A birthday shout-out to Bob Dylan on the occasion of his 75th birthday on May 24. America’s great artistic shape-shifter, Bob Dylan was generous enough to give his fans a birthday present just the week before: the release of Fallen Angels, his 37th studio album. A follow-up to last year’s Shadows in the Night, the new record finds Dylan in a retrospective mood, tackling twelve classics from the Great American Songbook from the likes of Johnny Mercer, Harold Arlen, Sammy Cahn, and Carolyn Leigh. Each of these songs—which include “Young At Heart,” “Polka Dots and Moonbeams,” “Skylarks,” “That Old Black Magic,” “All The Way,” “Melancholy Mood,” “It Had to Be You,” and “Come Rain or Come Shine”—were initially made famous by Frank Sinatra.
While the pairing of crooner and croaker might initially seem unlikely, Dylan at an awards event last year related an anecdote that put his vocal critics in the shade. When Sam Cooke was told he had a beautiful voice, Dylan told the crowd, “He said, ‘Well that’s very kind of you, but voices ought not to be measured by how pretty they are. Instead they matter only if they convince you that they are telling the truth.’” And it is that truth—and Dylan’s unerring sense of phrasing—that he shares with Sinatra.
The furthest thing imaginable to an oldies cash-in, Fallen Angels showcases Dylan and his tight combo treating each of these numbers to a wholesale reimagining, with the band leader investing each song with a lifetime’s hard-won yearning, humor, and wisdom. And it is perhaps Dylan’s distinctly American need and ability to reinvent himself—and the license he gave to generations of artists from David Bowie to Prince to Madonna to Lady Gaga to do the same—that will be his greatest legacy.
In 1967 Paul McCartney, perhaps Dylan’s only living peer, wrote a song that asked “Will you still need me/when I’m sixty-four?” At 75 Bob is as young and vital and artist as we have and we need his voice to help us through this crazy world now more than ever… Speaking of how to navigate a crazy world, my new book, 64 Shots: Leadership in a Crazy World, is due out the first day of summer, Tuesday, June 21. Among the heroes, visionaries, leaders, artists, and luminaries I write about in its pages is the subject of this article, the man Bono called “our own Willy Shakespeare in a polka-dot shirt.”