The Disappointin’ Bob Dylan

I recently visited my daughter and her new husband in Atlanta. The first day we visted Stone Mountain. That night we stayed home and watched the video, The Wall: Live in Berlin, a musical celebration of the tearing down of the Berlin Wall. The three-hour concert featured Pink Floyd’s Roger Waters, the Scorpions, Bryan Adams, Van Morrison, members of The Band, and other music icons, as well as a national orchestra and chorale, helicopters and paratroopers, and a crowd of probably one million. The music, the sound quality, the masses, and the obsessive Wall story all combined to create a memorable event. I’ve shown the tape to three sets of people, now, and no one has walked away from it until the final credits finish rolling.

The second day we visted Lake Lanier – half dried-up, and that night watched my son-in-law’s DVD of Alice In Chains’ Unplugged concert. The grunge band presented the acoustic side of themselves and, even though there were only six of them, and the crowd was small, they were as powerful as the previous night’s electrified and heavily-attended Wall.

So “more” isn’t necessarily better. In fact, I wanted to tell my daughter and son-in-law about yet another musical act – of only one – that could upseat both Alice’ and the Wall. But I had no evidence to present. The act is Bob Dylan. Was Bob Dylan. I watched him one night years ago sit on a stool with acoustic guitar and harmonica and mesmerize a packed sports arena with It Ain’t Me, Babe.

That Dylan is gone. I saw him recently when he came to Rochester Institute of Technology. Here was clearly a man who showed up to play the electronic keyboards and sing for 60 minutes, collect his money, and beat it back to the airport. He never acknowledged the audience in any way. I recognized almost nothing he played, maybe because it was drowned out by a band of “everyone’s” musicians whose guitars and amps filled the stage. Tony Bennett, with his carefully combed hair, tuxedo, and ever-present lounge smile, is more genuine than this guy. Dylan, his face hidden under the brim of a cowboy hat, almost seemed to enjoy – in a passive-aggressive way – disappointing us.

Surely the crowd of 4,000 (mostly students) left the concert asking themselves, “Was that really the guy who gave us Mr. Tambourine Man and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door?” or, “This is the guy my parents are always talking about?”

I felt I needed to publicly apologize for him, and for myself for having been a proponent of his, and for suggesting he was important enough to warrant hearing. This has been my apology.


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2 Comments on “The Disappointin’ Bob Dylan”

  1. Gee whiz, give the guy a break. Dylan has given more live shows than any musician in history. His concert in Frontier Field last summer was sensational. His last three albums have been for many of us his best ever. I mean really, complaining about a Bob Dylan show is sort of sacreligious, and suggesting that because he was not so hot at RIT he has nothing left to offer, either live or with new recordings, is petulant.

  2. nick Says:

    Here’s the thing with Dylan – and it’s no secret – sometimes he knocks your socks clean off and other times you just have to say, okay I’m going to stay because after all it is Bob Dylan and I did buy a ticket. I’ve seen a few concerts at RIT and they never seem to be anything to write home about. I think it’s the venue. The shows are always in the gym, and a gym simply isn’t an acoustically-friendly place, so the audience can’t absorb the music. I saw Dylan at Frontier Field as well and he rocked, but the environment was right. If all of the people at Frontier Field had been jammed into the RIT gym, it wouldn’t have been the same. I can see how a bad Dylan show combined with an unsound venue would be a recipe for disaster.

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