Letters Column

Week of May 4, 2006

A to Z, April 27, 2006

Rolling Thunder Review

Honey, just allow me one more chance: I hope Annie Zaleski will give Bob another try. I missed the St. Louis concert (not enough advertising for this busy single mom of two to pick up on until it was sold out), but I can tell you that two years ago at the Pageant, it was magic.

Bob is definitely hit or miss, I won't argue about that — I've seen him about ten times over the past twenty-five years — but he's well worth another try. Once Bob invited a guy from the audience (a disabled vet) to sing a blues song while Bob played the sax. Incredible. There are lots of stories like that one.

Good review. Thanks.
Beth von Behren, St. Louis

One too many mornings: That's the same way I felt about Dylan when I saw him last year at the stadium in Sauget. I would have been disappointed had it not been for a great show from Willie Nelson. It's one thing for an act like the Stones to still tour and rock it. But — and no disrespect to Dylan — he's touring on his name; he's not touring on his ability to put on the same high-caliber show he is known for.
Adam Bennett, Pontoon Beach, Illinois

Idiot wind: A spin on an old maxim: Those who can, do. Those who can't become critics. Those who do, despite not being as great as they once were, have more courage in their arthritic old hands than any thousand critics. For someone like Bob Dylan to be critiqued by a kid who probably has had the shallowest of lives (in comparison) is very sad.

Dylan's voice was never the point, though some of us love it even more as it ages and gets smoky. There are hundreds of singers in the past, where his roots are, that have the same kind of voice. Not that it sounds the same, but that there is always someone who doesn't get the gift that's given.

Yeah, Annie, I'm a Dylan person for over 40 years, and honestly if you took the time to listen, hear, listen, to the music, musicianship, vocal stylings, which are all very interesting, you would hear a classic troubadour, as your partner/friend has said. Not only that though, you would hear a man steeped in music, in humanity and the human condition. Compassionate without being nostalgic and phony, humble without false modesty and deep, living with his flaws and getting up, stepping up to the plate day in and day out because it's what he does. It's his job.

You know, I always sang along with him because the songs were like anthems, a soundtrack to my life, so lately I am hearing his phrasing more, his fluctuations, how he wraps his ragged voice around a particular word. Well, tell your folks and the partner they have great taste in music. Sorry you've missed it.
Diana Wolf, Bangor, Maine

Nothing was delivered: I just wanted to thank Annie Zaleski for her honesty. I love Bob Dylan's music and always will. However, I was at the show at the Fox Theatre and hated every minute of Dylan's set. My favorite artist is Merle Haggard and I felt tremendous pride that he put on a great show. Even Kenny Vernon, who "opened" for Merle, put Dylan to shame.

Thanks again for having the smarts and courage to see through the fog of Dylan. I still can't imagine how true Dylan fans can applaud those horrible harp solos and terrible song arrangements. I wish you continued success and thank you again for your honesty.
Jarrad Hamlin, Mayfield, Kentucky

Forever young: Annie girl, you write that Dylan's singing "made even anthems like 'Highway 61 Revisited' and 'Positively 4th Street' feel devoid of the meaning that infused them originally." Personally, I agree he can't sing worth a flip any longer, and I feel sorry for those who go to one of his shows and sit rather far away, because unless they're real fans who've kept up with him over the years they may well be scratching their heads.

However, if Bob were singing his old songs with "the meaning that infused them originally," he'd be a supper-club act on the nursing-home circuit. His older stuff is over 40 years old. It's like saying to a 65-year-old Picasso, "Hey, paint like you did way back when, you know, when you were real young." Can't be done. Makes no sense. Other younger performers can put the polish on his stuff (have you ever heard the great Cassandra Wilson do Dylan?) but that's no longer his job. Just a thought.
Jackson Williams, Austin, Texas

Mixed up confusion: Sorry to read about your mediocre evening seeing Dylan in concert. It's too bad that after all the years of being a fan you waited this long to see Dylan live. I have seen Bob about fifteen times since middle school in 1978 and can honestly tell you that while there have been a number of disappointing shows, many have been beyond brilliant. I saw Bob and his new band last year with Willie Nelson and was surprised at how good the concert was.

I can say that he has become hit or miss these days, with some great shows mixed with some average-to-poor ones. And his current band is unquestionably inferior to the great backing bands he usually has.

The one thing I don't agree with in your review is your statement that Dylan on a good day is indecipherable. I don't agree with that (although it's become popular folklore). Did you have trouble understanding his lyrics on Blood on the Tracks or Time Out of Mind? And as far as understanding his lyrics in concert, a lot of singers are difficult to understand with the volume and speed most play at. Go to a Springsteen show and see if you can understand the words on songs you aren't familiar with. I sure can't. I think Dylan's an amazing vocalist; the way he turns a phrase is pure vocal gymnastics!

Anyway, he's put on a lot of amazing and legendary shows over the years, and it's too bad you waited this long. And even for this tour, you probably caught him on an off night.
Mike Adams, Miami Beach, Florida

Emotionally yours: I'm sorry you were disappointed in Bobby D. If I read your review correctly, it appears this was your first time to see him. It's unfortunate that you couldn't have seen Bob's tour in 2002, when Charlie Sexton and Larry Campbell were in the band and they played for over two hours and Bob was still on his guitar.

I think what is important for you to remember is that Bob is about to turn 65, that his vocal cords are hanging on after years of the nicotine and tar and that he has been doing this for over 40 years. I have seen Bob four times now since '95, and all I can tell you is that enjoying Dylan in concert has nothing to do with understanding his words, but the overall experience of Dylan. It's a mystical thing, Annie. That's all I can tell you. Hopefully, the next time will be more enjoyable.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Keep listening!
Alan Dean, Dallas, Texas

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