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In Bed With Bob Dylan

The writer unpacks her record collection and the lazy pleasures of a lifelong music listener

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I often wish that being lazy were an Olympic sport. I would win. Doing nothing is a lost art, and I am good at it. I would be happy to medal just for lying in bed. I do that exceptionally well. In a world where everyone is proud to be overbusy and overscheduled, I have no such need. I am quite content to lie around. Alone or with someone else: They are distinct pleasures. And I have always been like this: Starting in first grade, I faked being sick so I could stay in bed all day, and I do that now. Sometimes I don’t even make excuses. Do I need one? Of course not: I have an active mind. I know that wanting to stay in bed all day is a symptom of depression. Very well, then: I’ve taken to my bed because I’m depressed. But please understand that I am having an absolutely fantastic time.

There is nothing like lying in bed listening to music. Sometimes it’s better on a sun-drenched happy day; sometimes I prefer the cool gray winter sky. There is nothing better still than a Sunday morning in Greenwich Village under the covers with Blonde on Blonde playing. You could fake the experience in another city or even in another part of this city, and maybe it would even be the same—but when it comes to sensual matters, the details count. And it really works. I have been spending Sundays with Dylan for a long time now. I have done it in cassette and vinyl and CD and mp3, because it doesn’t matter. (This point is so obvious that it is necessarily parenthetical: Nothing sounds better than an LP, but nothing feels better than not having to flip it over three times.) What matters is that there are people who may get their clients a consistent 12 percent return on investment and there are others who run corporate empires, but I am sure their lives are not anywhere near as rich as mine is, because they don’t know what I know. Just being a great listener to music has made my life impossibly sweet. And all the while, it has kept me clear of any of the many industries that are really just hastening civilization’s decline. Or maybe it has kept me in my nightgown. I have many lovely lacy nightgowns.

I realize that as with everything else, there’s an app for this, for being a connoisseur of listenization. There is Spotify, and I am sure there is the advanced beginners version of it for people who don’t have time to listen and just want to impress expensive body parts over dinner at NoMad—or invest more wisely in the entertainment and media sectors. But there does not exist an app for living well and loving what you love and, in my case, not being at all interested in anybody else’s taste in music because I have more than enough of my own, and I will keep it with mine. (Actually, probably there is an app for that too.) When someone says, There is something you have to hear, that is a cue for me to leave. I am the opposite of interested. I am so uninterested as to not believe what I just heard. I eschew other people’s likes.

I discover new bands all the time because I love a song in a movie or something I hear having a glass of wine at a bar. I have seen great bands on Saturday Night Live over the years; it surprises me to say that. I don’t know how many albums I have bought because the lead singer is hot, but it turns out that good looks really are a proxy for talent, or else the Lemonheads and the Old 97s would not be so fun. (Go ahead and be angry all you want, but you can’t make Paul Newman a bad actor either, and you can’t possibly make Jennifer Lawrence less adorable.) I have never been turned on to music by a boyfriend, because only stupid girls listen to what men do and don’t figure it out for themselves. The longer I live, the more it looks like the world is full of stupid girls. Some of my best friends are stupid girls. Men email me YouTube videos to watch all the time, and the more I like them, the more I don’t click the link. So there.

I recently moved, which means that once again, I had reason to unpack my music, or what is now known as content. I have had a lot of my LPs since high school and my CDs since college. I have the first Foreigner album on cassette tape, and I must have bought that in seventh grade. I will never again be able to listen to my eight-tracks of Saturday Night Fever or Andy Gibb. My Beatles albums belonged to my parents, and Apple Records made such fine, thick vinyl that they are as slick and shiny as the blacked-out screen of an iPad at rest, which is of course the thing that has made those disks the decorative relics of sentimental hoarders and stereophiles. Filing my music collection in alphabetical order, I felt how long my life has been and also how much the world has changed: The pictures literally have gotten smaller, from the significance of LP’s to the small squares on CD jewel boxes to the thumbprint of an mp3. Who even listens to an entire album anymore anyway? Just as email has made us a 19th-century epistolary society once again—except, of course, that no one knows how to be expressive—iTunes has returned us to the mid-20th century and the hit single. Where is Alan Freed when we need him? The songs are smaller. The bands are smaller. Quite honestly, life is smaller.

I wonder if there will ever be another rock star. Probably not. Axl Rose was the last one in the sense of having a drug problem, dating a centerfold, showing up onstage at Madison Square Garden two hours and 15 minutes late to an audience that continued to sit and wait. No one would sit and wait anymore. Too exhausted. And the whole point is to post that it happened on Facebook, not to have the experience. Kurt Cobain was an anti-rock star. That was good too. Eminem: maybe. Jay-Z is a businessman—it’s not that he isn’t talented, but he is a professional, the kingpin of an entertainment conglomerate. The opposite of a rock star is a professional. He is the platform and the content. And really, ideally you are the platform, even if that makes you inanimate: People now form lines around the corner not to buy a new album but because a new iPhone is out. Then they use it to send text messages mostly, or to do something they could have done two devices ago, but in any case the wait begins at 4:45 a.m. Which is to say that the party is over. Or maybe standing there as the dark of night becomes the light of day and the Apple Store opens for business is the fun part. Steve Jobs was weirdly both a rock star and a professional, so it figures he would check out before this got any worse.

