“Then I’ll Lift My Arms To The Star-lit Skies And I’ll Pray The Fugitive Prayer”- A Fugitive Crosses His Tracks. Bob Dylan at the Beacon Theatre, 12/01/14.

“He is a walking contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction”, sings Kris Kristofferson. The words may, according to Kris, fit many artists, among them Bob Dylan. On the one hand he is about anything else than nostalgia, he is a performing and creative artist, every night, and he does not look back. He creates more than he recreates. On the other hand he is all about nostalgia, all about a subterranean homesickness, both musically and spiritually. When he again, tonight, takes us on his guided tour of the americana music tradition paired with his own poetry, both perspectives weighs heavily, and they are both true at the same time. Dylan has himself stated that he early felt as if he was born far from home and have since tried to find his way back. He takes us with him on his journey towards home, and those who want to flee with him, can fly into the night with him as a traveling companion.
Basically the point of view is very different for those who attends his concerts. When you have gathered an audience for over fifty years it has to be. I talk with many – some come to hear “The Times They Are A-Changin'”, others to hear “Like A Rolling Stone”, others again to hear “Knockin¨On Heavens Door”, “Hurricane”, “Gotta Serve Somebody”, ”Every Grain of Sand” or “Jokerman”. One of the women I met were expecting strongly that Dylan would emphasize the songs from “Desire” (1976). All this is often based on the date and year they, in their lives, came across Dylan. All these had to return crestfallen home. Those who have purchased “Basement Tapes Complete” in the fall, was perhaps hoping that he swung through this during the concert. Alas. The closest is a version of “Blowing In The Wind” somewhat resembling the version he first used in the basement of the “Big Pink”.
The audience who want to relive Dylan from the sixties, get only two confusing possibilities for this, a “She Belongs to Me” at cruising pace, far removed from the original on “Bringing It All Back Home” and a swinging soul version of “Blowing In the Wind “, likewise removed from the original on” Freewheelin'”. Those who followed him through the seventies will nod familiar to two more songs, “Tangled Up In Blue” and “Simple Twist of Fate”, but both with rewritten lyrics and totally different arrangements than the originals. For those who endured both through the eighties and nineties they´ll know one of tonight’s many highlights, “Love Sick”, from the classic “Time Out of Mind,” one of the greatest comeback album ever, regardless of artist and genre. Then we have counted only five of tonight’s nineteen songs. For audiences who have not heard his albums after the millennium, the rest will be an unknown territorium.
Beyond this we get two obscure songs that have never been to find on a regular studio album, both from soundtracks, “Things Have Changed” and “Waiting For You” (What ?? Dylan as the waltzing king?? Where did that come from?) Both songs come from the 2000s, along with “High Water” from Love And Theft, “Workingman’s Blues # 2” and “Spirit On The Water” from Modern Times and “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” (What ?? Dylan as fiery latin lover with a touch of cuban pianist in white dress ???) and “Forgetful Heart” from Together Through Life.
From 2012 and Dylan´s hitherto latest album, “Tempest,” he gives us another six songs, “Duquesne Whistle”, “Pay In Blood”, “Early Roman Kings”, “Scarlet Town”, “Soon After Midnight” and “Long And Wasted Years “. New songs, but soaked in tradition and brimming with both literary and musical links to a bygone era. Nostalgia? No. Nostalgia? Yes. As Dylan says in “Bye Bye And”: “For me the future is already a thing of the past.” He want to show us the values and joys of the past, while we look ahead in our lives.
And that last song, the obscure Sinatra cover “Stay with Me”, possibly to find on Dylan’s next album, probably released in 2015, presumably with a range of even more Sinatra covers. Dylan collects everything he has left in his voice in a highly sensitive version of a demanding song. Probably more than 95% of the audience had not the faintest idea of what they heard – the woman beside me was asking, on the way out: “No Sinatrasong tonight!” Nevertheless I register with satisfaction the frequent cheers roar through the theatre, not only to the already beloved riff at the start of “Tangled up In Blue ” or the words” … the answer is blowing in the wind “, but also to new and, for many, unknown songs, stanzas and phrasing. be it snarled in the partly horrifying “Pay In Blood”, whispered in the tender “Forgetful Heart” or in the triumphant parading through “Long And Wasted Years”.
One of the songs that the gets the most attention is the last of Dylan songs that have become a permanent part of this set. “Workingman’s Blues # 2”. Dylan stands at the microphone in front of the stage and attacks us with a long text on the state of land and mind, where he from the outset strikes with Marxist analysis good as any, interspersed with another touch of nostalgia:

“The buyin ‘power of the proletariat’s gone down
Money’s gettin ‘shallow and weak
The place I love best is a sweet memory
It’s a new path that we trod
They say low wages are a reality
If we wanna compete abroad. ”

Those who know the text from “Modern Times”, wont be completely at home because of the major rewrites, new broadly painted brush strokes across the canvas has created a completely new image. There is much going on in the song, the teller think he sees his father on the street, he looks back and he looks forward, but it is not so much time left for a tired refugee & working man with just a little gleam of hope:

”I’ll be back home in a month or two
When the frost is on the vine
I’m gonna punch my spear right straight through
Half-ways down his spine
Then I’ll lift my arms to the star-lit skies
And I’ll pray the fugitive prayer
I’m guessin’ tomorrow the sun will rise
I hope the final end’s been spared
Now the battle is over, up in the hills
And the mist is settlin’ in
Look at me with all my spoils
What did I ever win?

I got a brand new suit and a brand new wife
I can live on rice and beans
Some people never work a day in their life
They don’t know what work even means
Meet me at the bottom, don’t lag behind
Bring me my boots and shoes
You can hang back or fight your best on the front line
Sing a little bit of these workingman’s blues”

Dylan sees himself as one that just works his trade – this is what he can, standing on a stage, to disseminate his music and to glow – he has chosen to fight his best on the frontline. Ninetyone concerts this year, heading towards 3400 in total. How many more will there be, he thinks, and we the same. Nobody knows. But tonight it´s showtime again. Lucky are those who are there when it happens.

Johnny Borgan

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