L I K E J U D A S K I S S I N G F L O W E R S
ON NOT GOING TO BOB DYLAN CONCERTS
One of the many pleasures of being a small part of this community of like-minded people is discovering that, often, we are not all that similar after all. It encourages me that I am able to read the words of people whose interests in Dylan are so far removed from my own, and yet, somehow, we manage to cling together despite the differences.
For instance, on the weekend of the 4th & 5th May, when many of you were with Dylan in Brighton and Bournemouth, we were travellin’ in the North Country fair, trying to come to a high place of darkness and light. In short, we went hill-walking in Yorkshire. This was no oversight, no failure to get tickets for Dylan, but a deliberate choice. In fact, when we discovered that Dylan’s visit to the UK coincided with our wedding anniversary and that we could actually see him in Bournemouth on the exact date, our initial reaction was: let’s do it. It seemed the poetically appropriate response. But the more we thought about it, the less we wanted to go, and in the end the call of the wild was so much stronger. We went to walk and stand “unwound beneath the skies and clouds unbound by laws”, and hoped to miss any cryin’ rain. We were lucky. The sun shone.
Clearly a number of you took another option and I can hardly blame you for that. But reading issues 199 & 200 of ‘Freewheelin’ has made me realise how weak and uncommitted is my interest in Dylan compared with most Freewheelers. This is apparent in relation to collecting and to concert-going. I was bemused by the Two Riders contribution to issue 199. One of them not only collects CDrs of every show but actually listens to them all the way through. I cannot imagine what that must be like. I would just get bored. This is not a criticism of you, whoever you are, I am simply amazed. And why do you want 3 copies of each? It’s a whole other world from mine, one which appears to be also inhabited by CP Lee who talks, in issue 200, about the speed with which CDrs of the recent tour thud through his letterbox. Would it astound any of you to know that it is at least six months since I received any new Dylan recording from any era? Not only that, but I’m perfectly at ease with the extent of my ignorance in such matters. I don’t even care what a MP3 is, though I do like the way it rhymes with CP Lee! I do admire your joint commitment to the man and his music, I just know I couldn’t do it any more. I did try for a while in the days of tape-trading but I had to get off the merry-go-round before I got dizzy.
It also occurs to me that I may be the only Freewheeler who doesn’t take ‘Isis’? It’s just too much information – all those never-ending set lists interest me not at all. I can’t help it if you might think I’m odd. So do I.
Concerts. This is where I may differ from almost all Dylan fans. Whilst Chris Cooper was mulling over whether to maybe miss one concert this time, I was wondering whether to even go to one. It’s sacrilegious to say in this company, I know, but I’ve always been ambivalent about live Dylan. Since I first saw Dylan in 1966 I have attended just 12 more of his concerts in my whole life. I am not sure that I shall ever attend another. The whole concert experience is one that I find both daunting and, essentially unrewarding. I have never left a concert feeling truly uplifted. I guess I’m an album lover at heart. I hate the VOLUME of noise at concerts and I hate the sheer discomfort of it all – the heat, the fact that you often have to stand, the need to discuss your feelings at apres-show meetings. I also hate it when he mangles much-loved lyrics and melodies. Why does he do that? Oh, I’ve read endless magazine articles explaining it (and I’ve been through all of Paul Williams’ books) but I’m still not convinced. I’m just not a rock’n’roll animal. And I absolutely hate him in cowboy hats and bejewelled suits and the way he waggles his left leg. Ugh! I guess the truth is that I don’t like Bob Dylan, just some of his music – generally the delicate love songs.
I have listened to lots of live tapes/CDs over the years, I really have. I even have some of the 2001 concerts so I’m not so far off knowing what he sounds like recently. But for me, taking the period from 1988 to 2001 (and I’ve heard concerts from all the intervening years) I can hear little real development. Yes, there have been good years and bad years; good shows and bad shows; and excellent performances of individual songs. Despite this, I don’t feel that I need any of it. I was listening to ‘Bringing It All Back Home’ the other night and I was struck by the sheer delightful freshness of ‘Maggie’s Farm’. It took me all the way back to 1965. I have never heard a live version that comes anywhere near it. It is usually played as a run-of-the-mill rocker but the LP recording is so much better than that – more alive than anything I’ve heard on stage.
I’m not saying that Dylan’s live performances are bad – they may be wonderful for all I know – but I do wonder why he stays on the road so endlessly? A friend recently sent me an article from ‘Record Collector’ by Peter Doggett about Dylan in 1965. It contained a well-known quote:
What I don’t understand is why he isn’t bored now? Isn’t he “down to a pattern” again? Oh, I know the songs are very varied but hasn’t it been the same thing, in essence for a number of years: electric set, acoustic set, encores, finish, though it may be a bit more mixed than that? And though the musicians come and go the format is unremittingly guitar and drum-based. Why does he want to keep going through all these things a thousand times twice?
In The Observer of 19th May, Sean O’Hagan wrote a review of one of the London shows (maybe there was only one London show?) in which he asked: “Can it be that he is bored by touring but spooked even more by the thought of retiring, and being at home with himself?” Which brings us back neatly to Paul Williams’ 20 year old book, “Dylan – What Happened?” In it, Williams quotes Mel Lyman’s observation that no matter how far we travel we always arrive at “the mirror at the end of the road”. I love that quote.
But I’m happy for those of you who still enjoy collecting and touring, I really am. But I’m equally pleased that I don’t need it. I feel free, somehow.
I’m less happy with Jim’s contribution to Issue 200. I didn’t like his words about Michael Gray: “lurking, bile souring his every orifice. Mikey is more of an irritant than most professional critics”. Well, he’s never irritated me, despite a certain footnote which achieved notoriety in the pages of ‘Freewheelin’. For me, ‘Song & Dance Man III’ is the one truly indispensable Dylan book – the one I would take to my desert island. Its author can, therefore, be forgiven a multitude of sins. Just like Dylan. Who has contributed more to Dylan authorship? Only Clinton Heylin comes near, but where Gray concentrates upon the art, Heylin concentrates upon the man, the life, the events. It’s the art and the music that matters, though; without the art no-one would care about the man or what he was doing. I expect a number of ‘fans’ will have been irritated by Michael’s review of the Stockholm concert in the ‘Daily Telegraph’, but what would they rather have him do? Be dishonest? Surely he has to call it as he sees it, for good or ill? Michael Gray pays Dylan the great compliment of keeping the highest of expectations with regard to the art.
On to more pleasant matters. I had my appetite whetted by Patrick’s ‘Boots of Spanish Leather – The Prologue’. I look forward to the main event and, hopefully, it will prompt a response. As I said earlier, Dylan’s delicate love songs are what move me most, specifically the album versions: ‘Girl From The North Country’, ‘Don’t Think Twice’, ‘Up To Me’, ‘Abandoned Love’, even ‘Sweetheart Like You’. I doubt that I’ll have any arguments with Patrick’s thesis.
I just came across this
quote from Stephen Crane and was wondering if it had any relevance to my
earlier discussion: “An artist, I think, is nothing but a powerful
memory that can move itself at will, through certain experiences
sideways and every artist must be in some things powerless as a dead
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