I understand why death happens: Eventually you can’t stand it anymore.

Fanaticism, truly loving music the way I do, or movies or books or baseball, is a talent that begins any other talent. No one who is gifted in any way—art or astrophysics—got there without loving a lot first. Anyone’s level of criticism precedes his level of ability, and you learn to do great work by imitating your idols. I learned to write from rock ‘n’ roll. I never thought people were choosing between reading one of my books or another author—I thought it was me or Madonna or Hole or whatever was going on at the time. I could never figure out why I was cursed with the worst voice and would never be a rock star, which was obviously what should have happened. I wanted to be on the cover of my books, because that was how albums looked. I was so affected by how much I loved Bruce Springsteen that it was my only point of comparison: In the first song on his first album, he mentions Harvard, which is why I went to school there, and I just wanted to write like he sings. I can’t think of an author who affects me that much, which is good, because the lesson of any pop song is urgency. When I hear REM’s “Begin the Begin,” I am ready for the party to start. Neil Young singing “Tonight’s the Night” is a sure sign that something very bad is going to happen. I cannot listen to Madonna’s “Ray of Light” without knowing for sure that I will never find my way home. Bruce Springsteen is so doomed and dangerous in “State Trooper” that I am comforted by how surefooted the darkness is. In “Absolutely Sweet Marie,” Bob Dylan makes loneliness ecstatic. I know that you can nurse the same heartbreak for years from listening to Emmylou Harris, most especially “You’ve Been On My Mind.” When I hear the Danger Mouse mashup “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” I want to misbehave. Because Over the Rhine recorded a love song for grown-ups called “I Want You To Be My Love,” I believe that adults fall truly, madly, deeply in love as if they did not know better.

I read somewhere that a neurologist at Stanford had studied this quite thoroughly and concluded that musical taste stops evolving at age 28. My own experience bears that out. I like Mumford & Sons a lot, but I don’t own any complete albums. But maybe that just proves I am more of the times than I care to admit: Like everyone else, I download by the song. All the same, I never tire of Gram Parsons, and I am rediscovering the Cowboy Junkies, a band I lost track of for a long while but loved before I was two stone years. I have 1,447 songs on my iPhone, and I run errands and walk my dog and take the subway with the soundtrack of my life playing, and that is mostly how I listen to music these days. The range is from AC/DC to Zero 7, but there is more Bob Dylan than anything else. Of course. In the movie Beautiful Creatures, when hipster teen Alden Ehrenreich is driving around Gatlin, S.C., in a foul mood, he is listening to “Subterranean Homesick Blues,” because all these years later—50?—there is still no better way to project subversive and misunderstood youth.

I have wasted a lot of time. I have missed opportunities. I am missing a few right now. I am just that way. But smart people know that opportunity is the biggest waste of time of all: It is at best a lousy dinner date, and usually another three-day conference with panels of experts who are not discussing the future of technology or women or news, with questions that are monologues, and altogether not even anything accomplished worthy of that infamous line from Macbeth. No one with anything worthwhile to do has any use for any such things. I don’t. If it’s important, it will show up in my bedroom, preferably with a California red. I know what life is for. There were all these things I wanted to do. Some of them I got around to. A lot of them, well God said ha! That is just the way it is. Cue the harmonica. What was the name of that song?

***

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I really have no idea what I think of this article, or its author. I’ve read two of her books and really enjoyed one (was ambivalent toward the other), and both love and despise her apparent self-involvement and infatuation.

I like that she loves music; I like that she’s unapologetic in admitting that she doesn’t pay attention to recommendations and the likes of others (I don’t either, but I apologize). I don’t like that she seems to say ‘I love music more than you’ with every paragraph. I am fanatical about music too, but I wouldn’t dream of saying to someone ‘well those of us who REALLY love music….’

Ah well. That was my two cents. I hope you bought something nice with them.

jzsnake says:

I love Bob Dylan and lacy nightgowns. Maybe we could hook up? I know this is wrong way to start our relationship but no Leonard Cohen?

Debby Carroll says:

I too am obsessed with my own love of Dylan and of all things musical that appeal to me. Didn’t know others felt the same but loved reading your take on your take.

m320753 says:

i’ve been a Dylan fan since i heard him in the early 60s! i have bought every L.P. and 45 RPM i could find. i also went through the tape-CD thing. when i first saw him on U-Tube at Fort Collins,Co. it blew me away and i downloaded every song i could find on live concerts. i did this with many other artists of my time. i’ve seen him many times in concerts, the best being WestFest in Danbury, Ct. . an outdoor concert on a sunny Saturday in May1991, we were about 20′ from the stage ! it wa a concert where he spoke to the crowd between just about every song. the concert ended suddenly when a young lady crossed the shallow pond between the grassy hill and the gazebo like stage and planted a kiss on Bobby’s cheek. my !st concert with my son was a pouring rainfall in Bristol, Ct and when Dylan sang his 1st verse i could hear my son gasp. there was his favorite celeb. standing under 1 spotlight wearing a hooded sweatshirt, a NY Yankee hat and you could barely see it was him. years later we took my grandson to see an older Dylan, with no voice left, speaking lyrics no one could understand or even knew what song he was playing til it was 1/2 over. but that aside, the more important thing is we were 3 generations of a family at a Dylan concert! believe me the audience had a lot of 3 generation families. now when my Grandson takes a Mandatory class on Dylan in college; he can say “i saw him in concert when i was 6 years old”! who knows, he still may be touring 7 years from now

