Bob Dylan was a great fan of Charles Aznavour, the French-Armenian larger-than-life character, actor, singer and songwriter, who worked closely with Piaf in the forties & early fifties, before making an amazing solo career for the rest of his life. He made a lasting impression on Dylan, who once named him one out of two favorite live performers, Howlin’ Wolf was the other. He talked eagerly about him: “He’s written over a thousand songs. I only know about half of them,” and that listening to Aznavour live “blew my brains out”. Aznavour was widely known for his fight against racism and discrimination of minorities, not at least jews, and also for shedding light on the terrible genocide of Armenians. Dylan covered Aznavour live several times, most notably with the wonderful “The Times We’ve Known” (Aznavour’s original is “Les Bons Moments”). Dylan’s version is marinated in melancholy mood in a way that would have made it a perfect ending for one of the nights at Grand Rex. It didn’t happen tonight!
In “I Made Up My Mind To Give Myself To You”, Dylan sings “A lot of people gone, a lot of people I knew”, and Charlez Aznavour passed away in 2018, 94 years old, but his songs lives on, like the beauty of “The Times We’ve Known”:
“The times we’ve known are slipping by
Iike vapour trails across the sky
The best of times, the worst of times
Have come and gone
The years of debt, the years of doubt
the years of ‘what’s it all about?’
Of holding fast, and holding out
And holding on“
It makes sense that Dylan from stage tells the audience that he use to sing this song when he’s alone. It’s a Dylan theme, through and through. Time is an ocean, but it ends at the shore. We know that, and at the same time it is an ongoing theme of the “Rough And Rowdy Ways Tour”, as the I of one of the songs speaks: “I’m not what I was, things aren’t what they were”, reminding us about the cold hard facts of life, in so many ways – the last part of the sentence even printed on the poster for these shows: “Things aren’t what they were..” This is not the “Never Ending Tour” anymore, this is the “Rough And Rowdy Ways World Tour”. Don’t forget that. This is something new. Things aren’t what they were, but this is still the perfect time for anything to happen. Like tonight at the Grand Rex – what is he doing in there – what is he trying to tell us?
“Just remember, this is the Grand Tour of Life at the Grand Rex of life, just hang on to me baby, let’s just hope that the roof stays on, and that the stars at the ceiling are not torn down. There are masters of war at work, there are rusty old mules with poisoned brains, and there’s still a hard rain’s a-gonna fall, there’s the sneaky pandemic that really shook us hard and we’ll never forget it, we lost our balance a bit, we kept to ourselves for awhile, even the extroverts, at times, now we’re all taking baby-steps back to what’s never been normal. It’s your choice – do not pussyfoot around or don’t you never turn a blind eye to human nature. Still there are many rivers to cross, still there are more keys & doorknobs to break, and don’t forget that I’m not a prophet, not even a false one, I just tell it like it is, I just say what I say, you’ll decide if you will listen to my trancelike tell tale stories of experience, bits and pieces, series of dreams, fragments of wisdom from the diverse history of the naked ape, poetry in motion, beauty beyond words through words, beauty beyond words through voice, timing and phrasing, and through the chaotic but oh, so effective & percussive Thelonius-Monk-y-business I do at at the piano. Don’t say I never warned you. I’m the original vagabond and the rank wayfaring stranger if there ever was one, surrounded by the unlikely choir of some tough sons-of-bitches this evening – of Anne Frank, Indiana Jones & The Rolling Stones, of Ginsberg, Corso & Kerouac, of Shuman, Montgomery & Scott, Julius Caesar, William, Walt Whitman, Shakespeare & Mary Shelley, of Leon Russell , Liberace & St John The Apostle, Freud & Marx, of Louie & Jimmy Reed & Buddy & all the rest, Calliope, Jimmie Rodgers & Carter family, they’re close and they’re all my contemporaries, like a cool breeze of history & art encircling me, enlightening me, inspiring me to extend the lines, to connect the dots. Some choir! Each with their own voice and history. Black Rider sings bass. I’ll take you to Rome & Brüssel, from Salt Lake City to Birmingham, from East LA to San Antone, to History Street and Las Vegas, from Luxembourg to Budapest, down to the gulf of Mexico & to The Land of Oz, across the Rubicon, and maybe, just maybe, we are all sailing our own Titanic & just let’s hope that the gods go easy on us when we are slow going home. The times we’ve known are slipping by
