Sunday, May 18, 2008

All About Bob

A bonus Sunday post, just because I feel like it.

At yesterday's (sadly underattended) Maine Festival of the Book, I caught the last 20 minutes of Crystal Zevon's talk about her oral history of Warren Zevon, I'LL SLEEP WHEN I'M DEAD. (I own this book, though it's currently lent out; I'll post about it separately.)

Someone asked her whether anyone had turned down her request for an interview, or whether she thought anyone's voices were missing. She mentioned her disappointment at not getting interviews with the Everly Brothers or David Letterman, as they simply don't give interviews. Then she said, "The person I really wanted to talk to was Bob Dylan, but I was afraid to ask him."

It's too bad. By coincidence, Bob Dylan played last night at the Androscoggin Bank Colisee in Lewiston, and Jen and I went to see him.

It's true, he doesn't seem to be the most approachable of men. He played one set -- about 75 minutes -- with no opening act and no intermission, and did not speak to the audience until the beginning of the encore, when he introduced the band.

But he seemed to be having a great time, and as I watched him, I felt overwhelming gratitude and admiration.

A character in Michael Chabon's book THE YIDDISH POLICEMEN'S UNION (which I reread this week) says something like, "All messiahs fail when they try to save themselves." But Bob Dylan never asked to be anyone's Messiah, never wanted to be. Instead, he's managed to save himself whole out of the chaos of the late 20th century.

He doesn't want to be a role model, but he can't help being one, just by being who he is. He turns 67 this week, and he still has new music to play, new songs to sing, new takes on old tunes. Last night he played versions of "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll," "Shelter from the Storm," "The Ballad of Hollis Brown," and "Blowin' in the Wind" that sounded nothing like the originals -- but sounded GREAT. And he pulled out all the stops on a version of "Highway 61" that all but set the stage on fire.

Dylan neither ignores his past nor fetishizes it; he's brought it all with him into the present day. He is now everything he ever was, and then some. It's as much as anyone can aspire to.


Larry said...

Dylan cannot possibly be 67. He was now close to that age when I first listened to him in college, 197???

Anonymous said...

I saw Dylan a few years back, and it was the first time I've seen him despite my love of his music for decades. The show was utterly great. What amazed me was his sense of presence: he played music from throughout his career, but he seemed to make a conscious effort never to fall into habits, to lose the song itself. It was not satisfying in the sense of having one's love of canonical favorites ratified by watching the deity play; but it was hugely satisfying to essentially experience the songs with him--he seemed to be inventing them, almost, each time he played them, and so while some fell flat, others were hugely exciting.

And the band was great.