I sent Marty an email later that night, thanking him for thinking of me, but that I’d been away from home every night that week, primarily on music related business, and I knew my family wouldn’t be thrilled if I cancelled the dinner out they’d requested. My wife, though, was almost as dubious as Marty. "Bob Dylan? You turned down a free ticket to Bob Dylan?" She knew I’d never seen Dylan live, and that I was a long time fan.
I’d like to say that my time with my family is so important that the decision was easy, but with some reflection I realized that wasn’t the whole story. Yes, I did want to spend the evening with my family. But there was another issue that took some time to figure out.
About three nights prior to the concert, I’d watched the No Direction Home DVD. I’d seen the show on PBS, but a friend loaned the film to me. If for some reason you’ve been on Mars for a two year vacation, this is the documentary Martin Scorsese made in 2005. It not only features a lot of archival footage, but recent footage of Bob talking about his life and music. It also features some full performances we didn’t get to see on PBS showing, including quite a bit of footage of Bob’s tour of Britain after he first "went electric." I’d not seen much of this footage, and I was remarkably intrigued. Dylan’s band on this tour was 4/5 of a group that became the Band a year or so later. Drummer Levon Helm couldn’t take all the booing and negativity that accompanied Bob’s electric direction, so Mickey Jones was pulled in to replace him. Rick Danko played bass, Garth Hudson and Richard Manuel provided keyboards, and Robbie Robertson was the lead guitarist. These British concerts feature a remarkable version of Like a Rolling Stone, and although the audiences were not thrilled by the "new" Bob, the musician’s performances did not seem to suffer. In fact, it seems that in some ways they were energized by the negativity that surrounded them. It’s interesting to watch the footage of the group leaving a concert, chatting about the negative reaction and booing.
Since these concerts took place a little over 40 years ago, and Bob hasn’t traveled with the Band since the mid-1970s, the concert I turned down would have had very little in common. I realized that like many music fans and most Dylan fans, I have my own favorite time period or have my favorite material. And in my case, my discovery of the "new" footage of the Band backing Dylan was so supremely exciting; I knew that I would no doubt be disappointed by sans-Band Bob circa 2007. Perhaps that’s an immature attitude, but it seemed like a better idea for the ticket to go to someone that didn’t need to take his family to dinner AND loved Dylan, no matter what.
The bass player in my band walked into our gig the next night, and began regaling me with his story of waiting in the cancellation line the night before last night’s Bob Dylan concert and getting a 7th row ticket. He went on to praise the concert, and tell me many details of the arrangements. He’d loved the show, and couldn’t fathom my turning the ticket down. Hey, this is the guy I was talking about! Not exactly unconditional love for Bobby, but much closer than this fair weather fan.
So I’ll have to settle for the recorded images of Bob grinning while Robbie pumps out some of the hottest Telecaster work I’ve heard, and perhaps next year I’ll be more receptive to the fully mature artist, not just one segment of a major and diverse career. So no offense to Bob. He learned early on about how others wanted to mold him or have him serve their cause, and he reacted by doing an anti-deification of his material and image.
I realize that Bob’s material since 1966 has been very good. He’s made a lot of recordings, and he is still an extremely popular artist. Do I think that his more recent stuff and performances are bad? Nope, not at all, though I personally don’t share the attitude of some listeners that his recent albums are as intriguing as his earlier work.
One of my favorite books is The Human Comedy by William Saroyan. It was his first novel, written in 1943. Saroyan went on to write a good number of novels and dramas for the stage, but for me, he was never able to capture the essence of the human dilemma in as cogent and moving style as he did in The Human Comedy. I doubt that Saroyan would have agreed with me, and I’m sure many of his readers would disagree, too. I’ve read much of his work, but I just keep coming back to that first novel, much in the manner that I go back to the first five or ten years of Dylan’s recording career.
So my sorry defense is that I know what I like, and for me to attend a concert and be disappointed that someone didn’t follow their original arrangements, or is playing parts that weren’t on the original recording, would be silly and artistically immature. However, even with that said, you probably won’t see me at a Bob Dylan impersonator show, even if they get the remaining original Band members to agree to join in. But hopefully you may see a more "mature me" at a 2008 Bob Dylan show. Anything is possible.
Dennis Roger Reed is a singer-songwriter, musician and writer based in San Clemente, CA. He’s released two solo CDs, and appeared on two CDs with the newgrassy Andy Rau Band and two CDs with the roots rockers Blue Mama. His prose has appeared in a variety of publications such as the OC Weekly and MOJO magazine. Writing about his music has appeared in an eclectic group of publications such as Bass Player, Acoustic Musician, Dirty Linen, Blue Suede News and Sing Out! His oddest folk resume entry would be the period of several months in 2002 when he danced onstage as part of both Little Richard’s and Paul Simon’s revues. He was actually asked to do the former and condoned by the latter. He apparently knows no shame.