By Tony Attwood
You’ll have heard about Bob stopping the show because of the flash lights going off at a recent concert. The one where he said a few words which the media immediately called a “rant” before they showed us what a rant really is like, as they criticised Bob’s presentation of his songs at his concerts.
Anyway Bob turned away, slipped on an amp and then returned to face the audience. Here’s the video
After that, as Pat reminded me, Dylan added Dignity to the set for a few gigs, including in the song of course this ending…
Someone showed me a picture and I just laughed
Dignity never been photographed
I went into the red, went into the black
Into the valley of dry bone dreams
So many roads, so much at stake
So many dead ends, I’m at the edge of the lake
Sometimes I wonder what it’s gonna take
To find dignity
Here’s a version that I really like – you might care to play it while reading on (if you want to read on that is)…
Anyway, this all feeds into the whole question of why Bob chooses not to speak to the audience very much these days.
And I say “these days” because I’m reminded of the long speech he used to give during the Christen period. At that time no one seemed to listen – there was often more noise coming from the audience than from Bob.
Now when I put this point to a friend as I was thinking further on the topic, he replied simply that there was noise from the floor showing that the fans didn’t want to listen to his preaching. Which is an interesting answer because it seems to suggest that those going to the concert should in some way be in charge of what happens – or at least be able to make a judgement.
And as one who makes judgements on Dylan all the time on this site, I don’t fancy that. Judgements on blogs, fine. But at the gigs? No.
Take that further and perhaps a couple of days before a show we should vote for the songs we want Dylan to perform. And yes of course I would love to hear Dylan do a live performance of “Tell Ol Bill” – but I still wouldn’t get it because most people would be voting for the regular favourites.
So that didn’t take us much further – as a second point occurred to me then: most musicians do speak on stage but they have very little to say. Do we really want to hear Bob say, “Hello Nottingham how you doing?” Probably not.
Or do we want him to be saying, “This is a song that I wrote in 1968; haven’t played it much since, but thought I’d give it one more run…” Not really.
And so it goes on. Few pop and rock musicians have anything to say of interest. For Bob to say something of interest he would probably need ten minutes – ten minutes against members of the audience shouting out their favourite Dylan titles. Is there any point?
In fact that led me on to the thought that a large number of people even talk through the songs, or shout or make whistles or noises. I don’t know why they do it, but listen to any of the concert recordings and you will probably hear exactly that.
But there is more, because Dylan has on occasion presented us with some of his insights in lectures, and I am not too sure that the insights take us much further forward. Perhaps the most informative speech is still the Musicare lecture which I have covered in some detail. Really if you want to know what Bob thinks about his own writing read that – I don’t think he has gone much further since then.
In fact if you then go on to the Nobel lecture, we don’t really seem to go any further at all – if anything we go backwards.
And to be fair Bob has never presented himself as a speaker – even Theme Time Radio Hour had limited amounts of Dylan talk. He has given some interviews but they are often contradictory and lacking in illumination.
But why should he be a speaker? He doesn’t present himself as a speaker, he doesn’t offer to go on talk shows or lecture tours. I think quite possibly he really doesn’t like talking in public, and that surely should be understandable to anyone.
During my time as a writer I have on occasion been asked to speak before a sizeable audience – that is my version of an audience, of maybe 500 at most, not Dylan’s 10,000 in an auditorium. And I have had to talk for 50 minutes without notes, not least because on one occasion as I prepared myself to get up on the podium I was told that the key speaker of the event had said he wanted to talk on my subject, so could I talk on something else.
And OK I can do that, just as I can play in folk clubs and with small time rock bands. But put me on stage in a play and I freeze – I cannot do it at all. So if Bob hates speaking in public, why should we demand that he has to do it? The man is a genius songwriter and great performer; shouldn’t he have the right to stay quiet?
Besides the audience at Dylan shows know his work and most have seen him many times before. Most, I suspect, know every line of every song. So what do they expect Bob to say? OK he might say, “You think this song is about my ex-lover but its actually about my friend’s dog.” Maybe – but would you believe it?
So Bob doesn’t explain, and doesn’t give histories and in that regard he is probably unique – and I suspect he quite likes that. And besides, really, what would you think if at the end of every gig he always said, “Thank you very much for coming?” Is that what we want from Bob?
There was a time when every gig ended with “There must be someway out of here, said the joker to the thief…” and I used to wonder – is he trying to tell us something, or does he just like the song? I never resolved that, and in a way I’m rather glad. Either answer would be disappointing.
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