It was only the two of us who drove from Los Angeles to a mysterious venue called the Santa Barbara Bowl, because one of our lovers was physically unfit for the journey and the other mentally unfit. We’ve decided to use our twosome-ness in the two-fold reception of the Bob Dylan show. This is the first time. Hopefully the tone will sound like a bastardized, harassed Carlisle and an abnormally coherent and organized Cristofani.
No one told us the Bowl was situated on a hill to maximize sacralization. And nowhere in the capitalist manual for justice and fairness did we read that we could have possibly gotten in free, merely by asking people. There was no preparation for a ticket gifted silently, at the mention of Vanessa’s being a fan (and not a scalper.) We should say it was Vanessa who got us in free, but in a very meaningful way, WE are Vanessa. Excuse the pronominal glibness of the next few paragraphs.
Like the musicians, operating within some perfect and consistent frame, we separated and reunited and separated in body and text throughout the show. Here are some of the things we shared on September 7th, 2008.
A Jack in the Box Coffee
Knowledge of the way pelicans look over Santa Barbara
The transition from Zarathustra to David Bowie
A cursory exploration of the Star Wars Force Unleashed Graphic Novel
The conviction that the last verse of Desolation Row, whose performance by its creator we also shared tonight, is the best.
There’s only so much you can share. What was in Anthony’s, and what was in Vanessa’s mind when “we” heard Desolation Row?
Anth: Bob Dylan walked backstage before the show started and told his band: “Tonight, it’s a bittersweet country blues show. Rewrite everything before you come on.”
Ness: Desolation row as prayer: music is the triumph of belief over time. The sound of Desolation Row didn’t match the lyrics, but it matched its own history. It told the story of itself.
Anth: Like Bruce Springsteen by now with Born to Run revisions. In 1988. Bob Dylan songs are all implicitly about constancy and duration.
In Bob’s Santa Barbara BluesTown show with His Band, Times they are a Changin’ became: let’s all sit together in the backyard together talking about the World.
I Believe in You became: you can feel us moving forward no matter what you do. The drums pounded out the consistent belief underneath.
A nugget of unifying wisdom elicited by the instrumentation: celebration of continued fight. When the Deal Goes down was a waltz, a slow, long-haul pushing-through of a song. Honest With Me was a march, tight, in motion, no loosening of the framework, not even in Bob’s gritty soup of a singing voice. We keep going, we must keep going. This was an incredible message to receive in an election year.
We realized the songs were teaching us how to hear them. Most icons trigger nostalgic responses, even if their older works are still relevant, still brilliant. We simply can’t help recalling who we were when we first experienced the music. But this time, you didn’t have to remember who you were when you first heard How Does it Feel?, because the music will create new listener out of you. It’s nearly impossible to be nostalgic when the music is unrecognizable. The meaning is new, and your hearing the song before is only an asset insofar as it helps you understand the lyrics.
This process extends outward. Bob plays in unrecognizable places-- venues like county fairs, the town outside the city. Unrecognizable formats: Bob and his band, not just Bob Dylan. Those that would come see him just to relive their youth stay away.
He also broke the show format by playing Thunder on Mountain in the middle of the show. Given its lyric, its bombastic first few chords, it sounds like big opener. It begins the show! But the show is already going! And we are reminded not to get lulled into what we’re doing, ever. Start over before you are Ready.
Question of blowing in the wind:
Is the comfort in the music (beautiful, lilting, lovely) ironic or are we to be truly comforted by some grand scheme, in which we are eternally returning to the same questions, to be settled and unsettled in same way over and over again? I don’t know how to straddle that line.
Sing even as you drive Dixie down, even as desolation row becomes America and vice versa.
Even as your rolling stone becomes a southern ballad on a plantation. Even when the song tells you you’re like Mick Jagger, you can shake it and you got soul, but you can’t speak.
But not when levees break. (Doesn’t even need to write new lyrics, with instrumentation and venue moves.)
He wrote this song in the period when he looked and talked like Cate Blanchett. The price, benefit, puzzle of being an icon: you can feasibly say “So-and-so does Bob Dylan better than Bob Dylan.” Las Vegas reminds us of all the movies we’ve seen about Vegas. MSNBC Lockup has privileged access—Anth forgets “real” prison, remembers MSNBC Lockup. Vanessa looks out of a plane window in Thailand and thinks it looks like an Indiana Jones movie. The representation predates the referent in our world. Bob engages this by throwing out preservation as a virtue. What is needed, what works, what gets through, what this band in this town with this weather next to this ocean in this time of history in this country with this audience is truest to the fundamental mission—THAT is the show. When literature about truth and honesty fails, we put down the book and confess.