“The truth was obscure, too profound and too pure, to live it, you’ll have to explode.”
Truth has always been under attack. Nothing new under the sun. The frightening perspectives presented in Ken Burns’ «The Vietnam War» documentary gave us a brutal insight in the deep contrast between what was known and what was told, and with which violence both questions and protests were met, both literally and in more sophisticated ways. Wars have also since then been started based on lies. History is packed with it – lies disguised as truth. Like Cain we now behold that chain of events that we must break. But what´s special with the times we´re now living in, is that both we, our children and grandchildren can see that also unmasked lies can get you anywhere. Everybody knows, but still, lies has become hard cash, even if it swears. That this is a hallmark in our times, the times that should be the most enlightened of all times, is both disturbing and depressing.
“They say that patriotism is the last refuge
To which a scoundrel clings
Steal a little and they throw you in jail
Steal a lot and they make you king”
To tell and live the truth is challenging in every person´s life. The truth can be ugly, it can be cold and hard, it can be discomforting both for the one who tells it and the one who´s been told. The easy way out might be pussyfooting around and turning a blind eye to human nature. Truth challenges us.
“Preacher was talking there’s a sermon he gave
He said every man’s conscience is vile and depraved
You cannot depend on it to be your guide
When it’s you who must keep it satisfied”
When a young kid takes his first steps on to the ladder of fame, gets an invitation to Ed Sullivan’s show and a TV-audience of millions, then turns it down and leaving when he’s not allowed to sing the song of his own choice, it’s a matter of integrity involved. It´s not about being superhuman, it´s not about perfection or being a saint, but still it´s about integrity. Integrity has since then stayed one of the mainstays in Bob Dylan´s art.
We don´t know Bob Dylan. The only thing we know for sure about Bob Dylan is that his name isn´t Bob Dylan. We can see only what he wants to show us – a language that digs deep into human nature and into the intricacies of the human heart, new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition, a Cyrano for us all, but for me, most of all, the musicality in his lonesome voice crying in the wilderness, channeling truth in a way far beyond words. My love for Bob Dylan didn´t go through my eyes and to my head, it went through my ears and straight to my heart. That´s a difference. It was the sound of him, the autenthicity in his singing, that really opened up his art for me, and my heart for him. The words came later, and my possible understanding of them, even later. To realize that Dylan is the Shakespeare of our times, has of course enriched my experiences, but as Jann Wenner once said: “More than his ability with words, and more than his insight, his voice is God’s greatest gift to him”. I remember the joy reading the review of Slow Train Coming, realizing that someone else thought the same as me. This is also the reason why exploring Dylan Live is so important for me, completing the picture of his art in a way that his recordings only hints at. The fabulous “Bootleg Series” contains living proof of my point. The same goes for “More Blood, More Tracks” where we can listen to him paint his masterpieces, live also in studio, stroke by stroke, using his vocal abilities both as a palette and a brush. Just as we can on Beacon Theatre this night.
The show is an anti-nostalgia trip from start to finish. Not one of the old songs from the sixties resembles the original versions. The songs from the seventies are re-written, even some of the newer songs are rearranged. Dylan´s piano aren´t even nostalgic from yesterday, all solos have changed, Dylan doing his americana theloniousmonkey business with the flavor of today. Same goes for the harmonica, especially powerful on “Simple Twist of Fate” and “Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right” tonight, piercing into the hearts of the audience, with razor blade notes, expressing some of the things you can´t possibly express in words.
“Scarlet Town” has to be mentioned one more time – once more a highlight, the audience agreed completely – Dylan slowly dancing at the back of the stage in his black suit, with aging elegance and powerful vocals in one of his most recent masterpieces. Still hoping for “Tin Angel”. When the music stops, Dylan takes his chaplinesque steps into the dark. And yes, there seems to be almost a choreopgraphed ritual between the songs, drinking from a not broken cup after some songs, speaking to Donny or George or Tony after some songs and so on. Ritual between the songs, improvising within the songs.
It´s like Dylan finally found a way to play “Like A Rolling Stone” in a non-nostalgic way again, and then first included it on a regular basis. He seems very satisfied with the result, playfully and kind lets the audience contribute with their response, having fun with his phrasing in the chorus: like A comPLETE unKNOOOOWN, and is pumping the phrase “You used to ride on the chrome horse with your diplomat/Who carried on his shoulder a Siamese cat” full of melancholic empathy, full of sadness, before he jumps to another emotional color in the next line.
“Don´t Think Twice, It´s All Right” – a version to die for. From where I sit, I see Bob´s head as a live fourth bust on the stage, accompanying his three muses, and reminding me of his obvious place in the Mount Rushmore of Song. Personally I have never heard any version of this song that comes close to the depths of this, layer by layer, the lyrics more touching than ever by both the feeling of reminiscing of many years gone by, and the timing and phrasing of each word and line throughout the song, the small pauses and syncopations, and then the already mentioned blue harmonica on the dark side of the highway of regret, asking all the unanswered questions. Magnificent!
“Thunder Of The Mountain” is one of the highlights tonight, the band is like a locomotive of rhythm, and Bob´s piano playing is inspired, in the middle of the song he finds a piano figure he likes, and continues to elaborate on it in a way that makes the band step back, and wait one more round, before they continues. They got their ears to the ground and are watching their captain´s every step. Then it´s time for the ultimate payback for George, The Little Drummer Boy, with his now regularly friendly take-over, before the rest of the band and Bob kicks back. A great moment every night, but especially this night.
The sugar-coated scary movie á la David Lynch and “Blue Velvet”, “Soon After Midnight”, makes the audience sigh and sway in their chairs, not notably effected by killing floors, stronger walls, and the bramstokeresque person dragging Two-Timing Slim´s corpse through the mud. What kind of man are you when it´s soon after midnight, and your day has just begun? Just asking.
The upgraded version of “Gotta Serve Somebody” rocks more than ever, and maybe it´s been re-written to match the age of the audience, but really, Bob: “You might be in a nursing home”??? Not funny! (Yes, it is.)
One more time we also get the beautiful slow version of “It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry”, the vocal sits even better than last night, with a spoonful of tenderness in the sad, but hopeful line: “And if I don’t make it/You know my baby will”, Dylan using his great crooner-competence from the last years, in unfamiliar surroundings, and it works perfect, making this version of the song easily the best live version of the song ever. IMHO. Bob even leaves the piano and makes a little dance on the middle of the stage at the end of the song – an obvious proof of him having a great night, too.
The set this fall has been like a perfectly welded mosaic gate, like the ones Dylan crafts in his spare time. It´s a beautiful gate, and on this final night we are all invited on the inside, we are getting the “grand tour”, or at least the “baby grand tour”, of the House of Bob – a tasteful selection of songs from many important phases and stages, representing many central themes of his art and writing, great variation in style and tempo, and, overall, in very vigorous performances and truth-telling from The Great Singer. We need him and what he stand for more than ever. And that´s the truth!
Seven Nights In New York – it´s been a pleasure. I already got my tickets for next summer. I´ll see him in anything – I´ll stand in line.