On my way home from NigeCorp yesterday, I had an aghast text from my son, telling me that Bob Dylan's Blowin' in the Wind - original studio version - was being used as the music track for a Co-Op TV commercial. So an hour later I get home and what's on the telly when I walk in? That very commercial. Rooted to the spot, I watched it through (it is, like so many mad commercials these days, very long). The odd thing was that this bizarre context - a feelgood extravaganza in which digitised dandelion seeds float about over ever-changing tableaux of jolly farmers, lush countryside, grinning Africans etc - focused attention on the song and threw its greatness into sharper focus. In fact I found it rather moving - and that certainly had very little to do with the visuals.
It's easy to forget - or at least take for granted - the astonishing legacy of the early, folk era Dylan. The best reminder is the remarkable documentary Dylan at Newport, which I caught (again) on BBC4 last week. This is a simple chronicle of Dylan's appearances at that festival, year on year. God he was good - and God he was huge - and God he was enjoying it! There are times when the crowd simply won't let him leave the stage and let someone else perform - all very embarrassing to the festival's organisers. Very galling too to Pete Sanctimonious Seeger, who puts a brave face on losing his folkie crown to the young upstart. Pete makes full use of his height advantage, but inside he's hurting. And then there's embarrassing Joan Baez cosying up to Bob and muscling in on every performance she can, ruining the sound with her intrusive warbling. Everyone wants a piece of Bobby - until 1965, when a suddenly mean-looking Dylan goes electric and is met by a storm of jeers and boos and catcalls. He looks pained but unsurprised. He knows he has to do this. He is right.
We are still a long way from appreciating the full greatness of Dylan and the vast riches of his work - including the prodigious early harvest of his folk years. True appreciation will only come, I imagine, in the usual way - with his death. May it be a long way off.