Monday, June 28, 2004

Dr. Dylan

Dear Jennifer,

Got your beautiful postcard from Madrid today. Sounds like you are having a fabulous time. Wish I could be there with you sharing a bowl of ice cream to cool down.

Did you see that our friend Mr. Dylan made all the newspapers this week? He got an honorary doctorate degree in music from the University of Glasgow. The pictures of Bob at the ceremony were rather amusing. Never has a more dour look appeared on someone looking so dapper. (Although a similarly sour look appeared last week on the face of your favorite local election official being awarded by our Secretary of State in a photograph printed in the Laker, a community newspaper serving the Osseo area.)

What struck me about Dr. D's degree wasn't so much whether he was deserving of such honor (of course he is) but rather what an unpredictable path his career has taken over the years. I just picked up a copy of his latest CD Live 1964 featuring the Halloween concert he gave shortly before the soon to be released and seminal Bringing It All Back Home forever changed American popular music (in the very year I was born). I don't know why I didn't rush out and buy the new CD when it came out last month. I think this is the longest I've waited to buy a new Dylan CD since I became a fan all those years ago. The delay was a mistake.

Live 1964 features another side of Bob Dylan that hasn't been heard from since. He is positively in a giddy mood throughout the show as his banter with the audience is full of silliness and warm humor. Before he breaks into a high spirited "If You Gotta Go, Go Now," he chuckles when he tells the audience that he is wearing his Bob Dylan mask for Halloween. Before he sings "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)" he says the song is a funny song even though the heretofore unheard lyrics are dripping with blood.

I don't know if I told you, Jennifer, that I saw Prince last week. What kind of surprised me about that other Minnesota music legend is how warm and engaging he was throughout the whole show. Having become accustomed to seeing Bob's silent and aloof stage demeanor it was rather jarring to see how Prince flirted with his crowd (especially since he shares the reputation of being somewhat inscrutable). Plus I must say that Prince's bass player Ronda had much better legs than Bob's bassist Tony Garnier.

What Live 1964 shows is that things have indeed changed. To hear Bob joking with his audience is quite a treat. And the performances are thus somehow different than anything Dylan has ever released before or since. The version of "Don't Think Twice, It's All Right" blisters along and the hurting humor of lines like "I'm thinking and wondering walking all the way down the road/I once loved a woman, a child I'm told/I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul/But don't think twice..." are made equal parts sad and cutting because Bob sings the first part of the stanzas at the upper range of his register like he is at some camp town Hootenanny finally letting something go that he's been keeping inside far too long.

When he brings Joan Baez on stage to sing a duet on "Mama, You've Been on My Mind" his phrasing throws her off (and probably quite intentionally so) as he holds notes, starts and stops lines at unexpected times. Contrasted with a similar duet they did a dozen years later of the same song, it is proof positive what a spontaneous and in the moment performer Dylan is. The message of the song is the same despite being delivered quite differently, yet the deviant colored tone is like finally getting a whiff of a scent both unique and comforting in its hardening delight.

I'm sure you've listened to the new disc many times already Jennifer, yet I'll bet you reacted in a similar way as I did at the freshness of hearing old performances brought to life in such a delightful way. I picture in my head you traveling around Spain, in boots of that country's leather, drinking it all in with the music of our hero playing in your head, making it all the better, as it always does.

Your pal,

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