John Hughes Knocks on Heaven’s Door

By - Oct 1st, 2003 02:52 pm
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By John Hughes

I was a bleak geek living in a house where the only art was a pair of framed oil portraits of Presidents Washington and Lincoln, and the only music came from my sisters plinking away dispiritedly on an upright piano, because they had to, for piano lessons. There were no plants in my house, there was no poetry, and we watched the television a lot. Knowing no better, I was reasonably happy; but I just knew there had to be something more to life than television, school and the Green Bay Packers.

I was 14 years old, living in Brookfield in 1971, surrounded by “Nixon’s the One” bumper stickers and sentiments, lonely in a world which seemed cold and rough — until Bob Dylan tapped me on the shoulder.

I bought a Dylan cassette because I liked the cover. I hiked up to the department store (Treasure Island, on Capitol Drive) with my paper boy money, and bought the cassette with the coolest cover. I liked the blue light swirling around Dylan’s curly head on his Greatest Hits, Volume 2 album. I had no idea who he was. I had no idea that he was an icon, a voice for millions of disaffected youth. When I bought that cassette, I was doubling my music collection but increasing my musical knowledge tenfold. The other cassette I owned was James Taylor’s Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.

I plugged in to Dylan and turned on, sitting there at my desk, eating Cheetos, covered in pimples, a revolution occurring in my inner core. I had no idea that this was happening all over the world with other people.

I loved Dylan mostly because of his voice. It had so many contours and hollows, I was endlessly fascinated. And he said, “I saw a highway of diamonds with nobody on it.” I’ve never gotten over that image. He said, “There’s beauty in that silver singing river, there’s beauty in that rainbow in the sky, but none of these and nothing else can touch the beauty that I remember in my own true love’s eye.” He said, “Down here next to me in this lonely crowd, there’s a man who swears he’s not to blame. All day long I hear him cry so loud, calling out that he’s been framed.”

He made me feel something I’d never felt before, something to do with the mystery of the heart. It seemed essentially good in Dylan’s hands. This was pivotal for a young person with an emerging sexuality and political consciousness, both of which were at odds with my milieu.

I would come home from middle- or high school, traumatized by the day’s events, lie down in the middle of my bedroom floor, stare at the ceiling, and listen to Dylan. I loved him deeply. The net effect of his work was like, in the middle of a chorus of voices, this one voice was whispering to me: “You know how, when you’re lying in bed and you feel that awe and wonder, fear and gratitude all wrapped up into one? Everybody feels that. It’s good.”

It couldn’t have been more transformative or privately revolutionary for me if I had literally fallen through a mirror into a Wonderland.

I listened to that album almost daily for five years. Each song got to be like a painting inside the art gallery of my mind. Each song nourished me and turned me into the person I am (still geek; not bleak).

When I got to college, I was surprised to discover that my own personal Dylan was, in fact, a shared experience.

And we fans were all good.

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