Bob Dylan concerts continue to disappoint me. In the 80s and 90s, instead of the iconic Bob Dylan singing his 60s protest songs and thumbing his nose at the establishment, I saw a re-jiggered Bob Dylan singing raucous hard rock songs, some with religious messages.
I had first seen Dylan buck the crowds’ desires back in 1965 at the Newport Folk Festival when he used an electric, rather than an acoustic guitar. I was pretty far in the back of the dusty outdoor theater with a few rows of folding chairs at the front, but I could hear the boos from the crowd and joined right in. We didn’t want Bob a changin’.
A recent column by Maureen Dowd in the New York Times lamented that when Dylan “played China” recently, he failed to sing any of his freedom anthems, having allowed the government to preapprove his selections. The new Dylan has revised his history as a rebel song-writer and troubadour and freely admits that his allegiance to causes and to folk music in general is and always has been bogus. In fact it seems that he exploited the movement for his own gain. “I never saw myself as a folksinger,” he said. “They called me that if they wanted to. I didn’t care. I latched on, when I got to New York City, because I saw (what) a huge audience there was….I became interested in folk music because I had to make it somehow… folk music is a bunch of fat people.”
In his memoir, Chronicles, he called the anti-establishment causes and rhetoric “a bunch of mumbo jumbo.” “I had very little in common with and knew even less about a generation that I was supposed to be the voice of, ” said the prophet Dylan. Could that be true?
So, apparently, the reason Dylan didn’t sing his original protest songs at the concerts I attended, or, more recently in China, was because performing these songs “felt like carrying a package of heavy rotting meat.” All I can say(sing) is “It ain’t you, Babe. No. No. No. It ain’t you we’re looking for.”
So Jerry Rubin became a stockbroker, Tom Hayden a politician, and Bob Dylan a grizzled, soulless exemplar of a disillusioned generation. Bob has moved on. I don’t plan to move on with him.