Happy Birthday, Mr. Bob
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Wil Fennell   —   8 years ago

I was born in southern Illinois in 1961, and the first songs I sang as a toddler were "I Wanna Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You." It was all Beatles up until junior high, and that's when my buddy Scott and I started a band called "Sweet Freedom" and played CCR ("Proud Mary," "Bad Moon Rising"), a few Beatles tunes, and Bob Dylan's "Knocking on Heaven's Door." Keep in mind, this was before the song was pimped out by Guns n Roses, so we played it straight: slow and melancholy. From there, we started digging into Dylan songs over time, and the one thread that ran through them was that they stuck. For the rest of my life, I've been playing Dylan songs on my guitar (but not well), and I've become a more and more devoted listener as I've aged.

When I turned 32 in 1993, I decided to move to Japan, which was a major life decision that I'm still experiencing. After I got here, I realized that I missed playing guitar, so I got a cheap one somewhere and then unaccountably felt a need to play two songs: "Hey, Mr. Tambourine Man" and Neil Young's "Sugar Mountain." I really can't explain why I felt compelled to play these songs, but those were the two that I threw myself into for a good year, until I could play and sing them to the limit of my limited abilities. This was back in the pre-internet era, so working out lyrics and chord changes meant either finding and buying the songbook--not an easy task for an American who didn't speak Japanese--or just figuring it all out by trial and error by listening to the CDs and giving it a go myself.

Playing Dylan and Neil Young songs no doubt helped me feel centered and grounded as I lived a new life in a strange land where everything I encountered was another lesson to be learned. Listening to Dylan brought me to the awareness of my own roots--musical, cultural, and linguistic. I sensed and understood that Bob Dylan's music was actually part of me, and I had carried it with me to the other side of the earth. All the gifts it gave me were treasures: identity, comfort, inspiration, reflection, and perspective. Anyone who has moved to a new country as an adult who can't speak the local language will very likely understand how much Bob Dylan's music meant to me as I settled into my life in Japan in a time when English language resources were very limited and adjusting to a new culture was a daily adventure with high highs and low lows along the way.

Since coming to Japan 23 years ago, I've been to six performances by Bob Dylan. The first three were at Todaiji Temple in Nara City, where in May 1994 a series of UNESCO concerts featured major artists from around the world. Dylan, of course, was the headliner. I can still recall vividly the sounds and the feeling of Bob Dylan playing "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" backed by an orchestra that included traditional Chinese instruments. It was other-worldly and awe-inspiring, and it was obvious that whoever Bob Dylan "was," there was no other like him and likely would never be. Over the years I've seen him perform at smallish venues in Osaka on three different occasions, and each concert was as spellbinding as it was somehow deeply moving.

On April 12th, 2016, I'll be going to Osaka Festival Hall to see and listen to Bob Dylan and his superb band once again. I'm 55 years old now, and Mr. Dylan will turn 75 in May. I consider it an honor to be able to be there and witness and enjoy his music, his lyrics, and his voice once again, and it's even more meaningful since all of us who appreciate Bob Dylan's monumental achievements join together to celebrate his life and his music as the greatest singer-songwriter ever to walk the face of this earth.

From me, Wil Fennell in Kyoto, Japan: Happy 75th Birthday, Mr. Dylan!

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