I’m breathless from the Bob Dylan concert.
He is a superb musician, with a keen eye for good side men. The words were mostly incomprehensible but it didn’t matter.
The kids, teenagers and college kids, who were there mostly sat in their seats like stones. Their parents were grooving. Even when music of an assault group of their own age (at least it felt like an assault to me) with whining, screaming singers and a calamitous noise level was playing, they still sat there motionless, and I wanted to pour into them some joy. Over half of my class of college freshmen had never heard of Bob Dylan.
Though Dylan is taciturn, he comes from a time when there was joy; silliness like Peter, Paul and Mary singing Puff the Magic Dragon, good will and love everywhere. The kids don’t feel it. THeir parents do, remembering a faraway time when they thought they mattered. The cynicism that has come with maturity (or maybe with war, Watergate, the assasination of beloved leaders like Martin Luther King and the Kennedy brothers) cannot completely muffle the memories of that joy. And Dylan is part of it, a rumpled, growly, ageless man who has in his slight body some kind of flame. Joan Baez said that they split up because she wanted to go out and demonstrate against the Vietnam War and all, and Dylan just wanted to write and play his music, wasn’t interested in the everyday politics. I think Dylan had his eye on the ball all the time. The price he has paid personally for his flame is in his words, the timbre of his voice, the humor that made an arena full of people burst out laughing at times.
I couldn’t figure out what I came away with, other than a starstruck kind of awe. I think it is gratitude. The things he has written have mattered, and he continues stumbling on, breaking expectations, being himself. I was wondering at one point what it would be like to see him in the shower, or sitting at an ordinary desk writing out checks. Just as I think of ballerinas in their classes, wearing leotards with holes in them, sweating, smelly, putting their street clothes in clangy little lockers — and then there they are on stage, in frills and brilliance, leaping and bowing to the adoring audience. Dylan must live a life like everybody else, but he has a pinnacle that ordinary people don’t have, when he sings in front of people who worship him. It must feel funny going back to doing the dishes or shaving every morning.
I went alone, which I enjoy doing. As usual, when venturing out alone, I talked with many more people than I would have talked with if I had been with someone else. And I could ignore them all when I wanted. I also got the usual perks of assumed feminine vulnerability. When I found out at the entrance to the parking garage, with a long line of cars behind me, that they didn’t have a machine to read credit cards or ATM cards, and that parking cost $12 and I only had $6, the man who was summoned to deal with this emergency told me I’d have to park the car, go to the ATM in the arena, and come back and pay for parking, then he said, “You know what? Have a nice evening. This one’s on me.” We’re all due a nice gesture like that from time to time, and they pour in more freely when I’m alone.
As I watched the younger people unmoved by Dylan and his outstanding band, I realized that the zeitgeist has changed. I do not respond to the vibrations which move these young people. Their idols look whiny and indulgent to me, campily vain and informal to the point of unattractiveness. But they don’t like my vibes either. It is a reminder that the world is moving on, reinventing itself once again, and thank heaven. It has all slipped out of my grasp though. I have no feeling for the music of the young these days, the way my parents could not dig Elvis.