So this afternoon my wife calls me at work. At first I’m worried, because she rarely calls me at work. She gets right to the point:
“Do you want to go see Bob Dylan tonight?”
Now, we have other plans–family plans that we have every Monday night–but the way she asks, I know there’s only one answer, and it’s the one we both want:
We walk into the Civic Center to hear Dylan’s aging voice scratching out one of his more recent tunes, but the night turns out to be a mix from his whole songbook. It doesn’t seem to matter much what he’s singing: his delivery tells listeners he’s as sure of who he is and what he wants now as when he set out to make Woody Guthrie his guru.
When he’s not behind the keyboard, Dylan creeps up to the mic like some old man around a campfire getting ready to frighten the bejesus out of some unsuspecting grandchildren. His voice ghastly and only rarely with any pitch at all, he spins his tales as a master storyteller. He smiles with the awareness that his audiences know all the tunes, but his poetry does not suffer a lack of urgency for it. In his encore performance of “Like a Rolling Stone,” as Dylan asks his old question again–“How does it feel?”–we wonder if we should have kept the part of those frightened grandchildren the whole time. The tune has as much haunting resonance now as it always has.
It comes as no surprise that a man who’s been on the road as long as Bob Dylan has this kind of creative command over both audience and band. A tiny nod cues enormous tempo changes, his subtle squint a complete change in lyrical mood. At seventy, the textual and visual poetics of his performance still satisfy with all kinds of relevance for a generation still in the midst of discovering him.
On top of all that, my spouse still has the ability to surprise me with a totally unexpected gift: a soulful dinner with friends, a fantastic show, and all on a Monday night! What a gem.