Monday, July 17, 2000

How A Fixed Fender Can Give You A Psychological Boost

After my Thursday night softball game I went out with Sue, our crass but quite effective high arcing pitcher. We had a really nice talk- her father passed away four months ago. We found that we shared a lot in common- the painful memories and reminders of losing a parent. We did differ in one significant aspect however. Sue said that she has found it impossible to be alone- that she needs company, otherwise she thinks about her father too much. I'm quite the opposite. I'm finding my most sane moments are the times I spend by myself. There's a lot of loss going on in my life at the moment and it's just easier to not have to feel the obligation of being sociable.

To isolate yourself in grief probably isn't the doctor recommended course to take. But there have been too many times recently when I don't feel up to seeing other people. I'm glad my conversation with Sue proved I can still be a valuable listener and can still connect at times. The events of the following night further proved the old adage if you put your mind to it, there is little you can't accomplish.

Already apprehensive about driving my pristine newly fixed car through downtown Minneapolis to the Target Center to see Bob Dylan I was told that the Hennepin Avenue Block Party was happening the very same night. Just the thought of driving through the aggressive snarly traffic was enough to make me want to stay home. But I decided if I got there really early, early enough to have dinner, that I'd find a place to park and I could always spend the extra time walking around downtown.

I wasn't planning on parking at the Target Center since the arena was right in the middle of the block party, but after driving around for a bit looking for a good lot I decided I might as well park where I was familiar and deal with the consequences after the concert. I was there well before five and the gates opened at 6:30. I wasn't really hungry and I thought I'd check out how many people were lined up at the doors since I had a general admission ticket on the floor.

There already were about 25 to 30 people lined up so I decided I would get in line. As people started to pour in behind me I realized I had a rather choice spot in line. So I sat there as my rear and my legs got sore reminiscing for some reason amongst the Deadheads, about my days at Macalester. I swear my roommate Spunky and I were the only "normal" people in our class. And it was probably typical that among the tie-died T-shirted I was the one wearing a CIA baseball cap.

I waited what literally seemed an eternity. I was now hungry and thirsty (I watched with envy as the quiet two guys in front of me snarfed down some appealing looking Subway sandwiches) but darned if I was going to give up my place in line. When the doors opened there was the expected nasty chaos of people trying to better their positions. I hung closely to those two guys- not daring to let anyone come between us. I got through that first set of doors and saw people running for the doors to the floor. So I followed suit. I was more than curious at this point to see how close to the stage I could get. A throng of people formed outside the next set of doors (barriers). After a bit of pushing and shoving the security people told us to line up single file (yeah right). Things somehow squeezed forward and I found myself on the other side of the doors after refusing to budge and give up any position.

From there it was another sprint to another security check point. At this stop they took our ticket stubs and gave us a bracelet (lord knows what that was about) and from there it was a race to the front of the stage. I used my sorely abused, and much out of shape Mama Cass legs to get me in position of the second row behind the barrier to the stage. I strategically tried to place myself behind a short person (who happened to be a very familiar looking and attractive blonde) so I could have a clear view to the stage.

None of this was exactly in character or what anyone who knows me would expect, as I was jostled and groped from front and behind, but I kept looking at the remarkably close stage setups and those microphones that would soon be used by the band and I wasn't about to relinquish any of my cherished territory at this point.

I stood there unwilling to budge for the next hour. The woman in front of me was sitting down, legs stretched out in front of me so she could clear some space and not be immediately squished against the barrier to the stage. At this point I turned to my recent study of Buddha and tried my best to remain calm among the inane conversation, chatter and bumping. The two youngsters next to me pulled out some finger length vials that I have no idea the contents of. I kept my focus on those remarkably close mikes and counted down the time. The stands surrounding us looked fairly empty. But at around 7:35 p.m. the smell of incense signaled that the time was near. The lights went down and there were the typical whistles of anticipation. I remembered back to the last time I saw Dylan at the Target Center, the LAST time I fell in love deeper than ever before- not with Bob but with the person I was with. It was during his second song, "I Remember You" when I looked over at her- and she was absolutely in the moment and how could I resist?

This time he opened with a terrific cover of a Leadbelly song, "Duncan and Brady." I couldn't believe how close Dylan stood from me- probably no more than 25 feet away. The look on his face was priceless. "Women all heard that Brady was dead. Goes back home and they dresses in red. Come a sniffin' and a sighin' down the street, in their big mother hubbards and their stockin' feet'. Cause he been on the job too long, been on the job too long."

Bob looked pensive as he concentrated on the atmosphere around him. He sang his heart out and it was a terrific opening number- a song about an outlaw who has walked into the wrong situation at the wrong time merely because he has been on the road for far too long.

