“Sad-Eyed Poet of the Highlands”, Bob Dylan in Glasgow, 7th of May 2017

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You will find Glasgow in Scotland right between the beautiful Highlands and the Lowlands, just like Bob Dylan, who has been writing and singing of both. Even more, when Dylan comes to visit this particular part of the world he also has his own place a few hours a way, the beautiful Edwardian mansion called Aultmore Castle, with a great view to the hills of Nethy Bridge. And if that´s not enough, the Nobel Prize winning singer/songwriter accepted in 2004 his second honorary degree as a Doctor of Music, this time at Scotland´s oldest university, St. Andrews, founded in 1413. The speech before the seremony included this words: “His magnificent songs will last as long as song itself does.” The scottish ballads has been one of many important sources for both his singing and songwriting, take for instance his very powerful version of “House Carpenter” on “Another Self Portrait”, based on the more than 450 years old scottish folk ballad “The Daemon Lover”. Maybe even more interesting, when Dylan in 2008 was asked about which poem that had made the greatest impact on him, his answer came as a surprise for many – he chose a poem written in 1794 – “A Red, Red Rose” by the scottish poet Robert Burns: “O, my luve’s like a red, red rose / That’s newly sprung in June. / O, my luve’s like the melodie, / That’s sweetly play’d in tune.” Robert Burns of course also directly inspired Dylan with his words: “My heart´s in the Highlands”. Well, tonight, in Glasgow, Bob burns, too. He´s on fire. Actually, yesterday there was a fire alarm in SEC Amarillo, the venue of tonight, and yesterday´s show were cancelled. Many more than me was a bit worried about whether Dylan could be playing tonight, but early in the afternoon we were assured that everything would be fine. And it was. More than fine.

He got his Bob Dylan mask on. Like he does every night. He is Bob Dylan only when he has to be. The rest of the time, according to himself, he is exactly that, himself. But tonight, he is Bob Dylan, and, as we know, he contains multitudes, “strolling through the lonely graveyard of (his) mind”. If his use of graveyard in “Can´t wait” has any connection to Søren Kierkegaard, which name in danish means graveyard, maybe only Sigmund Freud could have told you, but he´s not here, even if it was his birthday last night. Nevertheless, if it was conscious or not, subconscious or not, or just coincidence, that´s all the same – the relationship between the two are obvious. “I hurt easy, I just
don´t show it,  / you can hurt somebody and don´t even know it” – some of the greatest artists sensuousness comes with the prize of anxiety and a need to protect themselves to survive in a ruthless world. Both are living their life and art protected by a string of pseudonyms and masks, while they were drawing roadmaps for our souls. “Immediacy is reality, language is ideality, consciousness is contradiction” – the words of Kierkegaard rings true each night we see Dylan, he strives like a jazz man for immediacy in his music and in his singing, to be real, to be telling the truth, and he tries to never cancel immediacy by talking between the songs. He don´t always succeed musically, but in being true to his artistic program he does. As Kierkegaard tells us: “Repetition and recollection are the same movement, except in oppsite directions”, telling us about “the unhappiest one” who is always “absent from himself”, “hoping for what lies behind him, what he recollects lies ahead of him. His life is not backwards but turned the wrong way in two directions.” In 1984 Dylan was asked if his religious beliefs had changed. He answered: “Yes”. In what way, was the follow-up question. And the answer: “Both ways.” He and Søren are pals, that´s for sure.

Great sound and great start – “Things Have Changed.” Then it all went wrong on “To Ramona”, both Bob on the piano and Charlie on the guitar were heading in completely wrong directions, but by the third verse everything was fine. Dylan seldom looses his cool in those moments, even if both the band and many in audience were holding their breath. A rocking and rolling “Highway 61 Revisited”, with Bob standing, gets the show on it´s feet, too. After a nice “Beyond Here Lies Nothing” something is happening, Tony runs over to Bob in the dark, Bob gives him the nod, Tony reports back to the band: It´s on! Bob is still standing at the piano, and we understand that a new song is coming up – both Bob and the band a bit charmingly hesitating at first, then the vocal rises in strength word by word, and we get a really touching world debut of the Triplicate-song “This Nearly Was Mine” – never stronger than on Bob´s beautiful intonation of the word “paradise” in the last lines:  “Still dreaming of paradise, / Still saying that paradise /Once nearly was mine!” Here is “heartbreaking” for you. At the start of “Melancholy Mood” Dylan grabs the fifth, and not the fourth, microphone, as quick as a snake bites, but it´s just a teaser, he changes just as quickly to the fourth. In Nottingham Bob fumbled a lot with his hat and his hair in the dark, between the songs, tonight he took of his hat for many of the songs by the piano, and on another beautiful “Stormy Weather”, with low lights, Glasgow could see the silhouette of the classic Dylan-afro as they did first time in May 1966. The intro to “Tangled Up In Blue” goes electric this time, and Charlie plays the riff, not Stu, and the impression of the whole is more rock like this. When Bob is back on the piano, he plays some great new tangled-up-in-blue-piano-licks in the last two verses. After this it´s all good, each song has it´s own highlights, but it´s no doubt, “Desolation Row” is the top of this show, it is pure magic tonight, Bob really want to show us what he is still able to do. Spellbinding! And Bob knows it. One of many smiles – even to the audience – this night.

