By Zachary Stryffeler
Very few artists have ever impacted me as much as Neil Young and Bob Dylan. I discovered Bob Dylan around the middle of my sophomore year of high school. Prior to this, I didn’t listen to music that much. One distinct quote that my best friend Ben Nettles claims that I have said is “Drums are the devil’s heartbeat.” Interesting twist of life events for me to end up as the music director for a radio station!
I very much followed the musical progression of a teen in the 1960’s. Dylan opened up folk rock for me, I progressed to The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, and other classic rock bands that busted the genre wide open. My taste hardened into the heavier stuff. Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and eventually, my great favorite of Led Zeppelin. For me, Zeppelin was the soundtrack of my life. My teenage angst was capture by Good Times, Bad Times and Immigrant Song. I felt like when Jimmy Page ripped into the solo for Stairway to Heaven, he was playing for me and all the other kids who were searching for freedom. I can remember driving through the snow after an SAT study session that I didn’t want to go to, speeding around bends while Immigrant Song blared over the speakers of my 2006 Dodge Dakota.
For me, rock was everything I wanted to be. I wanted to be the cool guy with the fast car and vintage clothes. I wanted to have Neil Young’s hair and fringed jackets. For a few brief moments, when I put the needle down on the record or pressed play on my phone, I was that guy. I was driving to school in 1975 in my 68’ Mustang or I was playing guitar at a house party in 1973.
I wasn’t a very rebellious teen, but my music choice was my rebellion. I can remember my dad telling me Led Zeppelin was evil music (which only fueled my desire to listen to them more). Rock was rebellion. Rock was cool, and I loved every song.
Neil Young and Bob Dylan painted the picture of my senior year of high school. There was rarely a moment when I wasn’t listening to them on my way to school or home. I played them on guitar. There seemed to be a song from them for everything I was going through.
Senior year was such a fun yet uncertain time. I had my long hair and was having a great time with my friends being king of the school for on year. However, it was also a time of great uncertainty and the realization that life was truly beginning. I listened to Almost Cut My Hair by Crosby, Stills, and Nash when I cut my own hair for my ROTC interview. That is my pivotal moment of senior year. As John Lennon once said, “The dream is over.”
That summer, after graduation, I worked as a summer camp counselor at Seneca Hills Bible Camp near my hometown of Franklin, PA. I was hesitant to give up my summer as it would be my last true summer with all my friends from high school before we all went our separate ways. Before I went to orientation for counselors, I took some of the money from my graduation party and ordered Highway 61 Revisited and Blood on the Tracks by Bob Dylan on vinyl.
When I arrived for orientation, I was told that we would only be allowed to listen to music that was glorifying to God while we were working. I immediately realized that I was going to mis my music so much. While making friends and doing icebreakers, I was secretly terrified that no one would like me. I was not like most of the kids who worked at Seneca Hills. I wasn’t terribly religious, I didn’t go to a heavily Christian university like Grove City College, and I didn’t like modern Christian music. AT. ALL. PERIOD. These kids I worked with didn’t care about music like I did. They didn’t listen to it to express themselves. It simply didn’t mean as much to them. This is by no means a knock on them, everyone has different tastes.
Towards the end of the week, the only thing I could think about was going home and listening to Like a Rolling Stone, my favorite Bob Dylan song on my brand-new vinyl.
I made it through the week, barely. I hopped in my truck late Friday night after we had finished cleaning all the cabins in the camp. I kicked the radio on and tuned it to the local classic rock station, 107.7 WUZZ. Under Pressure by Queen and David Bowie came out through the speakers. This was also pretty recent after Bowie’s death, so it hit home even harder than usual. The feeling was pure bliss. This was music. This was perfection.
I got home, said hi to my parents and picked up my vinyl’s from the kitchen counter and went into my room. As I tore off the covering, I saw Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. It looked more real than normal, all the colors bright and popping right off the paper.
I slid the record out and placed it on my turntable. I flicked the switch on and lifted the needle. I set it down gently on the smooth outside of the record.
When the first drum hit sounded on Like a Rolling Stone, I felt like I was punched in the face. I was completely blown away by Dylan all over again. I felt like I was a kid on August 30th, 1965 who just got home from the record store. My whole being felt connected with that song. It was a feeling that was frozen in time. I haven’t experienced something like that since, but I hope someday to have it happen again. I still feel incredible when I connect with music, but a true connection like that only happens in special scenarios.
I returned to Seneca Hills Sunday night and had a great time. It was one of the best summers of my life and I wouldn’t change a thing about. However, I just couldn’t get the people I worked with to understand how I felt about music. They definitely loved their Christian rock, and I’m really happy they have that. However, one night when I was playing guitar for the worship band, I played the opening chords from Baba O’Riley by The Who. The keyboardist told me that sounded really cool and asked how I came up with it. I replied with “You’re joking, right?”
He, and none of the other band members as well, had heard the song or knew of The Who. I was dumbfounded. I explained the chords and showed him how to play them. I could see he was really digging the sound, so I showed the drum player the basis of how the drums come in, and he somehow managed to make it sound a lot like Keith Moon! We started the song and began to play. I came in with the power chords and started to sing-
“Out here in the fields,
I farm for my meals
I get my back into my living!”
After this I was cut off by the worship leader with a few simple words. “Can we get back to the music we ACTUALLY are supposed to play.”
I was only a little heartbroken. I was feeling the music and so was everyone else on the stage. This was when I realized this was a lot like how most of these kids had to live their lives. They couldn’t discover any of this great music because there always was this lurking authority presence that shut it down and go them back to what they actually were supposed to be doing. They never had the chance to experience music like I had.
I have to give credit to my parents for this. While they may have disagreed with my music choices, they never made me stop listening to anything I liked, and for that I am truly grateful.
This is why I love music. It made me who I am and who I was. From Bob Dylan to Led Zeppelin, I love it all. It can make me feel incredibly happy and energized or drop me into a pit of emotion. When you find that genuine connection like I did in my room with Like a Rolling Stone, it’s a sensation you don’t forget. I truly hope all of you who actually read this whole thing have experienced it to. If not, don’t worry. It’ll come. The best part is it’ll probably come when you least expect it.