Kate Ceberano loves Bob Dylan’s music so much she did a whole gig of his songs at Melbourne’s Recital Centre. But it hasn’t always been that way…
Before I write my essay on Bob Dylan, I make this disclaimer:
I was a child of the 70s, raised by humans who didn’t listen to Dylan, weren’t ever hippies, who never smoked dope and didn’t like “non singers”. In their vinyl collection was Joan Baez, James Taylor, Nana Mouskouri, Roberta Flack, Charles Aznavour and a random collection of Don Ho Hawaiian classics (and the Cazimero Brothers’ ‘Sunday Manoa’ was played at every party). Years later it was Songs in the Key of Life, Earth Wind & Fire and Michael Jackson. So, Dylan was not the musique du jour…
But hang in there with me. Our relationship has been an evolving thing during my 30 years as a singer-songwriter. Call me a late bloomer, but I think I finally have him….within!
My first introduction to Dylan was during my brief spell as a Swinburne uni student. His was the voice that accompanied beery-breathed kisses, mohair skirts that itched, bonfires and walking off the hangover as a “happy somnambulist” around the Camberwell market. This was back in the day when the markets still had a junkyard magic about them. I was often accompanied by the buskers’ lament… “The times they are a-changin.” And indeed they were.
I picked out The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan that day because I loved the cover, as well as a paperback of On the Road by Jack Kerouac.
I listened to the album and imagined myself on that cold New York winter’s day, holding onto my boyfriend, happy to be loved by such a clever troubadour. I had no idea how already owned, possessed, obsessed over and notorious this Bob Dylan bloke was. To me he was a teenage crush that I was yet to have.
I got into a band and had a few on the side…jazz, disco and pop. But it wasn’t until my mum married a man who knew all the words to ‘Hurricane’ did I stop in my tracks long enough to comprehend the breadth of Bob’s storytelling. This essay, this treatise on racial discrimination, this modern parable of the wronged man, this concept of human rights and justice for everyone, not just for some…
I felt winded, remorseful that I had never listened. I was so busy pursuing my own place in this micro-musicmaking folly that is the “Australian music business”, I realised I knew nothing about the role of music other than simple entertainment. I felt somewhat ridiculous and have resolved since to better understand the role of the bard.
Love, it seems, is easier than people think, but life is the tricky business. Nobody writes life like Dylan. The human condition has never been more examined and exposed than in his songwriting.
I had the good fortune to sing songs like ‘Wedding Song’ recently. In songs like these, his love has secrets sewn within that you can unlock only by learning the phrases independent from themselves and reversing their meaning.
Love becomes losing, loss becomes wisdom gained, and memory becomes complete and total amnesia… You wipe out, you start again. No sentimentality. It’s just the way it is, when it was, in that time forever.
And Bob is my forever guy. He’s happy to speak for all of us when we have simply forgotten the words.
» Kate Ceberano
(@KateCeberano) is a multi-ARIA award winner who’s been performing and writing jazz and pop for more than 35 years.
» First published in The Big Issue edition#567