I was eating a bowl of cereal in my kitchen last October when I heard on the radio that Bob Dylan had won the Nobel Prize in Literature. I abandoned my spelt flakes, went to my sheet music closet, found my copy of “Blowin’ in the Wind,” and played it—twice.
A couple of days later, I included “Blowin’ in the Wind” in my set list for a group of seniors. I figured that most of my audience wouldn’t care for the song. And I was right.
There’s also a handful of baby boomers at that particular facility, live-in rehab patients recuperating from knee or hip replacements. I thought they might like it. And I was right.
Dylan’s rough voice has been much maligned and parodied. He was a controversial Nobel choice. Not everyone agrees that his lyrics qualify as literature when stacked against previous laureates like John Steinbeck and Toni Morrison.
But for people who came of age in the 1960s and early 70s, Dylan songs resonate: “Don’t Think Twice It’s All Right,” “Forever Young,” “Mr. Tambourine Man.”
Now that people my own age are spending time in rehab facilities where I play, I’m getting requests for songs I don’t typically perform for my older audiences. Like Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bridge over Troubled Water” or “Turn! Turn! Turn!” by Pete Seeger.
So I’m starting to slip in something for the baby boomers. Maybe a Beatles ballad (“Fool on the Hill,” “Yesterday,” “Scarborough Fair,” “Norwegian Wood”). Just one. Or a tune by James Taylor or Joni Mitchell. Or a 1960s movie theme like “Somewhere, My Love” from Doctor Zhivago or “A Time for Us” from Romeo and Juliet, always a favorite at pajama parties with my high school girlfriends. Of course, we baby boomers love our rock songs, too, but I don’t think rock songs translate very well into solo piano performance. I leave those to the bands.
Usually there’s no audience response to my outlier musical selections, but you never know who’s singing along on the inside.
Paulette Bochnig Sharkey