As you probably know, Bob Dylan turns 80 years old today — and the internet is abuzz with countless think pieces about the songwriter’s importance. They’re trying to figure Bob Dylan out. Good luck with that. “I’d like to interview people who died leaving a great unsolved mess behind, who left people for ages to do nothing but speculate,” Bob once told an interviewer. And even as more pieces of the puzzle are filled in — the opening of the Tulsa Archive next year will provide even more data — Dylan will likely leave a great unsolved mess behind.
That’s not frustrating. It’s fun. Bob’s greatest skill may be in leaving things unfinished. It’s a lifelong strategy. “He not busy being born is busy dying,” he sang in 1965. In 1983: “Shedding off one more layer of skin / Keeping one step ahead of the persecutor within.” Last year: “I ain’t no false prophet – I’m nobody’s bride / Can’t remember when I was born and I forgot when I died.”
Incompleteness is Dylan’s forte. For proof, take a look at his ongoing Bootleg Series, which kicked off 30 years ago now. Across multiple expansive boxed sets, these archival releases have provided a rich, alternate timeline of the man’s career, every disc rife with possibilities, with paths not taken, with stolen moments never to be repeated again. Incomplete, but perfect somehow. Abandoned Love, to borrow one of Bob’s castoff masterpieces.
Amazingly, The Bootleg Series isn’t even close to done yet — there are rumors that an Infidels-focused set will be released later this year. Until we know more, here’s a mix (approximately 80 minutes for Bob’s 80 years) of unreleased gems, stretching from 1973 to 2019, including studio outtakes, rehearsals, live performances and television appearances. It’s a mess. It’s beautiful. | t wilcox
Goodbye Holly (Outtake 1973) / Ballad of Hollis Brown (Live 1974) / Abandoned Love (Live 1975) / Tangled Up In Blue (Live 1976) / Tomorrow Is A Long Time (Rehearsal 1978) / Caribbean Wind (Outtake 1980) / Jokerman (Live 1984) / New Danville Girl (Outtake 1985) / Soon (Live 1987) / John Hardy (Rehearsal 1987) / Polly Vaughn (Outtake 1992) / Ring Them Bells (Live 1994) / Standing In The Doorway (Outtake 2002) / It Takes A Lot To Laugh (Live 2004) / When I Paint My Masterpiece (Live 2018) / Not Dark Yet (Live 2019)