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ALTERNATIVES TO COLLEGE

by Michael Crimmins


THE LAST TIME I LISTENED TO BOB DYLAN

 

It is quite a difficult task for me to talk to you about the last time I listened to Bob Dylan, because I listen to him all of the time! At this very moment I am listening to a compilation of songs from the ‘Hard Rain’ performance of The Rolling Thunder tour of 1976, so I suppose the honest way to write this article would be to concentrate on these. Off the top of my head, my favourite Dylan performances of all time are The John Hammond Tribute TV show, Hard Rain, The Concert for Bangla Desh and St James’ Park 1984. 

To trim that down a little I would have to say that over the years I continually watch videos of the ‘Hard Rain’ and the ‘John Hammond’ performances. There is an element to these two shows that is not present in the other two and that is the female presence of both Joan Baez and Scarlet Rivera. 

In 1966 Dylan and the Hawks shared the stage of hell and high water together, as they boldly stepped out! Dylan though as you would expect, remained very much the focal point. In 1971 Dylan was on stage with George Harrison, Leon Russell and Ringo Starr and once more Dylan’s presence, call it aura, call it charisma, whatever! Presents him very much to the fore! In other words when Bob Dylan takes the stage we are in no doubt where the spotlight will fall. Maybe these are the words that could only come from one who professes to listen to Dylan all the time, I don’t know, some times things do get a little hard to see. What I can see for certain is that when Bob Dylan is on the stage in female company the line between the star and the accompanist blur’s significantly. 

Dylan has an affinity with women that does not fit the age old, scientific or practical minded male/humanitarian female dichotomy. 

This female affinity, call it respect if you, like shines through in Dylan’s song writing and also his stage persona, especially that of 1966 where his somewhat androgynous appearance mirrored perfectly the whole gender blur of his ‘Blonde on Blonde’ album. 

In Bob’s earliest songs it is the male scientific mind underpinning the capitalist exploitation of the natural world and its peoples, that is the very root of Dylan’s dissatisfaction. Around the ‘Bringing it all back home’ period, the one who sang with his tongue on fire had moved away from this ideal. The Kennedy assassination without doubt had a profound effect on Dylan and it is my view that he came to view himself and the very people he had been singing and writing for in the protest and civil rights movements as just one more army, with all the usual implications that the word army evokes. Compare the album covers of ‘The times they are-a-changin’’ and ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and you will see not just the stark contrast between a black and white image and a colour one. 

Something happens between Bob Dylan and Joan Baez on stage, something quite unique that pulls me right in! I can never fully comprehend the greatness of their four songs together at Fort Collins May 23rd 1976 where they performed “Blowin’ in the wind” “Railroad boy” “Deportees” and “I pity the poor immigrant”. I can say the same, maybe to a slightly lesser extent, of their set from a month previous at Bellevue Biltmore Hotel, Clearwater Florida. Whatever this magic is! One thing that it definitely is- is a meeting of the minds. They sing cheek to cheek, heads almost merging. Dylan’s penetrating glance from so close makes Baez flush with excitement. She loves him dearly. Of that I am left in no doubt! He, for his part, wants to be up there and that close to her because he feels the power of their one aura. He knows how good they are together! Call it the ghost of electricity; the guiding spirit of performance, whatever this buzz is, that comes to visit and sustain performers when they reach for it, these two, especially here at Fort Collins are the very vision of it! 

Of course it would be criminal to rave on about the ‘Hard Rain’ TV Special and not mention what is possibly one of the greatest live performances of all time! “Idiot wind”. Sara Dylan was present as Bob sang this song; indeed it couldn’t and wouldn’t have been the same performance without her! She was as much a part of this songs performance as was Dylan himself! The elemental Dylan is omnipresent, throughout the songs and their sequencing on the ‘Hard Rain’ TV Special. There is transition too, just look at the play list! Just as Dylan climbed on the back of his own personal turmoil to grab for his muse with ‘Blood on the tracks’ here on ‘Hard Rain’ we can witness the demons of self doubt, that we all experience at times of personal strife, and their defiant exorcism! No more so than in this stunning version of “Idiot Wind! 

On the third chorus Dylan throws his head skyward and lets out with 

Idiot wind, blowing like a circle around my skull,
From the Grand Coulee Dam to the capitol.
You’re an idiot, babe.
It’s a wonder that you still no how to breathe.

After which we witness an almost tribal stomp by Dylan pointing his guitar at Rob Stoner and Scarlet Rivera before delivering the final verse that leads off with “I can’t feel you anymore, I can’t even touch the books you’ve read… 

The smug look upon Dylan’s face throughout this songs performance and the generally perceived meaning of these lyrics do not, I agree, generally lend themselves toward my image of a Dylan who has an affinity and respect for women, and yet balanced against the painfully honest and beautiful “Sara” and the earlier “Wedding song” along with the closing lines of “Idiot wind” I would say whoever could bring forth this force of emotion and level of song writing commitment, is indeed in command of the highest level of respect! 

Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiot’s babe.
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.

The colour and feel that I would choose in association with the albums ‘Blonde on Blonde’ and ‘Blood on the tracks’ would have to be a very distinct velvety red. Dylan’s singing, especially on Blonde on Blonde, somehow has an almost feline quality to it which perfectly fits with the early hour’s feel of some of the songs and most especially on “Visions of Johanna”. Although the gender mist has lifted considerably on ‘Blood on the tracks’ I feel that these two albums, that I’m sure many of us would agree are Bob’s greatest achievements, are inextricably linked not only by the colour red of passion and it’s consequence but also by the winds and rain from the authors obviously elemental soul. 

A cheerful note. Bast is the Egyptian Goddess of music and love. It is said that at night she is able to transform herself into a cat. Bast refuses to conform to expectations or to be at anybody’s beck and call. She refuses to be swayed or hurt by public opinions as she insists upon artistic freedom. She is also known as ‘Pasht’ where our word for passion is supposedly derived! 

I suppose that gives me licence to unleash on you all my own particular brand of “Idiot wind”. Whether or not you have enjoyed my rambling, on and on, in freewheelin-on-line, I would like to wish you all a lot of love and peace. 

If this is farewell as far as Freewheelin’ goes let us not look back, Bob wouldn’t like it! And I’m sure the continuing saga of Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot fighting in the captain’s tower, will continue elsewhere and also down through the ages!

 

For information on Michael's band "Dylanesque", including a gigs guide, go to his website.
 
 
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