confused but sincere minstrel. He has been assigned to a primitive planet in the latter years of the Roaring 20th Century to perform those small but precise jiggles needed to cause chaos in the old, outmoded gene-pools, thus allowing creative individuals to start exploring and settling the next habitats. Dylan's mission is none other than to rediscover what woman really wants.
Leary seems to have had a hate/love relationship with Bob Dylan over the years. It couldn't have helped that Leary's wife Rosemary said that she learned everything she knew from Bob Dylan.
E.J. Gold also asks the question, 'what is it that a woman really wants?' in the chapter, Bringing the Woman to Life from the book The Human Biological Machine as a Transformational Apparatus:
With the deepest part of herself, with all her heart, she wishes to be found and to be known.
... warming her heart and bathing her in the intense radiation of total adoration.
Many of Dylan's songs seem to lyrically touch upon this theme but I actually hear it stronger in his harmonica playing. It often resonates with the active, functional manifestion of the magickal formula abbreviated YHVH, Yod, He, Vau, He ( explained in Crowley's, The Book of Thoth). This formula reads more like Yod Harmonica, Vau, Harmonica in Dylan's presentation but has the same intention as I hear it, to bring the woman to life.
A brilliant example of this occurs in the film I'm Not There in which 6 different actors portray Dylan's various character identities. The Like A Rolling Stone era Dylan is played by Cate Blanchett. No footage of the real Bob Dylan appears in the film, he's not there, except at the very end where he plays a lengthy harmonica solo to close the film.