And tonight all of them were here, even if we didn´t see them: Blind Boy Grunt, Bob Landy, Elston Gunnn, Boo Wilbury, Lucky Wilbury, Robert Milkwood Thomas, Sergei Petrov, Tedham Porterhouse, Jack Fate, Jack Frost, Bob Landy and Bob Dylan, all in one. There was almost a microphone for each of them. All protecting the inner self. “Everybody´s wearing a disguise / To hide what they got left behind there eyes”. Or, as he sings tonight with perfect phrasing, great pleasure and conviction: “I wear dark glasses to cover my eyes / There are secrets in ’em that I can’t disguise / Come back baby / If I hurt your feelings, I apologize.” The masks and pseudonyms and the roles are defending the true self, making it possible to stand naked as a performing artist, night after night, year after year, decade after decade, singing his songs, like they were written in his soul, from him to us. “Beyond here lies nothing / But the mountains of the past.” No compromise. Why don´t he talk? Why don´t he smile? Why don´t he play the guitar? Why don´t he play the harmonica? Why don´t he play that song for me? Or that one? Why does he move all the way to the back of the stage and not to the front? Why are he crooning? He does it his way, and we have to deal with it. “The human mind can only stand so much.” He is protecting his true self to be able to still be busy being born, even in his september years. As he told us already in 1986:

“I’m not giving you a hundred percent. I’m not giving anybody a hundred percent. I’m gonna give you this much, and this much is gonna have to do. I’m good at what I do. I can afford to give you this much and still be as good as, if not better than, the guy over across the street.’ I’m not gonna give it all – I’m not Judy Garland, who’s gonna die onstage in front of a thousand clowns. If we’ve learned anything, we should have learned that.”

Just remember, he was always our clown. Why try to change him now?

While the powerful version of “Ballad of a Thin Man” are played, I remember reading a review of one the London Palladium shows this morning, and one of Mr.
Jones´comments: “A packed West End crowd, which includes the playwright Tom Stoppard and the actor Bill Nighy, doesn’t even receive a ‘thank you’.” Of course he got it all wrong. It´s not Bob Dylan that should be thanking the audience, it´s the other way around. As in Glasgow tonight. The audience understood that.

The american author, Siri Hustvedt, ends a great essay on Søren Kierkegaard with this words: “S.K. danced from the single case to abstraction, from the personal to the universal and back again. The meanings proliferate. If we are to read him and his masks well, we must dance with him.” The exactly same words applies to the song and dance man himself, Bob Dylan. Let´s dance.

Johnny Borgan

Bob Dylan sings “Highlands” in 1999:

6 thoughts on ““Sad-Eyed Poet of the Highlands”, Bob Dylan in Glasgow, 7th of May 2017

  1. An excellent commentary. Dylan and Kierkegaard are kindred spirits to be sure. What I notice in Denmark is that folks there seem to prefer H.C. Andersen’s fairy tales to Soren’s raw existentialism (pity). Anyway, I enjoyed your perspective and am looking forward to seeing Dylan this summer as he tours through the Canadian prairies. I love that for all the accolades and all the glory he still brings his music to the people.
    I wish I understood Kierkegaard better than I do but for the record, here is my favorite quote from the great Dane: ‘People demand freedom of speech as compensation for the freedom of thought they seldom exercise.

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  2. Lovely piece.

    To be fair to both Tom Stoppard and Bill Nighy, I’m sure they would absolutely agree it is them thanking the artist, rather than the other way around!

    As for the “silhouette of 1966” – I wonder if there was anyone there in the audience this month who was also at Glasgow 1966

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