Ruminations on seeing the elder Bob Dylan…

bobdylan14Bob Dylan is not the reason I took up the guitar…the seeds of my hardwired obsession with the instrument were planted at a very early age by the Everly Brothers and Chet Atkins. That said, when I finally got a guitar and started learning at age 15, it was early Dylan, and Peter, Paul, and Mary’s renditions of his early songs, that made me say, “I want to sound like THAT!”

bob-dylan-newport-1965I saw Dylan “live” on Nov. 12th, 1965, in Cleveland, land of my birth. He was 24 years old. I was 16. Other than his singing, he only said one thing the whole night. Still under fire for “going electric”, (he played an acoustic set followed by an electric set with The Hawks, soon to become The Band,) while struggling to get his acoustic guitar in tune, he petulantly remarked, “My electric guitar never goes out of tune…”  Last night, I saw him again, and he spoke even less… He is now 73 yrs old, and I’m 65. We’ve changed.

The voice once accused of being strident and nasal is now low-pitched and powerful. The weird, and instantly recognizable prosody (i.e., “the stress and intonation patterns of an utterance.”) of his singing has remained the same, and is still compelling, whether or not you can understand his lyrics… and it’s a good thing, because, whether or not you know the songs, they’re hard to understand. But, as my wife Janice observed, Dylan’s performance carried with it a gravitas and power like that of a Voodoo “Bokor”, or priest. The first class band, Dylan’s minor key progressions, and his compelling voice, weave a remarkable hypnotic web for the listener, which transcends the idea of a “music concert” in some hard to define way.

Many songs have been re-engineered with new chord progressions, melodies, and rewritten lyrics, more relevent to his current age. Here’s a great example from one of my favorite Dylan songs, “Tangled Up In Blue”

Original lyric:

So now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
All the people we used to know
They’re an illusion to me now
Some are mathematicians
Some are carpenters’ wives
Don’t know how it all got started
I don’t know what they do with their lives
But me, I’m still on the road
Headin’ for another joint
We always did feel the same
We just saw it from a different point of view
Tangled up in blue

And here’s an approximation of the current lyric he sings:

Now I’m goin’ back again
I got to get to her somehow
Yesterday is dead and gone
And tomorrow, ______?
Well, some of them, live up on the mountain
And some of them went down in the ground
Some of the names appeared in flames
And some of them they just left town
Me, I’m still on the road
And I’m tryin’ to stay out of the joint
We always thought the same
Depending on your point of view
Tangled up in blue

I love the “tryin’ to stay out of the joint” line, but the “some went down in the ground” speaks more profoundly of stage of life…

So, here’s the crux of the matter: If you don’t want to be disappointed, don’t go see Dylan with any expectation. Like all great artists, he has chosen his own path, not to be encumbered by either his fans or his critics. I’m happy there was a young Bob Dylan, and I still love to play and sing some of those early songs…here are a couple links.

But that was another time. We’re lucky to have audio recordings of it, but Dylan has moved on, and we can do that, too, without losing the earlier artist.

I respect the immense power and intensity Dylan still brings to his performances at his current age, and, to a certain extent, see his metamorphosis as being one of a very high quality coal, through age, pressure, and heat, being transformed to diamond.

Just my .02. If you can see him, I highly recommend it!!

Posted on November 23, 2014, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Thanks Rolly. Good post.

  2. Rolly,

    Appreciate your update and insights. I was never a big Dylan fan but, like all of us, have done lots of Dylan material in a jam context.

    Thanks for taking the time to do a nice review. Also, I have enjoyed your instructional material as a student and a fellow instructor. I’ve been at it since 1955 and will continue as long as I am able.

    Best regards, Ed Newkirk

  3. Wisdom earned by both artists and shared in this post and the performance that provoked it. Thank you, Rolly.


    Thanks for the report, Rolly. Nice to hear that from a true musician’s viewpoint. Hope I’ll get to hear him.

    On another point, I haven’t missed your Thanksgiving concert in years. Always there and always plan on that Sunday. Unfortunately, since I’m playing more now, I can’t. That late afternoon into evening on the 29th, I’ll be playing for a wedding out in “alderichis” (do you know that Yiddish word? not sure of spelling)….anyway it’s way out and I won’t be back home till late. Yay for me, boo for missing your show. “Break a string!!!” Hugs, Bunny

    • Thanks, Bunny,
      Please note that this year’s gig is not the classic Rolly-n-Mark T’giving concert, which ended its 19 year run in ’12. It just happened that I got offered this gig on this date, and I’m pleased that it includes my old pal Jay Ansill. I’m glad to note that you’re playing out a BUNCH, and still hope to make it to the Zen Den one of these times…
      Lotsa Love,

  5. As much as I’m a fan of Doc Watson and Clarence White Flatpicking, I am equally a huge Bob Dylan fan. Since I was 10 years old. Bob Dylan is the definition of a true artist I’ve listened closely to him most of my life. Still!

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