I’d like to note down my fast fading memories of Bob Dylan’s last visit to Melbourne before they pop out of existence for good. It was a disastrous experience and when it’s over I hope to be free to remember him through his records. When people say Dylan is not a singer I answer ‘it’s the lyrics that count, man’. All the beautiful people who have hopped on Dylan’s bandwagon might make his words sound better but they’re his words and without them those singers of cover songs would be silent.
Still, Bob should have stayed home that August night tucked into his slippers and robe. The concert was an unmitigated flop; a hundred wasted minutes I’ll never get back. And at my time of life, I can’t afford to waste an instant.
The Palais Theatre isn’t a large venue so sitting in the gods shouldn’t have been a problem but the stage was dimly lit. I had to squint to follow Dylan’s broad brimmed hat bobbing around from microphone to microphone, giving out on the harmonica, moving from centre stage to entertain us with the grand piano.
I couldn’t make the lyrics out. To judge by the rabid fans hooting and hollering their encouragement I must have been the only one. I was either a philistine or that little boy who accused the emperor of having no clothes. I could not see him and I could not clearly make out what he was saying to me. Although it would be the height of arrogance to believe that he was saying it to me or to anyone else at that concert I felt that we had paid to see him and hear him, we didn’t, and he possibly believed, if he’d given it any thought, that he had kept up his end of the bargain by turning up.
Dylan has been described as a poet with a guitar but that night he didn’t play the guitar. I couldn’t help but wish that I’d gone to see that other poet Leonard Cohen last year. I’ve heard that the eighty year old Cohen jogged on stage and danced off it. He acknowledged his audience and thanked each individual band member. Cohen sang the songs that his audience came to hear. And that they actually understood him. I heard that Cohen was a generous performer who gave his audience even more than they had bargained for.
I was sixteen when I saw Odetta and forty something when I went to a Peter, Paul and Mary concert. Simon and Garfunkel had a reunion and I was glad so glad of the experience. I’ll never forget them.
I walked to the car on my way home, passing an unauthorised vendor and bought a ten dollar t-shirt to mark the abysmal occasion. We’ve had some sunny days recently but I can’t get myself to wear the t-shirt yet. One of the cafés I passed was enticing customers by playing Bob Dylan songs. I stopped for a minute to remember why I had gone to that concert, then went home to hug my vinyls.
Am I sorry I went to see Bob Dylan for what’s likely to be his last time in this country? No. I have the records and at any time I can access the electronic Dylan and his songs. Nothing (electronically speaking) is denied me these days. I’ve heard that three D copiers are in their infancy. Sometime in the future we may be able to produce a copy of the original. In the meantime I wanted a chance at a close look at the human being who created the songs that moved and inspired my generation. Okay, it was too dark to see much, but he was there and I was there and I’m glad I made the effort.