Late one night last spring my new friend called me to tell me she had just seen on a promo for the ten o'clock news that Bob Dylan had been hospitalized with a potentially fatal ailment. She already knew me well enough to know the news would have a major impact on me. So I watched the news and learned little. I went to bed that night thinking how sad it would be if the world never knew another Bob Dylan song or heard another Bob Dylan performance. The only comfort was I also lie there thankful that I had found a friend who seemed to understand and cared enough to take the time to break the news to me with a reassuring voice. I then put on Shot of Love and marveled at how the power of music can make even the most confusing and unbearable moments in life seem somehow meaningful.
The lesson from that night is that prayers are often answered at the same time you are being blindsided. Bob survived and all that remains of that most missed friendship is the knowledge that my title has officially changed from the World's Biggest Dork to the World's Biggest Jerk. The timing of Dylan's most recent stop in Minnesota couldn't have been better. How cool was it that he was playing a show within walking distance of my house and I was going with a person I don't get to spend nearly enough time with? I needed to see Bob again, and when he hit the stage at Midway Stadium after solid opening sets from BR5-49 and Ani Difranco (who truly impressed me with her terrifically versatile voice and her live performance ability which was better than the recorded efforts I've heard of hers- including a moving cover of the Artist's When Doves Cry- one of my all time favorite songs), it was truly reassuring after the past few difficult weeks. The ability to survive and endure is perhaps Dylan's most appealing quality.
"I waited for you when I was half sick. Yes, I waited for you when you hated me. Well, I waited for you inside frozen traffic, when you knew I had some other place to be. Now, where are YOU tonight sweet Marie?" Dylan opened with a solid version of Absolutely Sweet Marie which I didn't think would make much of an opening song. After hearing the song in other slots on this Never Ending Tour the arrangements never seemed to impress. But there was real fire in the vocal as there was most of the night. His voice was more phlegmy than usual but there was a conviction to the songs that was unmistakable. Next was a seductive version of Tonight I'll Be Staying Here With You which made the loss of Marie seem somewhat bearable as the singer turned the tables: "Is it any wonder the love that a stranger might receive? You cast your spell and I went under, I find it so difficult to leave..."
He sort of lost the crowd with the rather obscure Tough Mama which demonstrated his mercurial side- replacing the traditional All Along The Watchtower spot with a jangly Planet Waves song and a version that would have made the Band proud. The sing song You Ain't Goin Nowhere was next and the a cappella OOH WEE finish was a fun moment. At this point I sat back and took stock- my fifteenth Dylan show and I had already heard three songs I had never seen him do live before. The acoustic set was equally as good with a rollicking cover version of Roving Gambler, Mr. Tambourine Man, and Tangled Up In Blue which has become a receptacle for an acoustic jam with Bob gratefully taking the solos.
"It strangled up my mind, now people just get uglier and I have no sense of time. Oh mama can this really be the end?" He didn't say much yet he was positively outgoing, speaking more than I've ever heard him speak before. "Let's hear it for BR5-49, my favorite new group except the Wallflowers of course..." The absolute highlight of the show was the ethereal This Wheel's On Fire sung so poignantly with the bittersweet lyrics performed in front of a passing train behind the stage, "This wheel's on fire, rolling down the road. Best notify my next of kin, this wheel shall EXplode." It was one those rare moments in life when everything seems perfect and the way it should be; when your heart melts and you're with the person you want to be with, admiring and enjoying someone that has added so much to your life. "If your memory SERVES you well..." The moment was matched by Forever Young, a song I've never really liked before this perfect, sad sung, appropriately timed version, "May your heart always be joyful, may your song always be sung, and may you stay forever young..."
Just about on cue the threatening clouds let loose a few big rain drops as the encores began and I turned to my friend who had put her hood up. I had made her a tape a few weeks back of my favorite Dylan songs, of songs he might perform, and a few of his most played songs. Her effort to try and understand and appreciate the man's work because she knew it meant so much to me truly touched me. So as we walked home we talked about the new horizons that await as long as you hang in there and keep trying. At the same time the familiar things you think you know are always changing depending on the moment, who you are, and who you are with. The world may turn upside down overnight but those that are there to comfort after the bad times and that are there to share in the good times are to be cherished and appreciated and never ever taken for granted.