Things Have Changed, and So Has the Ballad of the Thin Man

By Špela Krajnc and Inès Mette

As the Never Ending Tour goes on, still he doesn’t speak a word. Yet, his poetry leaves thousands speechless. 1024px-Bob_Dylan,_Mick_Taylor_and_Santana

In the past 20 years, not much has been known of the legendary poet and musician. He goes on touring around the world in a seemingly perpetual silence, very rarely addressing his public, and even more so the media. Only a handful of lucky journalists and photographers have had the opportunity to approach him, the rest are left to interview a close second best: his fans.

Of those present at the concert in Hamburg on 11 April 2017, one saw him live for the first time in ’76, one in Hamburg in ’81 and a third one saw most of his concerts in Germany, only missing the one in Nuremburg in ’78. His music and lyrics carried meaning at every stage of their lives. From the time they first heard them being sung by other artists, to this very concert, from their teenage years to their golden years, from the 1960’s to the 2010’s.

 They have followed him through all the different phases of his career, even through the ones they did not like. Such was the case with his “Jesus trip” in the ’80s. To them, the music was always good, but perhaps at times the lyrics were only so “to Jesus”, says one. Nonetheless, they stuck with him through the years and have gotten to known his on-stage persona, his ability to mesmerise thousands without actually acknowledging them. One fan said that he has seen him perform 7-8 times and only once did he say goodbye to the audience: “he just comes, does his thing and goes”.

 His attitude is far from disappointing to his public, who has grown to expect him to give them everything and nothing at the same time. Everybody knows who he is on stage, everybody knows his songs, everybody knows the power of his lyrics. It is through his poetry, his music, his songs that he communicates, shares, expresses himself. There was never any need for official recognition. No physical artefact will ever add to the value of his words.

As far as we could tell, our presence was obsolete as his drive was fuelled by the interaction with his band mates and the jam session they seemed to be enjoying, even punctuated by a few false notes on the piano by the artist himself. Only when he gestured to his band members, for the audience to acknowledge the invaluable contribution they brought to the act, did he seem to realise a crowd of living and breathing characters was present in the room with him.

 The characters, nearly 7000 old hippies, were quick to make us feel like some of the cool kids belonging to a by-gone era. All long-time fans, they were aware that this concert might be the last one they would ever see. The age of drugs and hard-partying seemed far away. Now was the time for sitting in an orderly fashion in the pit: not moving around, not tapping a foot along the rhythm, or even slightly humming – they were all listening to the concert as they would have a classical orchestra.

 The whole atmosphere in the arena felt closer to the one of a private performance in a jazz café than to the one of a rock music legend. Non-intrusive lighting of orange hues and repetitive light dimming in-between songs alongside the small, intimate stage only helped to bring the audience in closer. Long gone are the times he carried his songs through the use of a single acoustic guitar and harmonica. He started the concert in an oversized white jacket, hiding behind his electric guitar, but was quick to abandon them both for the piano, rendering even his most infamous songs, such as his encore usual Blowin’ in the Wind, almost unrecognisable, as the piano and violin took over.

 A desire to distance himself from his so-well known persona and to go back to his roots is obvious as not only did he do five covers of jazz songs, but also jazzed-up a few of his own. And through jazz he also came alive. His voice took over all of his body, liberated him as he started playing around with the microphone and the stand as well as dancing in a slight shy imitation of Elvis’s infamous hip swinging. His voice, so often criticised, suddenly made sense. Less nasal, deeper and clearer: we were listening to a born jazz singer.

 At 8 sharp, the music started and on stage came Bob Dylan. After “doing his thing”, not saying a word for an hour and 45 minutes without a break, he was gone. Just like a dream, he came in out of nowhere and in a second had vanished. In those 105 minutes we were as close and as far we would ever be to a revolutionary youth much needed today.

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