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My Back Pages: An Evening With Bob Dylan

Posted By Bernard Ohanian On November 21, 2012 @ 1:28 pm In Notebook | Comments Disabled

On a February afternoon 38 years ago, I walked down Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley with Bob Dylan’s [1] voice blaring from speakers in every record store (remember those?), bookshop and café. Dylan was scheduled to perform that night with The Band at the nearby Alameda County Coliseum Arena [2] - the next-to-last stop in his first tour since his near-fatal motorcycle accident 8 years earlier – and it seemed that the whole San Francisco Bay Area was celebrating.


Credit: Brooks Kraft/Corbis


I sure was; I had a ticket to the concert in my pocket.

I don’t remember much about the concert (no snickering, please), although fortunately I can revisit it any time I want; the tour was captured for the album “Before The Flood,” which rock critic Robert Christgau called “at its best, the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded.” [4]

YouTube Preview Image [5]


Yesterday, I spent the day sitting at my desk, wearing a suit and sending e-mails in between rushing off to meetings – with Bob Dylan’s voice blaring from my computer.  For last night, Dylan was scheduled to perform with Mark Knopfler at the Verizon Center in downtown Washington – the next-to-last stop in a tour that began over the summer. This time I had two tickets in my pocket: one for me, and one for my music-besotted son – at 16, a year younger than I was in 1974.

My son plays guitar and harmonica, with Dylan songs a bedrock of his repertoire – and therein lies the problem. His first reaction, when I offered the chance to go to the concert, was to say no; “I want to remember him like he was,” my son said, “not how he is now with his voice all old and scratchy.” (As opposed to, I held back from responding, young and scratchy?) But a few days later he changed his mind. “If I don’t go see him now,” he decided, “I’ll always regret it.”

And so off we went, hoping for no regrets.

Yes, of course the times they are a-changing (you knew I would work that in, didn’t you?). How could they not, after 38 years? By my count, Dylan played 5 songs [6] he had played that long-ago night in Oakland. But none of them sounded the same; he gave all of them either a rockabilly or roadhouse blues twist, arrangements designed in part to mask what my son diplomatically calls his “vocal limitations.” Dylan didn’t even play the same instruments; he rarely plays guitar now, reportedly because of arthritis, so he settled in behind a piano. He played harmonica, and he sang. And yes, my son was right: his voice sounded all old and scratchy.

So what? My son and I knew it would. People in the audience – mostly, by all appearances, folks of AARP age, with some teenagers and “kids” in their 30s and 40s thrown in – were surely disappointed if they came to see a museum piece, perfectly preserved from the 1960s and ’70s. Instead, we got a living, breathing, confounding artist who in many ways embodies the best of America [7] – inventive, ever-changing, imperfect.

He barked. He croaked. He growled. And instead of being diffident and uninterested – a charge often leveled at Dylan for his concert appearances over the past five decades – he seemed to be reveling in the moment, at times getting up from behind the piano to prowl the stage like another singer of a certain age: Mick Jagger. My son elbowed me excitedly at one point: “Dad,” he said, “he’s dancing.”

It was, in the end, a performance full of soul. The voice is long, long gone as a musical instrument, but in its place is a rawness and energy that made me feel the songs more deeply than ever. This is what we all hope for as we age: to continue to do what we love; to understand that we may not be able to do it the same way we did when we were 30, but that doing it differently – allowing for, and working around, our limitations – can even be an improvement; and to give pleasure to ourselves and those around us in the process.

My son, at least, got the message. “No regrets?” I asked him as we left the concert. “None,” he said. “It was epic.” In every meaning of the word, it certainly was.

Article printed from AARP: http://blog.aarp.org

URL to article: http://blog.aarp.org/2012/11/21/my-back-pages-an-evening-with-bob-dylan/

URLs in this post:

[1] Bob Dylan’s: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/arts-music/info-03-2011/bob-dylan-birthday-tributes.html

[2] perform that night with The Band at the nearby Alameda County Coliseum Arena: http://blog.aarp.org/2012/04/19/23060/

[3] Image: http://blog.aarp.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/240-reflections-at-a-bob-dylan-concert-bernard-ohanian.jpg

[4] “at its best, the craziest and strongest rock and roll ever recorded.”: http://www.robertchristgau.com/get_artist.php?id=2820&name=Bob+Dylan%2FThe+Band

[5] Image: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AI6pBVKxZMs

[6] songs: http://www.aarp.org/entertainment/music/info-03-2011/bob-dylan-photomosaic-discography.html

[7] embodies the best of America: http://blog.aarp.org/2012/07/02/happy-july-4-but-not-to-will-and-kate/

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