It’s a long distance train, rolling through the rain – from Portsmouth to Gatwick. I’m on my way back to Norway, two Dylan-shows richer and a few pounds poorer.I surfed into the streets of Portsmouth, guided by a smooth arrangement of the Badlands team – I’m forever grateful for helping me out this time.
As many of you know, on monday it was arranged a mini-convention at the Southsea Pier, where unspeakable items swiftly changed owners, and the roaming dylanologists gathered to discuss the last shows and the possible next tour. Quite a bonus, actually, to get this kind of gathering between the shows. It was also fun to listen to Clinton Heylin’s reading of Behind the shades, Take Two. I got all his Dylanbooks,and really think he’s done some very important work documenting the life and art of Bob. Nevertheless, it’s a bit odd to see the narrowminded perspective of Dylan’s Never-Ending Tour that Heylin’s presenting. Of course he got his humorous points and gets good laugh describing the tour band’s skills in early 1991, but I really don’t think that Bob’s goals was to establish the most sucking band in history – what more is, I even don’t think he did – remembering the great Stockholm shows as an example of the contrary. A biograph, in my opinion, has a duty to look for his objects goals and purpose, not only the results – his job is something more than the critics, who can be excused for their fragmented view on the artist. Maybe Bob didn’t succeed, maybe it was the alcohol, or maybe it was the other way around – either way: A biograph must not only take the subjective critics view – then we’ll just know a little more about Clinton, and not about Bob. Even harder it is to understand Heylin’s comments to Dylan of today – as a man who “artistically is throddingwater”, referring to his lacking vocal abilities, and that he’ll never will be as good as in 78 or 81. Well, of course he’ll never gonna be the same again, I don’t know anyone who lives with that expectation – and I can’t see it’s a clever point – I want Bob 2000 – the 78 and 81 is well documented history. Nevertheless, I’ve seen more than thirty post-81 shows, and ‘ve been constantly inspired by the artists unique ability totransform his struggle with life and art into the most interresting live-act around. I don’t think every show was pure gold, of course not – but even on the lowpoints of shows the glimpse of magic has been shining through to me, not only because I’m easy to fool. His ability to work inside his own vocal limits has always been his unsurpassed strengths, in my opinion also today (f.i. I don’t think Hard Rain ever was sung better than in Nara, what must be said to be a performance of his Later Days, even if it’s a few years ago).
I think the Never Ending Tour has been a Bob-vision, like the Rolling Thunder once was – but it’s been possible to develop over twelve years because Bob’s now is on his own, and his own moods and changes has been the guide all through – and he’s now in charge of a tight and potent band who got the ability to mix styles and setlists that few others can copy (Twelve out of nineteen songs were changed from one night to the other – where everyone else makes blueprints of The Shows, Bob makes originals!) The polished treatment of similar sets from night to night will never be a trademark for Bob and his band – but then, I wouldn’t travel to Portsmouth to see such a show. As I think of the two Portsmouth shows, I see a combination of professionalism and spontanity – a show that got the audience on their toes even if it’s their sixth or seventh show in a row.I see an artist that presents a varied show of bluegrass, country, ballads, both hard and soft rock, blues, even a beautiful jazzy treatment of “Trying to get to heaven”. I see an artist that more than any ecclipses the complete specter of human life: faith and disbelief, love and lost love, loneliness and eternity, youth and beauty, age and decay, joy and rage, hope and glory. I see an artist that through his inimitable timing and phrasing, invites he and she who will hear, into his universe of songs and characters and makes it come alive for the zillionth time for new listeners, young boys and girls from the streets of Portsmouth, who never ‘ve seen him before – and who’ve never seen someone like him before – “he’s really something else”. There’s a time for everything – and this is a time for performing, painting and repainting masterpieces in public – even presenting new songs that never could’ve been written or sung as good as today – only experience and time could give us “Time out of mind”! I don’t see an artist throdding water, drowning in nostalgia, but an artist who ages with dignity and sweet grace, and who has that voice crying in the wilderness that we need even more these days than ever before. And when he takes us all by surprise and give us a soft and tender rendition of “Fourth time around” the first night, he uses his “Midas touch” again – unforgettable, that’s what it is. It’s poetry, but more than poetry – it’s song, but more than song. It’s art – coming alive right in front of us! Catch the next show. I know I’ll stand in line next time around, too!