Bob Dylan Countdown #138: “The Man In Me”

You cannot separate “The Man In Me” from The Big Lebowski anymore than you can separate “My Heart Will Go On” from Titanic. It’s impossible to hear the song without thinking of the opening credits of that ultimate cult movie or the dream sequence in which The Dude hurtles down the lane inside of a bowling ball.

Had I done this list in 1997, I’ll freely admit that there’s no way that “The Man In Me” would have garnered this ranking. Sometimes a song needs a proper context for it to shine, and The Dude provided that context to a song that otherwise would have remained in the background of the imposing Dylan catalog.

The movie and the song are eerily simpatico. I often think that the Coen brothers were listening to all of New Morning when writing the movie, since the whole album is filled with affable weirdness, much like The Dude himself. If time machines existed, I’d swear that Dylan headed forward to look at Jeff Bridges’ performance before he wrote the song.

Now I can hear all of the pleasures of “The Man In Me” that may have otherwise stayed hidden. The simply glory of the “la-la-la” beginning, the hypnotic swirl of Al Kooper’s organ runs, and Dylan’s soulful, yearning vocal. Even the lyrics take on an extra depth, portraying the way that the essence of a person can only be revealed sometimes when another person draws it out. (Much like the essence of this song is drawn out by the movie; the eeriness continues.)

I am proud to say that I am not a late-comer to the Lebowski cult; I actually saw it in a theater on its opening weekend back in ’98. I went with a friend, his wife, his brother, and his sister-in-law. After I guffawed through the whole film, the other four walked out at the end of the movie looking at me like I was insane for liking it. I realized then that nobody would ever feel half-way about this movie; they would either love it or loathe it.

Sadly, I think the same holds true for the way people feel about Dylan. Doing this list, I’ve seen firsthand from the feedback I’ve received the passion, knowledge, and loyalty of his fans. Yet I’ve also met a lot of people, including my Better Half, who just don’t like his music at all or, as I’ve heard many of them say, they don’t get it. And I’ve never had someone tell me they sort of like Bob Dylan, like one might sort of like The Who or R.E.M. It’s all in or nothing.

And therein lies the ultimate connection between Bob and The Dude:  Neither one of them concern themselves with any of that. They just drift along on the tumbling tumbleweeds, Dylan to the concert stages, The Dude to the bowling alleys, la-la-la-ing all the way to oblivion. So whenever I hear “The Man In Me”, a warm feeling washes over me knowing that, somewhere, The Dude and Dylan abide.

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