Forever Young - Bob Dylan
For all the many wonders of Bob Dylan, perhaps none is so amazing to me as the ever-changing, mercurial quality of his best lyrics - the ability they so often have to be seen in continually shifting, different ways, from different angles, depending on the point you’re at in your own life upon encountering them. The way they understand you better than you understand yourself at times.
As a lonely, sensitive kid watching VH1 on a beat-up blue couch in 1988, I became particularly fond of “Forever Young”, or Rod Stewart’s version of it anyway, actually going so far as to tape it when it was on so that I could watch it over and over. Though it’s been a good twenty years since I’ve watched the music video, I can still easily remember the entire thing front to back (and I’m actually fighting that oh-so-modern urge to run off to YouTube right this very second and watch it; I’m determined to finish this before doing so, though, as actual footage of media from my youth always seems to offer its very own kind of unique disappointment when finally viewed again). And while I’m sure the video was its own kind of interesting to me - why, for example, would Rod Stewart’s kid have red hair? Or is that even supposed to be his kid? And if it’s not, why are they riding around America on the back of a truck? - I also know that the song itself, especially the lyrics, resonated with something deep inside of me. Of course, back then, I heard it as a kid, the kid it was undoubtedly written for. I imagined my own dad singing it to me - or if not singing it, because that would be an odd emotional moment for both of us - at least thinking it, thinking that way about me, hoping that I would grow up to be happy and successful: “proud, dignified, and true”. I remember being sad, even at that young age, that some day I would grow up at all, that I wouldn’t be able to stay forever young, but I guess I hoped that if I had to, since everyone did, that I would be able to do so in some grand and glorious way like Rod Stewart hoped I could.
And I did grow up, eventually. I learned that Bob Dylan actually wrote and first performed the song and that, among other things, Rod Stewart was terrible for butchering this song (a fact I would re-learn when I figured out that “Downtown Train” was actually a much better Tom Waits song to begin with).
I also learned something far more important though: I learned what it was to be a parent. The shift in perspective, obviously, is enormous. The kid in the song is no longer the kid that was me, but rather my own two kids. The singer, now, is me. His hopes and wishes and worries and dreams for his children are now my own. Which makes it all but impossible to get through this song without crying these days. The good kind of crying, though, the kind where you realize your own small kids will grow up some day, that they will be out there in the real world making a go of it for themselves, that they won’t need you in any of the same ways any more, that they will have their own chances and lives and mistakes and jobs and happiness and children. That the whole thing is almost too much to bear thinking about sometimes, as they strum their little plastic red guitars all around you and sing off-key and wonder why you have a tear in your eye.