This was the fourth time I’ve seen Bob Dylan live, and in some ways the best. Not as rockin as when he was on the road with Tom Petty, not as historic as when I saw him with Joan Baez on Peace Sunday in 1982 (they mangled and strangled With God on Our Side and Blowin’ in the Wind, but it was Dylan and Baez together against the War Machine, and I hung on every note), thankfully not as wooden as when Eddie Brickell and the New Bohemians opened for him in Rome in 1991 (and did the better show), when he seemed to be taking evil joy in confusing his band.
Tonight he was having fun. Marth though he must have really liked his boots, as he kept doing this twist thing that got them moving, like a little kid trying out a new pair of shoes. During High Water he played with a hand gesture that was goofy, and put a sly look on his face (though steadfastly never aimed at the audience). This was not surly Bob. Alan, a friend who had never been to a Bob concert before, said at first that his Bobness sounded like a male Marianne Faithful. “For the first hour I was really wondering why I was here” he said, “then in the last hour I knew.”
The last number before the encore was “Like a Rolling Stone,” and it sent me wool gathering. I remember hearing it on a General Electric “Solid State” AM transistor radio that I would listen to at night, carefully thumbing the dial to pull in stations from as far away as Chicago that were skipping off the atmosphere unpredictably and washing in and out on tides of static over my house in Upstate New York. I was 7 years old. What on Earth made me recognize “Like a Rolling Stone” as something that was worth paying attention to? What made me murmur little 7 year old prayers that I didn’t lose the signal before it ended, and that the DJ would say who wrote this thing? I had no reference points. My parents owned maybe half a dozen records: Glenn Campbell, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, Music Man. Everything I heard on the radio was strange and new, so I had no context with which to know just how strange and new this song, which Columbia Records literally threw away, was in its time. But something in me did know, beyond any doubt, that this 6 minute extravaganza with its bite and its anger and its panoply of characters and visual references and its madcap accidentally destined Al Kooper Hammond Organ riff was GOOD. Probably no single musical experience when I was a kid more shaped my taste than that.
Thanks, Bob, for a lifetime of moments, like beads strung out across decades, in which you made me pause and assess with new appreciation just how much the human spirit can be moved and amazed by shared experiences crafted into language and music, intellect and emotion.
Voice of a generation? It’s gone far, far beyond that now.
|1.||Cat’s In The Well (Bob on electric guitar)|
(Thanks to Bob Links for having the set list posted before I got home from the Hall!)
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