As he ran through rather perfunctory performances of "Times They Are A-Changin" and "Desolation Row" I couldn't help but be mesmerized by the look on Bob's face. He was clearly lost in the music, in the moment. Even after all this time on the never ending tour the music is still the crux of the matter.

Concentration on the fourth song "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" was a bit difficult because a guy a couple feet behind me passed out and security tried to deal with the situation- but this was a new arrangement of one of Dylan's saddest songs. I looked at his eyes closely to try and detect if he was indeed feeling sad or if this was just another performance in another indistinguishable venue. But Bob was clearly pouring his heart out in the terrific lyrics. "Leave your stepping stones behind, something calls for you. Forget the dead you've left, they will not follow you. The vagabond who's rapping at your door- is standing in the clothes that you once wore. Strike another match, go start anew. And it's all over now, Baby Blue."

The sixth song of the set, the rarely performed "The Ballad of Frankie Lee and Judas Priest" was clearly the highlight of the evening. The light country background gave way to Dylan's piercing lyrics- one of his great and most intriguing song story efforts. "Well, the moral of the story, the moral of this song, is simply that one should never be where one does not belong. So when you see your neighbor carryin' something', help him with his load. And don't go mistaking paradise for that home across the road."

The timing of the song struck me personally. On my way into the concert I saw a young baseball capped man pushing his stalled Chevy Blazer in the Target Center ramp. I could have walked by- maybe should have seeing I have about as much ability to help with a stalled car as my cat, but I was feeling charitable so I asked if there was anything I could do. He had me push the vehicle as he tried to push start it. We got quite a ways down the ramp before he finally gave up. I left him stranded, but wished him well and felt good that I at least tried to help this stranger out.

The next song has become a regular in the rotation, "Country Pie" off Nashville Skyline. I heard the song last spring in Rochester but it really is a welcome addition to the set. The playful lyrics "Raspberry, strawberry, lemon and lime. What do I care? Blueberry, apple, cherry, pumpkin and plum all me for dinner, honey, I'll be there," play against the searing backing of the band. It was the first time all evening that Dylan allowed lead guitarist Charlie Sexton to really let loose. The look Bob shot Charlie after a ripping solo was priceless- like an old master scolding a prodigy for showing off in front of the masses.

Another highlight was the following "If Not For You" one of Dylan's most sentimental ballads. It was also the song from the evening that most perfectly touched on my mood these days. "If not for you my sky would fall. Rain would gather too. Without your love I'd be nowhere at all, I'd be lost if not for you. And you know it's true."

The most interesting juxtaposition of the setlist (far more than the pairing of "It's All Over Now Baby Blue" with "Tangled Up In Blue") was the playful "I Don't Believe You" one of Dylan's most clever songs (containing one of my all time favorite lyrics- "From darkness, dreams are deserted. Am I still dreamin' yet? I wish she'd unlock her voice once and talk. 'Stead of acting like we never have met" ) with the bitter "Cold Irons Bound" (which got a new arrangement- substituting the trademark melodic bass pattern with nearly acapella verses punctuated with harsh beats on the last beat of each phrase). It was a stunning display of how far Dylan has traveled in the past forty years.

The song I was hoping and praying he would sing, was his latest composition, "Things Have Changed." He had been opening his encores during this leg of the tour with the song and I hoped that he would continue that trend. I was not disappointed. The opening chords signaled what was in store as even the loud fellow behind me indicated (he took great joy in identifying each song after the first few lines and then following up with a "Yeah BOB!" every few seconds).

"Things Have Changed" is a great song. It is the type of song that the thinning faithful wishes others would pay attention to- but that even the most respected people have stopped listening- is what the song at essence is about.

"A worried man with a worried mind. No one in front of me and nothing behind. There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne. Got white skin, got assassin's eyes I'm looking up into the sapphire tinted skies. I'm well dressed, waiting on the last train."

In this performance Dylan struggled to get to the core of the sermon. He played around with the way he paused the phrasing during the killer refrain- "People are crazy and times are strange. I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range. I used to care, but things have changed."

To give up caring is to give up life. But the song is full of splendid irony as Dylan sums up life's sad plight so expertly- "I've been walking forty miles of bad road. If the Bible is right, the world will explode. I've been trying to get as far away from myself as I can. Some things are too hot to touch. The human mind can only stand so much. You can't win with a losing hand ."

For his bows he stood there almost defiant as if to challenge anyone to top him. His face revealed a pride at the strength and the joy of the message just delivered. And when he gave me a killer skunk eyed look during a searing "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat" I had to nod back appreciatively despite the fact I may never hear again having stood right in front of the speakers. I have to confess the words are still there. And I for one am still glad they were shared.

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