Iike vapour trails across the sky, but In the meantime there is nothing, really nothing more to wish for, than to be alone with you. Goodbye, Jimmy Reed! I have gone from rags to riches in the bitter dance of loneliness, and I’m still standing, but in ten, maybe twenty years I’m gone. I gotta keep busy to the end. I’m collecting my things in a pattern, moving from place to place, stepping out in the dark night, stepping out into space – that’ how it is. I’ll give you both blues, gospel, country, folk, rock, and I let it all hang out. And this show, my friends, is my masterpiece, or at least one of them. The Grand Tour is so grand it might make you dizzy, but so what – what it really means are not so important, as long as it sounds good, “Key West” is on the horizon line, if you lost your mind you might find it there, and, not to forget, whatever happens next, I’ll be your baby ce soir.”
In my opinion “Watching The River Flow” was always the weakest spot in this set, excused by the warm-up effect, but when Dylan attacks the song tonight, after playing some chords of “Oh Susannah” before it evolves into the song, something happens and I have to look up and listen, he is on fire, breathes new life in the song and sings kind of harmony to his unsung melody line, and it’s just great. What a start & the first change from last night.
Overall this show is at the same high level as the show I saw yesterday (and wrote about). From the middle of the balcony the sound was slightly different, a bit too much bass, but the vocals still in focus. No harmonica tonight – maybe the powerful singer after all has to save some energy, voice and breath through the night, or some nights?
The piano works well, the almost percussive effect Dylan love is used to the fullest, and that’s the driving force behind the dynamics of a band always attentive and focused on the pianist’s small nods and signs. A really great and long pianosolo on “To Be Alone With You”.
Dylan is smiling from the first song, maybe the band was a bit shocked by the new version, but he seems strong & happy through the night, often leaving the piano and takes those little pirouettes in his black suit & green shirt, looking a little baffled and bewildered, but with enormous effect on an audience as excited and present as yesterday. He spices up several songs with a few more words here and there, and melts every heart by ending every “I’ll Be Your Baby” with “ce soir”. Prince Charming at work!! And when he in “Key West” changes from tenderness to happiness in the line “People tell me – I oughta try a little happiness“, he knows exactly what he is doing, and this night he really tries a little happiness, or at least that’s how it seems.
Strong and beautiful versions of song after song, the ending with a flawless version of “Every Grain of Sand”, but no harmonica – maybe tomorrow? One more night of “What a night”-alarm! Everyone I talked to, was it their first or their many-th show agreed: What a night!
Today & tomorrow & yesterday, too – it’s Grand Rex in Paris!
8 thoughts on ““The Times We’ve Known” – Bob Dylan at Grand Rex in Paris, 12th of October, 2022”
I wasn’t aware that Charles Aznavar was one of Dylans favourites and surely a great Artist in his own right. Then of course there others Woody Hank Williams Muddy Waters to name just a few and so Bob continues to entertain Audiences, Tresure this Great Artist while he is with us, Bless you Bob ,forever young?
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Love the review. I’m also a big fan of Aznavour and Howlin Wolf (who I saw in Leicester in 1969). Wil be seeing Dylan in Nottingham at the end of the month.
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At the Orpheum in Memphis in April the crowd went wild when Dylan sang of Elvis and Martin Luther King. It is moments like these from night to night that happen “In Concert! Don’t you dare miss it!”
Ive been a Dylan fan since I was fifteen and I am 73 now and still a fan. I saw him here in Sacramento at the Memorial Auditorim. He looked frail but could still sing and play the piano. Keep rocking Mr. Dylan.