Wednesday, October 13, 2010

More Dylan: Speaking of Blasts from the Past

Herb Budden, my great old friend since seventh grade, rings in on Dylan:

I have been trying to remember the details of my first Dylan concert, in 1965. There were others I'd been to, but this is the one & only in my estimation. Thank goodness for Google...I found the playlist and the exact date for the concert friend Craig and I saw at the Arie Crown in Chicago that year. Here it is:

Bob Dylan
McCormick Place
Arie Crown Theater - Chicago, Illinois
November 26, 1965

She Belongs to Me

To Ramona

Gates of Eden

It's All Over Now, Baby Blue

Desolation Row

Love Minus Zero/No Limit

Mr. Tambourine Man

Tombstone Blues

I Don't Believe You (She Acts Like We Never Have Met)

Baby Let Me Follow You Down

Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues

Ballad of a Thin Man

Positively 4th Street

Like a Rolling Stone

Forty-five years this Thanksgiving. We went up from Champaign on the train. I have no recollection of staying anywhere, or even how we got to McCormick Place. On a side note, I was there at the Arie Crown this past spring--the first time I'd been there since . . . . It's been refurbished, obviously, but the bones are the same.

At the concert we sat main floor, ramrod straight in what were possibly reserved seats, like at a symphony, and applauded politely after each song. In those days, before real pandemonium overtook rock concerts (just four years later in May 1969 we saw Hendrix at the Fairgrounds--Led Zeppelin was the warmup--everything was way, way different). I believe in '65 there was still a controversy going on about Dylan's "going electric," and we wondered if there would be boos. There weren't.

I wish I could remember more about the evening except to recall thinking how cool he behaved & looked & how he never said a word between songs. I don't know if the set list was played through or if there was a break.

All I know is that a couple of years ago . . . I made my way to the Morgan Library in NY and felt the hair on the back of my head stand up when, while looking at Dylan's rather prosaic Mead notebooks under glass, I saw in his handwriting the words "How does it feel, to be on your own..." among other scribblings & crossouts.

Listening to him today on XM and reading Chronicles, I know I'd have the letdown-- if I could meet him in person-- that I have had on meeting the few celebs I have in the past.

He's just a man, and on virtually most counts, an ordinary primate like the rest of us. BUT. The work overtakes the man.

Listen again to any song on the above set list to have it confirmed, esp. Baby Blue and Tom Thumb's Blues.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bob Dylan for the first time

On 10/10/10 evening Susan and I trundled out to the University of Central Florida arena to see Bob Dylan. I thought I should see him since a scene from a 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue concert is central to a story of mine, "Lowell and the Rolling Thunder." I was a follower of Dylan and Baez long, long, long ago, and saw with commentary the scene I describe in the story in the Scorsese film "No Direction Home." Susan had seen Dylan three times over the years, in different stages of his life.

I'm ashamed to admit that after 45 years of playing the guitar (capitalizing on 1963 lessons at the Green Street Y in Champaign), the one song I can play clear through is "Don't Think Twice," a favorite song of all time for me even now. I'm more ashamed to admit that the concert had just kicked off on Sunday, and we were well into the second song, and I leaned down from my binoculars to ask Susan what song was playing. I couldn't catch the melody, I couldn't come close to catching the words. THAT was the song Dylan was singing! That made me laugh, and then I settled in to listening and did catch a phrase or two. I'm damned in fact if he didn't actually end it on a verse that isn't the published end of the song, but that's sort of how it went, not like anything you'd imagine but wondrous nevertheless if you happen to live in the past as intensely as I do.

Dylan wore a flat brimmed brilliant white hat, a white shirt with a string tie, as I recall, and a blue blazer with larger than you'd expect gold buttons, matching blue pants with a wide sparkly gold stripe down the side, quite prominent at first because he stood sideways to the audience playing the keyboard for his first song. For "Don't Think Twice" he stood face-on with his guitar. At the keyboard, stage lights, reddish, shined from below and his skin was red brown. Facing the audience at the microphone, brilliant white light forced his eyes to slits. His expression was intense and serious while he was deep in a song but he smiled between songs and during bridges, smiled with his mouth though in his almost closed eyes the expression was plain and flat and giving nothing. The famous harmonica bracket never appeared. Instead, on those songs he let the band handle the guitar and he held in his hand a special mic and his harmonica, and I think I loved those songs the most because there was great familiarity in Dylan's distinctive harmonica riffs. Clearly he'd been standing there all his life, and, apart from my aging ears, one reason I didn't quite pick up "Don't Think Twice" initially was that vocally he wrestles with his best known melodies and reinvents the songs spontaneously. The band was great staying right with him as he went on his way.

Dylan doesn't say much from the stage. We could say he lets the music speak for itself -- nah, that's not it either. Instead of performing, he's up there evoking himself through all the years, like an abstract painting that refuses to speak in plain language because there's not much else to say but maybe it will remind us of something. That tall shadow on the wall behind, see it? It put me in mind of the icon of Don Quixote in the Sixties when "Man of La Mancha" was playing everywhere and Quixote was an image of naive idealism and a heroic fantasy.

You've probably seen Bob Dylan in concert. For me it was long awaited. The past, all of those years, was present in the giant arena. Dylan's connection to youth isn't gone, or maybe it was the youth who treasure music including musical history who were there, but it was a great blend of people. As you can see by the picture above, taken with my lame little phone camera, I needed the binoculars. I wanted everyone to have them, because the view was beautiful and the sound was huge and together they hit me with great force in my chest. I wanted my friends from back then to be with me, and I wanted that me to come again and hang out a while. The past is present at a Dylan concert. We can't go back except maybe just a little, and when the music takes off, something very big I can only call (with reverence) the past comes up the tunnel to meet us half-way.