Andrew Steinhouse says:

“there are people who may get their clients a consistent 12 percent return on investment and there are others who run corporate empires, but I am sure their lives are not anywhere near as rich as mine is, because they don’t know what I know. Just being a great listener to music has made my life impossibly sweet. And all the while, it has kept me clear of any of the many industries that are really just hastening civilization’s decline

jed jones says:

Not only do I understand the whole, “Spending my Sundays with Dylan” thing,
I totally get the concept of not really taking an interest in all the things that life is supposed to be about these days. Ever since I saw that scene in the Talking heads movie “True Stories with the character that lives in her bed, and is so lazy she has a contraption that will actually turn the pages of her book, I knew that I was meant for nothing in particular, and that is how my life has played out, even still I’ve been a person who could excel at what I chose to do, who worked long hours and dedicated my life to other peoples art. In the end, all I really want to do is rest, and listen to Bob’s voice telling me stories about the way thing’s really are.

Do you think he’s got a lot of women in that state of mind? Ya think……
Perhaps the most successful sex symbol ever alive, gives Jesus a run for his money too…

dani gottesman says:

I really love this article. It makes me want to go home and lay in bed and listen to coldplay.

saraannbrewin says:

my roomate’s sister-in-law makes $68 hourly on the internet. She has been unemployed for eight months but last month her check was $18137 just working on the internet for a few hours. Read more on  Fab99.c­om

Kelsey James says:

So far this thread has mainly been talking about music (but I suppose this IS a music review) but hey, just wanted to stop by and say: Elizabeth, your writing is magnificent. Yes we do share the same taste in music genres (I’m nineteen, so I’m not sure if that’s abnormal or not? lol), but I just absolutely loveeee *everything* you have to say, and am always beyond psyched when a new piece of yours comes out :)
PS – I preach each and every one novels of yours to my friends as if it were the bible! Haha (And I think they’re sick of me talking about them) ;)

obdoqbopqo says:

Ms. Wurtzel,

45 is too young to be telling the kids to get off your lawn. And you’re wrong. Opportunity is not the biggest waste of time. Regret is.

As the Butthole Surfers said: “Well, son, a funny thing about regret is that it’s better to regret something you have done than to regret something you haven’t done.”

It is true what they say – nothing beats vinyl! Hey Lizzie, share your playlist with me and I’ll share mine!

Rick Lescault says:

the first paragraph made my day

jonathan_s_NYC says:

“What matters is that there are people who may get their clients a consistent 12 percent return on investment and there are others who run corporate empires, but I am sure their lives are not anywhere near as rich as mine is, because they don’t know what I know. Just being a great listener to music has made my life impossibly sweet. And all the while, it has kept me clear of any of the many industries that are really just hastening civilization’s decline.”
1) do you really think that there are no music fans who are also CEOs or investment manageers?
2) didn’t you work for a large corporate firm at some point?

Richard Gadsden says:

Justin Bieber turned up late for a concert recently. The fans’ mothers complained.

I’m trying to work out whether that means that the rock star really is dead, or whether it’s metastatizing.

tember2 says:

I love that this article doesn’t worship money or status or think that any of the nonsense we obsess about today matters as much as just being alive and present. Great read.

Sid Finster says:

I pick music, like poetry, to suit my mood. Yes, the tendency to idleness hints of depression, but throw in guilt for not getting it together enough to take care of things. I know that my mother, at my age, certainly didn’t sit around in the dark listening to Joy Division over and over. I’ve always said that certain songs are like time travel for me; they take me back to an exact moment in time. All these (far too many) years later, I still get excited about words and lyrics. It’s just a nuisance to pack those records around…..

Listening to music in bed is fun: really? Well, if YOU say so, Elizabeth….

And while we’re at it: let’s ALL move to the Village and spend our days listening to music. In a nightgown that’s much more interesting than anything EW could actually say about any of the songs she name drops.

How does this stuff get published?

Very nice article…LP is the only way to get that feeling of flipping over the 4th side of ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and seeing that ‘Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands’ takes up the whole side. You know something awesome is coming…and then hearing the beginning of that song…so awesome. Maybe the best song, ever. And that is saying something.

DedicatedReader says:

What’s with all the wine drinking, Lizzie? You’re sounding like a relapse waiting to happen, which I hope doesn’t. Great taste in music, though.

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In Bed With Bob Dylan

The writer unpacks her record collection and the lazy pleasures of a lifelong music listener

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