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Monday, November 2, 2009

Bob Dylan - Revisited Past & Present

Bob Dylan/ 10/10-11/09

Newport, RI, folk festival, 1963

By Terry Wright

The two forms exploded out of the crowd, grabbed the door latch on my 47 Chevy and breathlessly piled in chanting “we gotta go see Dylan”. Margie and Louise, bedecked in Woody Guthrie denim folk attire are on the warpath, we careen through the crowd to the big field and somehow shoehorn into a parking place and we are off at a run to the workshop tent.

OK, Dylan, I'd heard some echoes of this new guru through folk circles, even had the first album, and had started singing his early songs. We’d even scoured Washington Square for the dude to no avail one dark misty night in NYC, and here we were.

We made a grand entrance..high on our energy, working our way through the crowd, and there’s this guy, I check him out. And he checks me out, scraggly beard, tousled hair---check. Stained work shirt with 1/2 smoked pack of Galoises in the pocket ----check. Battered Levis, cowboy boots----check. Guitar over one shoulder—check. I look at him and say “what's with the bullwhip?” He touches the coiled serpent on his shoulder, smiles and says “Joanie and I are blowing minds doing bullwhip tricks around the pool at the motel”. “Cool, sounds like fun”. And off we go.

We are blown away, the poetry most of all, and the style…gravelly voice, great guitar in all modes, and unassuming air. “Baby let me follow you down”, “Don’t think twice” “House of the rising sun”, all done in a howling style, immediately adopted by all folkies around. And the world had changed for folk music.

Newport RI folk festival 1965

The multitudes are gathered to hear the famous guru of folk, Dylan is now a superstar, with a mane of hair, followed by a wave of marmidons crossing the field to the workshop. You have to shoehorn into the crowd and fight for a space, and the poetry flows and the music bites hard into the words, the guitar sings for us all to hear.

We gear up for the evening concert, a big crowd in the football field, packed in to do homage to the new god of folk. But, there is a setup for a rock band, unheard of at Newport, and finally they come out, Paul Butterfield, band and Dylan with a very poor rendition of some songs, out of tune, feedback screeching, people outraged, a wave of booing running through the crowd. I’ve been talking to Pete Seeger, who was seated in front of me with his mom, Ruth Crawford, and he is outraged, jumps up and heads back for the stage. I hear later that he was going to pull the plug on the performance with an axe. Butterfield and Dylan screech some more, and finally quit. Bob comes out and does one song to mollify the crowd, still with boos echoing, and finally bows out, no apology, just an experiment in a new genre that the folkies weren’t ready for.

This set the pattern for his career, and each time we heard a new set of tunes and a new band (most notably The Band), a new page was written in the bible of Dylan. Nashville Skyline with some great country ballads, Slow Train Comin, songs of his Christian phase, Time out of Mind with some uptempo ballads. He continued the poetry, and the captivating presence in concert.

So when we heard about the Greek Theater concert October 10, it was time, I stalked the Ticketmaster website and scored 2 tickets in the first public minutes, and was off to the music event of the year.

The Greek was packed, we got there at 5 and stood in line for good seats, which we got no problem, center up 10 rows behind the mixers, huge electronic affairs, studded with computer screens. We prepped for cold, and bundled up, with low back chairs, blankets and partied. The house beer and wine was lousey, so we had a little reserve and mellowed out, watching the people. I wore an Uncle Sam top hat so our late friends could find us. We got an early taste of the band during the sound test from the parking lot, and they were solid, with punching bass lines rumbling our chests

On time, they came on and introduced Dylan as an icon of American music and master of many styles and genres. A shout went up from the crowd as he entered the stage, dressed in black hat, double breasted black jacket and red scarf, launching into the solid big beat reverberating around the amphitheater.

The playlist was eclectic, (see Bob Dylan website for list and other reviews) with versions of Mama you been on my mind and the Lonesome death of Hattie Carroll with very creative arrangements; interfaces with Highway 61 revisited during which I cried with happiness, Thunder on the Mountain and old classics Like a Rolling Stone and finishing with All along the Watchtower. All done in the same style, big beat, up tempo, Dylan’s voice was gravelly and low as always, and occasional snippets of words came out, but I knew most of them and sang along. The faithful in the mosh pit were packed in, and well-behaved, and let out a collective spine chilling scream every time a favorite line came on. The crowd in general was mellow, I thought we were going to have some loud people behind us, but they mellowed out as soon as the music started.

The best part for me was to watch Dylan sing with his body, small movements and twitches, sometimes arms raised, leaning into the music, emphasizing the words with his body, Pushing into the lines sent chills up and down my spine. You can see him playing with the words.

“Oh God said to Abraham, "Kill me a son"

Abe says, "Man, you must be puttin' me on"

God say, "No." Abe say, "What?"

God say, "You can do what you want Abe, but

The next time you see me comin' you better run"

Well Abe says, "Where do you want this killin' done?"

God says, "Out on Highway 61."

This says it for the poetry, It has always been a creative tour de force, and he can spout out rhymes with amazing words like a fountain. There is a clip in Pennebakers film where he is given 5 words and makes up poetry for 10 minutes, and incredible feat.

The band was solid, Charlie Sexton on lead guitar is top notch and the pedal steel, standup bass, and drums equally talented. They did make a lot of noise, but that’s what its all about in the new Dylan mode. The tour continues across the country, first to LA, then Las Vegas and ends up in Boston Its worth flying to.

Submitted by:
W.H. Terry Wright, PhD
Emeritus Professor of Geology, SSU (retired) -

If by some fiat I had to restrict all this writing to a single sentence, this is the one I would choose: The summit of Mt. Everest is marine limestone. - John McPhee

...and while you're at it - check out this web site where the photo of Bob came from:

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