I had a strong urge to call Dylan a "rakish little man" in his broad white hat and smart suit. What stuck with me was how every song sounded bluesy, every chorus a bit more sinister, even the love songs slightly melancholy, and yet the subtle joy of creation flowed on the stage constantly. Dylan moved like a drunk cartoon character from the waist up while he played harp, but didn't move his feet for two hours. He growled more than he sang, which was particularly effective on "John Brown," "Don't Think Twice," and "Ballad of a Thin Man."
The high point for me were songs 11-16, starting with Highway 61 Revisited. It was so loud and urgent I almost didn't recognize it. I was clapping and dancing, filled with awe at how many people love a song with lyrics that complex. I can only hope they know it's more than nonsense. Ain't Talkin' is one of my favorite new songs, and the live version compelled em to say over and over again--"if I ever catch the enemy sleeping, I'll just slaughter him where he lie."
It felt like an incredible gift to hear him play Ballad of a Thin Man and Watchtower, like these are precious drops of sanity in the abysmal chaos of bad American rhetoric, the clear voice of reason shooting through in metaphor. Dylan was a nice southern gentleman, spinning us fables late at night, and the clarity of their truth came through like a balm, and like fire.
We tried to paraphrase the urgency of the performance, the interaction between old protest songs and newer images of a world crumbling under its own inflated language, diluted ideas, and injustices, and my friend Max said: "Love is great, and, we're all getting on the shit-boat." I feel that what Dylan battles now is not the willful injustice of the Masters of War, but the passive, complacent handmaidens to injustice in American cynical "it's always been bad, why do anything" culture. We don't like injustice, but we really don't believe our love can stop it. Or we're afraid to be the ones weilding any power, because that means we can be judged.
At the end, Dylan stood at the front of the stage, weaving and waving his hands, with the band stoically lined up behind him. They didn't bow, they didn't nod, they just presented themselves for our attention. And then they left. And I felt a debt of gratitude. Because he never stopped making art, not when he was using bizarre Christian tropes, not when he was tired or sick or high or alone, not when he was old and had given us more than his fair share of creation. He never stopped making things, never stopped giving. If he was insecure, he was never ruled by it. If he was wrong, it never stopped him. If he was misguided, he found another way. And that model of what it means to be an artist rang so deeply true to me I was moved, moved, moved.
Oh, and the white hat. Did I mention the white hat? The hat was fantastic.
The guy sitting behind us wailed, after every song, "Bobby, Brownsville Girl!" and it didn't irritate me, because there was some obsessive longing in his voice, as if he couldn't help himself, he had to keep hoping, and I identified with that too. The high water is everywhere, and still, I write a novel, and send little missives about music out into cyberspace, and teach my students that justice and personal integrity are still possible. Because if we all gave up when the sadness hit, there would be no music at all.