Subterranean Blues, the theme song to my college years. Leaving out the fact that I had a friend named Johnny who definitely was mixing something up in the basement, I was a collegiate bum in the middle of nowhere Ohio, my school a frozen tundra five to six months out of the year. Subterranean blues wasn't just on the stereo, it was everywhere you looked as town folk and college kid alike sequestered themselves away underground. When going outside os only something you do by necessity, things get a little funny. Of course, all the cabin fever inspired ideas and shenanigans common to the cold months did nothing to help us 'keep a clean nose' even while we kept a fervent eye out for 'the plain clothes.'
But truth be told, I didn't get turned on to your music until my college years. Putting aside the more-than-likely horrible cliche in that (I saw your face on more posters strung up in more dorm rooms than I could count), I grew in a house that played music. Constantly. My pops had an obsession with bands like Little Feet, the Nighthawks, the Grateful Dead, the Beatles, and a whole slew of folk music that was the soundtrack to every dinner and Saturday morning breakfast I can remember. If he ever played your music, I don't remember very clearly. I will say that all the folk music he put on, from Lucinda Williams to Steve Earle to James McMurtry, put me on a natural path to finding your music out for myself.
But more than that, all that music growing up pushed me into teaching myself to play the guitar and, once I was good enough, becoming something of a songwriter. I would sit in my room for hours, surrounded by books, the coffee I was still learning to drink, and broken guitar strings as I plucked out chord progressions and tried to pen down lyrics. Beyond that, my high school years were cast over with an obsession for the Beats. From reading Kerouac, to Ginsberg, to Burroughs, to Bukowski, to John Clellon Holmes, I was enraptured. Perhaps Dean Moriarty wasn't the best role model in hindsight but, at the time, all I wanted to do was experience everything as fast as I could (I still remember reading Old Bull Lee's theory of artistic experience). Added to my lust for life and amateur songwriting abilities, I came across some of Dylan Thomas' works (your namesake, if I'm not mistaken).
So, if hindsight says anything, it was no surprise that when I came across your music right before my freshman year of college, it was a fast love. Between the complex simplicity of your songs, to the nearly rapped lyrics that were reminiscent of Dean Moriarty's ravings, to the fact that you used the tradition of American folk music and took it to new places, both lyrically and otherwise, I was hooked. It's not that I hadn't heard you before -- I had just never listened. Too turned off was I by my self-righteous high school friends, bedecked in the regalia so common to the cookie-cutter, countercultural wise man stoner, that I had failed to listen as, over weezy proclamations of your greatness, staccatoed by coughs.
Another Side of Dylan was followed by bootlegs of your time with The Band and then the Basement Tapes and then... everything else. Hearing Another Side, though, it flipped a switch. I was still writing songs and it made me realize the import of that age old maxim amongst producers, "Less is More." With three chords, some fancy finger picking, and a rhythmic vocal line, so much was open.
So as a young adult who's still writing songs, who somehow graduated college even while staked out underground with Johnny mixing the medicine up, I wanted to thank you. I figure you might not be the type for this sort of thing but, if you are, know that there's someone in Austin, Texas who's trying to "get dressed, get blessed, / [and] be a success."