Bob Dylan in Prague
Jeremy Hurewitz reviews Dylan's recent appearance in Prague
Someone needs to tell Bob Dylan that it doesn’t matter if he wrote those songs — they are not his anymore, they are a part of history. What he did to “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right” was a real shame. One of Dylan’s most heartbreaking and tender ballads, it is meant to be played solo with an acoustic guitar and harmonica, played quietly alone in a room, or by the side of a fire, or at least sitting on a stool and played honestly for a crowd. But it is not meant to be beefed up into a power-balled played by a bunch of studio hacks with a tired rock star (not a folk singer any more) crooning and croaking those lines into awkward new deliveries that were generally incomprehensible. Gone were lines like “I’m a thinkin’ and a wonderin’, walking down the road / I once loved a woman, a child I am told / I gave her my heart but she wanted my soul” and “I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind / you coulda done better, but I don’t mind / you just kinda wasted my precious time / but don’t think twice, it’s all right” in a pathetic wishy-washy mishmash of old man gruel.
The new stuff off “Love and Theft,” his latest album, was the strongest. On those songs the band was hot and Dylan easily tapped into a certain vitality that is clearly still there. The band sounded like a top-rate bar blues band, good fun, and he’s got some serious players up there with him, though both of the guitar players looked like rock-star action figures. The tall Southern-rock looking character who just stepped off a Harley circa 1976 and tears it up on the pedal-steel as well as well as the banjo; the Van Morrison look-a-like with his fedora and his zoot-suit and expressions of glee as he crescendos on his Stratocaster.
But I wanted Bob Dylan the troubadour, the folksinger, the Bob Dylan of “Blonde on Blonde” and “Bringing It All Back Home.” I wanted to hear him come out with his acoustic guitar and sing “Idiot Wind,” the most bitter and angry song on his famous divorce album “Blood On The Tracks.” I wanted to hear the seemingly out-of-place but somehow germane lyrics, “They say I shot a man named Gray, and took his wife to Italy / She inherited a million bucks and when she died it came to me / You can’t blame me if I’m lucky” or the hipster jive, “Even you, yesterday you had to ask me where it was at / I couldn’t believe you didn’t know me better than that” and the unrepentant mix of beauty and violence, “Visions of your chestnut mare shoot through my head and are making me see stars / you hurt the ones that I love best and cover up the truth with lies / one day you’ll be in the ditch, flies buzzing around your eyes, blood on your saddle / the idiot wind blowing through the flowers on your tomb,” all in the same glorious song.
But instead of Bob Dylan the folk singer, Prague got Bob Dylan the vaudeville act. Maybe Elton John and Celine Dion should get some competition from Dylan playing for absurd amounts of money at one of the big casinos in Las Vegas. In that rhinestone getup I couldn’t help but feel bad for him when he tried to take a solo in between those two aces in his band. They stood next to him, urging him on like an old grandpa shaking his keister at the family ho-down. It was a sad sight.
Dylan just didn’t seem to have the dexterity to pull off playing those classic old folk songs. Instead, people come to hear “a legend.” It’s like going to the zoo (and I remember the feeling I had of wanting to poke the phlegmatic animals with a stick to spur them into action) not going to see art. But everyone seems strangely reluctant to criticize him. I like Dylan as much as anyone but just because he’s a legend he gets a pass on ruining his best songs because he wants to tour and make money and he’s bored playing them the way we love them? We wouldn’t stand for the Rolling Stones rearranging “Gimme Shelter” or “Satisfaction” and we shouldn’t stand for Dylan rearranging “It’s All Right Ma, I’m Only Bleeding.”
Dylan’s been through it all. He knows better than anyone that we need something to get us through the long dark nights and he’s tried everything. He tried being Woody Guthrie; he tried drugs and alcohol; he tried born-again Christianity and he tried Orthodox Judaism. Now he’s a sclerotic old man whose vice, whose distraction from the long dark night of the soul and coming death, is constant touring. Dylan said nary a word on stage the other night, perhaps because he is a mercurial artist, or perhaps because the audience is only his support group. He played and walked off and everyone clapped not for the music that we just heard but for who he is. We should at least be prepared to look that in the eye.
April 26th, 2006
"As the curtain rises on the stage of deceit we learn that CBS used songs and lyrics for international recording artist, Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan's name is credited to the songs. One of those songs is nominated for a Grammy as best rock song of the year. Ironically the title of that song is Dignity.
"Since auditioning for the legendary CBS Record producer John Hammond, Sr., who influenced the careers of music industry icons Billy Holiday, Bob Dylan, Pete Seger, Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Ray Vaughan, James has engaged in a multimillion dollar copyright infringement law suit with Bob Dylan.
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