Since we here at Stylenik are of the fashion blog variety, it seems appropriate to celebrate Bob Dylan’s 70th birthday by honoring the song Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat from the 1966 album Blonde on Blonde. The rumor is he wrote the song for fashion icon and Andy Warhol superstar Edie Sedgewick, with whom he’d been spending time not long before according to Rolling Stone in their amazing collection of Dylan’s 70 greatest songs. Leopard Skin Pillbox hat is number 67.
Yes I see you got your brand new leopard skin pillbox hat
Well, you must tell me, baby
How your head feels under somethin’ like that
Under your brand new leopard-skin pill-box hat
In case you’re wondering, I’m inclined to celebrate Bob Dylan’s birthday on my style blog because I’ve been a devoted fan since high school. I felt so cool and anachronistic when I was younger, but now I realize it would be similar to kids digging Kurt Kobain, and that makes me feel ancient. In any case, I have an affection for the man and his music that has endured nearly 30 (gasp) years.
But back to the hat.
And with that, here’s the story of the first time I heard Bob Dylan’s voice.
It was 1985, and I was listening to the song “We Are the World,” that collaboration of superstar singers to benefit Africa (do yourself a favor and watch the video, it’s AWESOME). A strange voice caught my attention: “It’s true we make a better day, just you and me.” It wasn’t like the other melodic voices. It was whiney and plaintive, and it was clear that like the honey badger, the singer did not give a shit. The singer was, of course Bob Dylan. I wonder if Dionne Warwick and Al Jarreau cringed as Bob belted out his solo.
I was in the back seat of our Monte Carlo, where I performed countless impassioned sing-alongs with the radio and my mother. We subjected my father to a serenade that he endured quietly. I asked who the singer was, and he clued me in.
Later, my awesome dad made me a Bob Dylan mixtape, with tracks from John Wesley Harding and Nashville Skyline. As thoughtful a gesture that was, this sounded like country music to me and I was disappointed. On his second try, the mixtape contained older Bob Dylan songs: Like a Rolling Stone and It Takes a Lot to Laugh It Takes a Train to Cry were much more what I had in mind. I was officially hooked.
I’m not sure why these songs appealed to me as a teenager growing up in rural Northeastern Pennsylvania. I imagined being Bob Dylan’s Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands. I was having One More Cup of Coffee with him, before we went to the valley below. I was Ramona. We would be married on the fifth day of May. I researched his complicated career trajectory (don’t ask me how I did this without the Internet; school library? I have no idea): open mikes in Greenwich Village, making up stories about his childhood, going electric, the motorcycle accident, his alleged meanness towards his girlfriends and wife. He was mysterious and cute and had a weird but hypnotic voice and I really got it. It wasn’t long before I even loved Nashville Skyline.
Discovering Bob Dylan happened in the eye of a storm of storm that was my teenage years: obsessions with boys, clothes, cheerleading, and talking on the phone for a minimum of three hours nightly. Somehow Bob Dylan gave my parents and I hope that neither party was pure evil. We had at least one thing in common. My dad could witness moments when his daughter was energized by something other than the phone ringing and opportunities to leave the house. My mom could experience a moment when her daughter was not sobbing in her room in protest of the latest lost privilege (the sobbing never worked).
So thanks, Bob, for your music. It gave me a yearbook quote (“May you stay forever young”), it saw me through lost love and youthful (OK adult, too) angst, and it prevented my parents from losing all hope for their daughter’s future.