I spent all of Saturday morning on the phone trying to get through to our good friends at Ticketmaster for tickets to Bob Dylan's upcoming concerts in Duluth and Minneapolis. Tickets for Duluth went on sale at 9 a.m. and tickets for the Target Center show (with Joni Mitchell) went on sale at 10 a.m. Thank God for the redial button on my phone.
I first got through after constant attempts at about 9:15. The operator was pleasant and more competent than your average ticket seller. The Duluth show should be special seeing it is the town where Bob was born and the venue is medium sized (7,500 seats). Dylan has never played a concert in Duluth. One hour later I repeated the constant frustration of getting a busy signal finally getting through to Ticketmaster around 10:55 a.m. This operator was more inarticulate having to reread his spiel a couple of times and having me repeat my credit card information several times. No matter I wasn't going to let anything spoil the excitement of securing tickets. The Target Center show should also be a most fun experience seeing I'm going with someone who has never seen Bob live. I think she is looking forward to the show having been exposed to Dylan's music for the first time after reading my review of Time Out of Mind and promptly going out and purchasing the disc based on my recommendation.
So what is it that she has to look forward to and what is it that makes me want to see the man perform for the sixteenth and seventeenth time in the past eleven years? His performances are often ragged and the musicianship is seldom what one would call virtuoso. Still there isn't anyone around who can capture the feeling of the moment better and when he does, the emotion he can ring out of even his more obscure material can be breathtaking. Although his constant touring has meant he rarely breaks out different songs anymore, he is the one artist I know that doesn't perform his songs the same way and he constantly will surprise by his changing of phrasing or lyrics, or something that makes time disappear and the music express his heart with astonishing clarity.
"I'm sailing away my own true love, I'm sailing away in the morning. Is there something I can send from across the sea, from the place I'll be landing? No, there's nothing you can send me, my own true love, there's nothing I wish to be owning. Just carry yourself back to me unspoiled from across that lonesome ocean." A perfect example is the live version of Boots of Spanish Leather that was released on the CD single version of Not Dark Yet. If told it was a matter of national security to reveal what my favorite Dylan song was, Boots of Spanish Leather would surely make my short list. It is one of his more clearly autobiographical songs chronicling the end of his relationship with one of his first loves, Suzi Rotolo.
Surely it is a song of self pity with the narrator singing both sides and ultimately wishing his love well as she sails away. Both people seemed saddened by the end, hurt by the other, hurt that the other has decided to leave. "But if I had the stars from the darkest night and the diamonds from the deepest ocean, I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss, for that's all I'm wishing to be owning. That I might be gone a long time and it's only that I'm asking. Is there something I can send you to remember me by, to make your time more easy passing? How can, how can you ask me again? It only brings me sorrow. The same thing I want today, I would want again tomorrow." I've been around long enough now to have seen my share of relationships end and the mood this song evokes captures some of those feelings so perfectly. I may never have lost a love leaving for Spain (France perhaps but not Spain) yet the feelings expressed are universal. One feels jilted at the same time one just wishes it wouldn't be the end while feeling a certain sense of relief that the troubles are over or so you try to tell yourself.
Dylan has performed Boots of Spanish Leather sporadically over the years and it is always performed with gentleness and real care. Clearly the song means a lot to him. This particular version captures his love of the song well. His voice is full of wistfulness and sadness. His phrasing of the line, "I'd forsake them all for your sweet kiss, for that's all I'm wishing to be owning" is heartbreaking and breathtaking in its understated intensity. The singer concludes his story lamenting how jealous he feels of what is in front of her and how sad he feels that he cannot share or be a part of her upcoming adventure. "I got a letter on a lonesome day it was from her ship a sailing saying I don't know when I'll be coming back again it depends on how I'm feeling. Well, if you, my love, must think that way, I'm sure your mind is roaming. I'm sure your thoughts are not with me, but with the country to where you going. So take heed, take heed of the western wind, take heed of the stormy weather. And yes, there's something you can send back to me, Spanish boots of Spanish Leather." The last line is a bit too clever yet it works because it conveys the bitterness and the bittersweet feelings the singer feels. He wants her to do well and be happy, he wants her to know how much she means to him, yet he knows that he has to move on and regrets it all. It's the type of song one drives all the way to Duluth to hear from a singer one has seen many times before and always comes away understanding life just a little bit better.