I can tell you the best way you can spend $300 this summer on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, which is about what a manicure, a bottle of wine, and 3 ballet lessons for your dog would cost in the area surrounding 92nd St and Lexington Ave:
These classes are organized and led by Bob Levinson, a man whose ardor for Bob Dylan’s work passes every test my arrogant self could apply: Bob L. has not only seen Dylan step forth from the shadows into the Gaslight in 1962, he has wept at a 2007 performance of Shelter from the Storm. By his own account, Bob has “grown” with Dylan through the decades, always saying “Yes,” to Dylan’s new invitiations to thought and feeling. Also. being a mensch of the highest degree, Bob Levinson’s connections to La Vita Dylan are numberless and invariably a matter of mutual grace, courtesy, and admiration. I need only offer one example to prove my point: the very first class of Bob’s I attended was in 2007, through New York University’s Continuing Studies Program. I walked into the assigned room on the first evening, and found in the center of the classroom, an affable mustachioed man seated next to…..Clinton Heylin. Prior to this moment I had read much of Mr Heylin’s writing on Dylan and was impressed with his singleness of purpose and severity of attitude: if the position of guarding the Gates of Hell ever becomes available, Clinton Heylin is the man for the job. In person, even in a denim jacket, he confirmed my impression. The one question I quakingly asked him was treated with what I realize now was the tone it must have deserved, yet Mr Heylin was decorous and considerate towards Bob Levinson. That’s when I knew Bob Levinson was an exceptional person in addition to being the kind of Dylan enthusiast that draws the rest of us like magnets.
Classes feature a guest speaker who becomes the center of a discussion that ranges vigorously through topics of particular interest to the guest, and then anything anyone wants to bring up. Last night was the first session of this summer’s course, and the guest was musician and musicologist Louis Rosen, a very popular instructor at the Y. Mr. Rosen took an extremely generous and thoughtful approach to being the initial guest of the session, and offered a spectrum of ways of thinking about Dylan. He spoke a little about the problem of politics in the early songs, and pointed out that songs conventionally labeled “protest” in fact deal with universal complicity in injustice rather than finger-pointing accusations. He asked the vital question of whether we approach Dylan as a “cultural icon” or as an “artist.” Talked about Dylan as the great composer of love songs. Helped musical ignoramuses like myself *hear* the structure of the melody in Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You. Talked about longevity and relevance. Talked about appropriation and authenticity. Someone did mention Jesus, but rain never came up. I jest–Mr Rosen really was able to cover a surprising number of pulse points, as well as gracing us with a personal confession regarding the significance to him of Mississippi (he favors the Love and Theft version, we won’t get into that). The personal, the universal, the problematic–to bring all these into yourself at once is the work of engaging with Bob Dylan, and in the guise of an informal discussion, Lou Rosen did just that.
As the weeks go by, my undistilled and weakly bridled interest in the topic at hand will become increasingly apparent to the other people in the class and their indulgence, should they bestow it, will be a gift I’d never take for granted.