On May 24, Bob Dylan leaves his fifties behind. Now, we could use this event to indulge in a pensive essay pondering his cultural importance and what it means to his generation that he’s five years shy of collecting Social Security checks. On this august occasion, however, we chose to imagine what the world would have been like without him. Have an extra piece of cake on us, Bobby.
— Dylan’s boyhood home, Hibbing, Minn., still best known for housing the world’s largest open-pit iron mine.
— Without Dylan introducing them to pot, the Beatles never make the under-the-influence Sgt. Pepper. Rock never aims for high art; fans lose out on years of concept albums, elaborate orchestrations, head-tripping cover art, and XTC homages.
— The Byrds never score a breakout smash with ”Mr. Tambourine Man” and remain an L.A. bar band. Disillusioned, cofounder David Crosby quits the biz; CSNY never exist.
— Donovan goes electric at 1965 Newport Folk Festival; controversial performance gives birth to rabid cult known as Donovanologists.
— College students forced to write papers analyzing lyrics of Procol Harum songs (”’Conquistador’ as Metaphor”).
— Dylan’s ode to Mob thug Joey Gallo, ”Joey,” never written. Mafia chic never kicks in; The Sopranos still a gleam in David Chase’s eye.
— Without being immortalized on the cover of Before the Flood, the idea of requesting encores by flicking lighters fails to catch fire. Forever after, concerts end on time.
— Steely Dan’s first album, Can’t Buy a Thrill (line nicked from ”It Takes a Lot to Laugh, It Takes a Train to Cry”), instead called Do It Again and Other Hits.
— All rock stars required to sing on key in order to land record deals; hence, Neil Young, Lou Reed, Leonard Cohen, John Prine, Kris Kristofferson, J. Mascis, and Jennifer Lopez never make it.
— Rubin ”Hurricane” Carter still in jail, but his license plates rule in Cell Block B.
— Radical leftist group the Weathermen (from a line in ”Subterranean Homesick Blues”) resort to calling themselves Disillusioned Hippies Who Like to Blow S — – Up.
— The Band, still called the Hawks, have a regular gig at ”Rockabilly Oldies Night” at the Stagger Inn in a Toronto suburb.
— Bruce Springsteen pens concise, straightforward lyrics for early songs; dubbed the New Donovan by the press.
— White-guy Afro popularized by Dylan never catches on. Don Henley, Lindsey Buckingham, and two members of At the Drive-In stuck in crew-cut phase for years.
— ”The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest” never written; at a loss for a name, young British metal band of the ’80s resorts to calling itself A Flock of Halfords.
— At 1998 Grammy telecast, Soy Bomb leaps on stage to interrupt performance by Shawn Mullins. No one notices.
— Instead of Forever Young, Mel Gibson calls his 1992 movie What I Would Look Like Old.
— Traveling Wilburys announce original lineup: George Harrison, Roy Orbison, Tom Petty, Jeff Lynne, and…Donovan.