Bob Dylan turned 73 on Saturday, marking the date by announcing a month-long Australian tour in August. But what is his place in music more than 50 years after he began?
It's a fair enough question. His famously nasal delivery gets more mumbled as the years pass, the vocal approach more eccentric and, dare we say it, has become a little unsteady.
Indeed, on the song uploaded to his website a fortnight ago, Full Moon & Empty Arms (made famous by Frank Sinatra nearly 70 years ago), his voice is shaky. And let's be frank, it's hard to make out what he is singing in concert: you try to home in on the words, then suddenly his phrasings leap away alarmingly from the classic arrangements we know so well.
And yet a tour by Dylan remains one of music's essential events.
The most important thing with Dylan has never been how polished or consistent his voice is. And it's not only about what he sings either, although he was awarded an honorary Pulitzer Prize in 2008 and the handwritten lyrics to just one of his classics, Like a Rolling Stone, are expected to fetch at least $US1 million at Sotheby's in June. What is grossly underrated is how honest he sounds, like he's confessing secrets. Dylan is captivating even when he sounds flawed.
As Bono told Rolling Stone magazine: "To understand Bob Dylan's impact as a singer, you have to imagine a world without Tom Waits, Bruce Springsteen, Eddie Vedder, Kurt Cobain, Lucinda Williams or any other vocalist with a cracked voice, dirt-bowl yelp or bluesy street howl."
Tour promoter Michael Chugg, who has brought the world's best acts to Australia since 1986, says Dylan has had a greater effect on his life than any artist apart from the Beatles.
"I get star-struck," Chugg admits. "You don't approach Bob, if he wants to talk to you he approaches you. A couple of times when he's sat and talked to me ... I've been tongue-tied, more than I have with any other artist.
"When you see him live he's quite mesmerising and inspiring. His legacy and creativity is quite amazing ... and the reviews that I'm reading from [his recent gigs in] Japan say that he is playing and singing like never before, so I'm really excited."
Tickets on this tour range from $99 to $199 and should sell quickly when sales open on Tuesday, June 3. It's worth noting his schedule allows for extra shows to be added, especially in Melbourne, Brisbane and Sydney.
BOB DYLAN TOUR DATES
PERTH: Riverside Theatre, August 13 and 14
MELBOURNE: Palais Theatre, August 18 and 19 (ticketmaster.com.au)
BRISBANE: Convention and Exhibition Centre, August 25
CANBERRA: Royal Theatre, August 29
ADELAIDE: Entertainment Centre, August 31
SYDNEY: State Theatre, September 3 and 4 (ticketmaster.com.au)
All tickets go on sale via ticketek.com.au (unless otherwise stated) June 3, 9am.