An Argument for Dylan

What are the chances? Driving along and there you see a big sign flashing "Bob Dylan in concert." Since I have never seen him and I might not get another chance, I thought I'd be an idiot not to grab this opportunity. He is, after all, truly a living legend.

Veronica wasn't overly thrilled since she had seen him several times before (her dad is the quintessential old hippy making the annual Dylan pilgrimage). I tried to think of some provocative ways to sell her on the idea of spending a hundred bucks and a couple hours of her life listening to unintelligible lyrics mumbled by a 70-ish year old man.

I tried the living legend idea but she had seen him before, we talked about it, I stumbled on what I think is the real reason for anyone to be interested in seeing Dylan, even if they don't particularly care for his music.

Few people in the history of the arts ever make significant changes in the way their medium is executed. Bob Dylan is one of those few. He fundamentally changed the way songs are written, not musically, but lyrically.

There is a noticeable difference between songs before and after his influence. Before Dylan, lyrics told stories in a clear, straightforward manner. The use of imagery was mostly confined to the music itself, with melody and chord structure. He changed that. Now it is common for the lyrics to be used as a vehicle to "paint a picture" as much as the feel and form of the music. Bob Dylan had a huge hand in making that happen. This point made an impact on Veronica and now she was actually looking forward to the show (I wisely decided not to remind her that she wouldn't be able to decipher a word the man sings - lest I lose the whole lyrics argument).

We arrived just before showtime without tickets and by complete dumb luck got seats in the third row that were somehow overlooked in the advance sales. What can I say, we lead a charmed life. The first thing I noticed upon entering the arena was the crowd. It's been a long, long time since I have been to a big stadium rock concert but I still remember what it was like...and this wasn't it. I actually felt like one of the younger ones there. This was probably a good thing. No mosh pits, groupies, biker security or clouds of pot smoke to obscure the reason we came. There was, however, a quite large contingency of younger kids from the local college willing to stand though the entire show in exchange for the cheaper ticket prices. Perhaps that's where some secret herbal fires were burning. It did seem like a small whiff drifted by now and then.

As for the show itself, it was pretty much what I expected, except that Dylan has reinvented himself as a keyboard player on this tour. He only touched a guitar on a couple songs and used the harmonica mainly to add a little color here and there. The crowd went wild every time he touched the harp though, so it worked.

Dylan's been known to do entire shows of songs only a hardcore fan would recognize so we were happy to be graced with some classics like "Highway 61 Revisited", "Like A Rolling Stone", "It's All Over Now Baby Blue", "Maggie's Farm" and "All Along The Watchtower". All nostalgic, bring-you-back-to-a-certain-place-and-time classics. For Veronica, an especially fond memory occurred during "Rainy Day Woman #12 and #35" (huh?, oh yeah, "Everybody Must Get Stoned") remembering her mother's shock that her father was listening to "that song" in front of the children. Daddy easily explained it off as a song about Jesus, which is funny because it's (kinda) true. A fine little childhood memory that made Veronica smile.

It can be a bit off-putting how Dylan never acknowledges his audience, it's almost like watching a rehearsal. You can see that as good or bad, personally I find something to like in it. The lighting is sparse - you never really get a good look at him, the stage very pared-down. It's almost as if the crowd is an afterthought. I can see how after several decades of performing these songs he might purposely phrase his lyrics so that it doesn't turn into a sing along. It also occurred to me that the college kids (and some of the old hippies) should stop shouting out requests of favorite songs, because it might make him all the LESS likely to play them.

Dylan wasn't vibrant, yet he didn't seem like an "old guy", either. As Veronica noted, he "oozed cool". He is after all, as his introduction stated, "the poet laureate of rock 'n roll. The voice of the promise of the 60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock, who donned makeup in the 70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse and emerged to find Jesus."

And the band kicked ass.


Your turn: Have you seen Bob Dylan in concert? When?
How would you answer this: To Dylan or not to Dylan?

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