Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Bob Dylan at the Palladium
The Palladium is right. Concentric circles of light, just askew enough to push us all towards the front, the apex? Even the wood on the dance floor is bowed. We’re spiraling around a possible aberration, we’re in orbit.
I love my boots and faux-leather jacket but this place makes me ache for those chandeliers to turn on, for a swing band to play, for a satin dress to wear and nice gent to give me a turn around the floor. 85% of this crowd is in jeans and they make me feel like some future anthropologist will wonder if they were a religious requirement for us.
Bob Dylan starts with Leopard-skin Pillbox Hat. This is the blues. The blues of loss, but also the blues of aggression. And that juxtaposition is delicate, because it can teeter into self-pity, or the other way into rage.
Beyond here lies nothin’, he says, nothin’ but the moon and stars. You can’t keep on with your terrestrial life—you’ve got to look UP. The point isn’t to make art in spite of pain, it’s about making art that transforms, uses, alchemizes pain. To allow pain to bring new ideas. The most difficult thing is to not be told what to do by your pain, to figure out when your pain is unnecessary ego attachment and when your pain is the beautiful wrenching grief that comes from witnessing or experiencing true human suffering. Pain that makes us want to stop dead in our tracks and curl into self-protective solitude is dangerous. Pain that makes us angry at systems, that helps us accept truth, or that cuts into the dead flesh of habit is a gift.
As if to reward us for starting to understand, the lights in the room become twinkling dots—we’ve made it into the moon and stars!
But immediately Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum remind us that if you don’t learn to think, you’ll be brought to your knees. And even if you do think, you might still. Then we feel Dylan’s toughlove on Sugar Baby.
I cried hard during When The Deal Goes Down, and then immediately afterward Dylan sang Be Honest With Me. He reminded me that the desire for return on offerings of vulnerability is a grand mistake of ego. You give up your truth freely. Then you ask for truth freely. You got to get stark naked, and then not care. I sent a few text messages, to Anth, Linz, and Louis, in a surge of affection and humilty, proclaiming my steadfastness and apologizing for times I've been afraid.
The other brilliant pairing was Highway 61 just before Workingman’s Blues #2. From the esoteric poetry to the pain of poverty, an old song to a new, this is how Dylan gets people to remember what was happening in the 60s. What was important about the vision of the 60s, what needs to keep happening, even though we must do it differently now. You are never allowed to sink into a love song without the context of history, and you are never allowed to forget that every piece of poetry is interacting with politics. People are still sleeping with their heads in the kitchen and their feet out in the hall. We got to raise ourselves an army, some tough sons of bitches!
One of my favorite love-lines of all time: I got the pork chops, you got the pie, you ain’t no angel and neither am I.
When Dylan plays the Ballad of the Thin Man, and the lights turn nearly off except for bright yellow on his face and looming silhouettes behind, people who don’t like to be hurt by the mystery of the world leave for more beer. They return when he plays Like a Rolling Stone, which comes on at 10:14pm on 10/14/09, my mother and Melissa’s birthday, the moment at which this LA crowd is finally lit up, when Dylan asks us how it feels to be a complete unknown, and the jubilant recognition of an old favorite masks, for some, the sobriety of that question. For others, the perfect complexity, the Dylan specialty, is reached. Acknowledgement of what is wrong and hard in this world, without anxiety. In fact, he’s even able to enjoy himself in the conversation. And with the help of Charlie Sexton, and a band that plays the dirty dark sexy beautiful blues like they drank a glass of molasses and milk every day of their lives, I can enjoy it all too.