Book 31 The Ballad of Bob Dylan

The Ballad of Bob Dylan Poetry Month Day 31 


I just saw Bob Dylan in concert for the sixth time.  I’m a big Dylan fan, I love the new music, I love the old music.  I can make excuses for the fact that his throat sounds like a bag of drowning cats, that he doesn’t move around the stage, or that he doesn’t really engage in any kind of stage talk.  Every now and then he’ll do a dance at the piano or guitar, but he’s very stationary.  Maybe it’s because I saw Leonard Cohen, who is older than Bob, and still prowls around the stage and uses his body to add emotion to his songs, but I finally didn’t like a Bob Dylan concert.  Downright hated it.


He’s playing the same songs over and over again, he’s got a new guitarist and he’s trying to break him in.  Makes sense, isn’t that Dylan I’d seen before, but necessity dictates certain things.  The set list consisted almost exclusively of material from “Time Out of Mind” on.  This included four songs from “Tempest” the four songs he picked were the four that lend themselves best to a concert setting, but he didn’t phase out many of the other songs.  I admire that he doesn’t want to be a greatest hits concert artist, but hearing “Spirit on the Water,” and “Summer Days” wasn’t really necessary this time out. 


The show was boring.


Except for an impressive version of “All Along the Watchtower” there was nothing to set this show apart in a positive light for me.


Epstein documents seeing Dylan four times.  He didn’t come right out and give a verdict on the 2009 show he saw, but our reviews run very similar in tone.  The other times he saw him were in the late nineties, just before “Time Out of Mind” came out, 1974 for The Band tour and 1963 for an acoustic show.  He documents the albums a little bit, and some of the history for the build up to the show.  He doesn’t give a very in depth look at Dylan as a whole, choosing to pick out a few events for details and then major synopsis of the other things.  To his credit, he doesn’t pick the usual stories to go over.  If you want a thorough retrospective on Dylan my favorite is Clinton Heylin’s Behind the Shades Revisted.


Epstein does a good job documenting the shows; the section on the Aberdeen show in particular was very interesting because he recounts stories of trying to get his son interested in Dylan, because the two of them were going to be going to the show together.  To do this he didn’t play anything from the sixties or seventies, he used “Infidels” and “Oh, Mercy.”  I think Oh, Mercy is one of the strongest Dylan albums, especially in the otherwise mediocre decades of the eighties, but the kid liked “Infidels” to each his own.  A story was told that Frank Zappa might have produced Infidels if he hadn’t insulted Dylan’s Christianity, which would have been an interesting album. 


There is little left to be said about the concerts of 63 and 74.  In 74 he was a force of nature, yelling at the top of his lungs, adversarial with his audience.  74 was the year that put the final nail in his marriage and led to Blood on the Tracks.  In 63 he was the focal point of a generation, he was an inspiration, even The Beatles changed the way they wrote music because of him.  He inspired people because he let them know that art was still in the world, and it could be created in the present.  For his part Dylan said that “Art, if there is any, is found in the bathrooms.” But those are just words from a man who likes to mess with reporters.  Wisely, Epstein simply talked about what it was like seeing Bob Dylan as a kid.  Epstein’s sister got lost in a crowd of autograph seekers, and in their panic looking for him they heard Bob Dylan say “I’ve got her.”  That was a nice story, and it’s not the kind I associate with the usual biographies of Dylan.  He’s like his music, mercurial. 


That’s a defensive statement.  He’s an asshole.  He sets up mirrors on the stage of his concert just to mess with people who are taking pictures, but I don’t care.  Even walking away from a concert that made me vehemently angry, I got to enjoy the fact that art was crafted, it wasn’t dead, it was still going, and I’ve felt more creative just knowing that Bob Dylan is in the world, I’ll see him a seventh, eighth, ninth, as many times as I can, because some day he won’t be in the world, but when he isn’t I’ll still be glad for what was left us.

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