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The Column: Bob Dylan's new whiskey venture could drive us to drink

Never too late for a new career, at least if you’re Bob Dylan.

The raspy-voiced troubadour who sang of peace and social justice in the '60s is turning his attention to — to, um, whiskey.

“It Ain’t Tea, Babe,” declared a number of headlines when news broke of Dylan’s avocation, a playful reference to one of his early hits, “It Ain’t Me, Babe.”

In partnership with Heaven’s Door Spirits, the almost 78-year-old singer will open a distillery and cultural center this fall in what once was a Nashville church. Plans call for a performance space, whiskey library, restaurant and adequate room for what a news release described as “pieces of Dylan’s paintings and unique metalwork sculptures.”

Yes, it’s another one of those can’t-make-this-stuff-up moments that now occur so often — you know, things like the Indiana man who recently sued his parents because they destroyed his $30,000 porn collection — that we soon could exhaust the nation’s reserve of rational disbelief.

Bob Dylan, a whiskey baron? Would we be any more surprised if Hillary Clinton announced her intention to train for the world kickboxing championship or the Dalai Lama revealed that he was a part-time auto salesman?

Years ago, Dylan sang “The Times They Are A-Changin’,” but even an oracle of his stature could not possibly have anticipated that, one day, he’d seize an opportunity in liquor sales.

Times have a-changed, no question.

Price points on Heaven’s Door whiskey suggest the former Robert Zimmerman of Hibbing, Minnesota, is for sure not the same scruffy kid who appeared walking the snowy streets of Greenwich Village with girlfriend Suze Rotolo on the cover of his 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan.”

Tennessee Straight Bourbon lists at $50. Straight Rye (finished in oak barrels) sells for about $90. Those determined to make certain Dylan has adequate cash in old age might consider his “10-year” bourbon at $130.

But, OK, already, the guy is entitled to do whatever he wants without someone claiming the world is coming to an end or that he’s selling out the ’60s. Just because he wrote “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” and was tight with Joan Baez doesn’t mean he should forgo a few extra bucks hustling upscale booze.

But it’s Blowin’-in-the-Wind Bob I’ll most remember.

I saw him in concert a couple of times — once with Baez in New Haven, Connecticut. It might have been 1964, but, whenever, we were all very young and, as they say, it was a time, what a time.

Civil rights, the war in Vietnam, campus demonstrations. Phew.

The show went on and on, just these two skinny, soulful folkies on the stage, singing their hearts out for a couple hours, slaying dragons, raising hopes. Memorable stuff, and emotional.

Problem is, you get to feel you own these people — the ones who once “spoke” to you — and if, sometimes, they depart from your idea of who they are, or what they ought to be doing, you are apt to pout and claim breach of promise.

This is crazy.

Don’t we have enough trouble keeping tabs on our own lives without worrying about the rich and famous?

Celebrities — those dear to us and all the rest — are free to find their space like everyone else.

Some, like Dylan, are in a special category because they symbolized the spirit of the times — the zeitgeist — and, like it or not, achieve a saintly glow. Let’s also keep in mind that while stuffy traditionalists swooned in disbelief, Dylan won the 2016 Nobel Prize in literature. Who wouldn’t be surprised to learn the esteemed laureate was turning his attention to whiskey?

Come on, I tell myself, lighten up.

And, anyway, I’ve been thinking maybe I should expand my own horizons.

Having yet to write the great American novel, I am, at this point, renowned for one thing: sangria. My formula — stolen shamelessly from some of the great Spanish bartenders of New York and modified in my kitchen — is unparalleled. Friends plead for a sample from the jug always in the refrigerator.

I’m ready to go public. No worries about disappointing the Nobel Prize committee or alienating old fans who expected better. All we need is a name — something catchy and commercial.

“Heaven’s Door” already is taken and, besides, I don’t like the gloomy implications. I want a brand that is upbeat and optimistic — zeitgeist with zing. “¡Ole!,” maybe, or “Arriba, Arriba.”

So forget hinting at the sweet hereafter. No way. Not listening. By a few months, I’m even older than Bob Dylan.

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