By some fluke, this memory was triggered and out it rolled—the time I saw Bob Dylan in concert.
I saw him only the one time. It was in January of 1974, his “Comeback Tour”, and first since 1966 after being in self-imposed exile following a motorcycle accident.
I became interested and eventually enamored with Dylan when I was in high school. My friend Carl introduced me to him by playing an album called “Another Side of Bob Dylan”. One cut in particular caught my attention.
The album contained a lot of attention-getting songs, the whimsical “All I Really Want to Do”, the chilling “Chimes of Freedom”, the soon to be classics, “My Back Pages”and “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. Also contained on this LP was “To Ramona”, which to this day remains one of my favorite love songs. But the one that snagged me was a little ditty entitled “I Shall Be Free No. 10”.
It’s a talking-blues type of song that began humbly, which I liked, with these opening lines:
I’m just average, common too
I’m just like him, the same as you
I’m everybody’s brother and son
I ain’t different from anyone
It ain’t no use a-talking to me
It’s just the same as talking to you
Then it swung right into light-hearted satire as he talked about fighting and knocking out Cassius Clay (this was pre-Ali 1964), not letting Barry Goldwater marry his daughter, and several other funny stanzas.
There are probably two reasons why I was attracted by this cut.
1.The only album I owned was “My Son, the Nut” by Allan Sherman so I was a fan of comedic song-writing.
2. I was a big fan of Cassius Clay. The fact that this skinny kid with a guitar had the audacity to call this talented boxer out saying that he would “knock him clean right out of his spleen” was hilarious as well as a bit daring.
That ditty made me a fan and I sought out his other recordings and got swept up , firstly, in his powerful songs about civil rights and hypocrisy and then in his lyrical, mystical prowess as his words went spinnin’ and swingin’ madly across my turntable. I listened to them for hours on end.
When I got wind of him planning to play at the Chicago Stadium, I went and spent the big bucks to get a ticket. My friend, Tim, kicks himself to this day for not wanting to spend the outrageous price of $9 for admission. I went with my friends Chris and Karen, who brought opera glasses along, which came in handy at times as our seats were fairly far from the stage inside the massive confines of Chicago Stadium.
Playing with Dylan was his old backup band, The Band. I had seen The Band in concert a few years earlier and they were the tightest group I had ever seen. They sounded exactly like the songs on their albums…to the note! However, playing with Dylan, they were one of the loosest bands I had ever seen. It was almost as if they didn’t know which song would be played next and knowing about Bobby D., they probably didn’t.
I wish I could remember more about that night, including all the songs that were played, but I cannot. I only have snippets of memory but they’re good ones.
At one point he performed “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll”. This song from the ‘60s about racism and the power of the white man took on new meaning there in the days of Richard Nixon and his claim to be above the law because he was president.
There were many songs of his that were unrecognizable at first because he changed the tempo and approach, i.e. a countrified version of “It Ain’t Me, Babe”. He kept surprising his audience, something he continues to do.
The moment that stands out very clearly was, to me, a dramatic one. He walked over to his piano, donned a pair of his 1960s trademark black sunglasses and dove right into “Ballad of a Thin Man” and for six minutes or so it became 1965 again.
Sing the refrain with me, won’t you? “Something is happening here but you don’t know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
Yeah, that’s the stuff.
Well, I’m ready for to fade and it’s time for my boot heels to be wanderin’ so…
(Cue harmonica solo and fade out)
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