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The International Writers Magazine:Dylan's Modern Times Concerts

Bob Dylan and his Band, 2006
Jeffrey Beyl

I was eleven years old when I first heard Bob Dylan. I was singing what is still to this day my all-time favorite song, Mr. Tambourine Man. I thought it was a song by a band called The Byrds. I didn’t understand the words but the tune was cool. My father heard me and asked if I’d like to hear the song by the guy who wrote it. He said that was the way the song should be sung.

(pic: Dylan they way he used to be)

He put on a record called Bringing It All Back Home. At first I thought, what the…? But by the end of the song, Mr. Tambourine Man really knocked me out. So did The Gates of Eden and It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleedin’). My father played more songs for me that I thought were the music of others; Blowin’ In The Wind; I thought that was Peter, Paul and Mary. Then there was Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright. I thought Sonny And Cher’s version of It Ain’t Me, Babe was cool until I heard Dylan. When I heard Bob Dylan back in 1965 he took me on a musical ride that I still haven’t gotten off of.

From that point, when my dad first played that album for me, I started to backtrack through the years and got into earlier records, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, The Times They Are A Changin’, Another Side of Bob Dylan. I also moved on to Highway 61 Revisited, then on to Blonde on Blonde, John Wesley Harding, Nashville Skyline. Dylan never let me go. I didn’t care that he went electric. I was already into electric rock and roll. Besides, he did it before I came around anyway. I liked the old acoustic Dylan of Blowin’ In The Wind, but I also liked the electric Dylan of Like A Rolling Stone. It was all great stuff. It still is. He did some things that may not have been as good as some others; Planet Waves never made it to my favorites list. I liked New Morning and some of Self Portrait. I liked Pat Garrett and Billy The Kid (I liked the movie too). But when Blood On The Tracks came along, damn, Dylan had done it again. Then I lay off for a while until Time Out Of mind came along. I liked that one. I thought Bob was back at it. There have been several bootleg albums over the past couple years. I’ve got them all and like them a lot.

Now he comes out with his new album, Modern Times. The first album of new songs since 1997. Wow, a new album by Bob Dylan! It was even getting some decent reviews. I couldn’t wait to get it. I couldn’t wait to rip it open and put it in the CD player in the car on my way home. And……well, hmmm, I didn’t really like it. I gave it a pretty good chance. I played it several times. I still put it in occasionally. I downloaded the lyrics off the Internet so I could follow along. But…..well, I hate to say it but I’m not so sure about this one. Okay, I kinda’ like a couple of the tunes. I kinda’ like Thunder on the Mountain, When The Levee Breaks, Rollin’ and Tumblin’. I kinda’ like those songs.

Then I saw that he was coming to Seattle on a concert tour. Okay, I thought, I gotta go see Bob Dylan. I’ve been a Dylan fan since 1965 but I’ve never seen him in concert. I waited on him once in a restaurant called Alice’s Restaurant where I worked many years ago. Alice’s Restaurant was on Malibu Pier and I worked there as a waiter. One night, in walked Bob Dylan and the hostess seated him and his entourage in my section. Holy shit! I got to wait on Bob Dylan. He never made eye contact with me, didn’t say a word. But I got to wait on Bob fucking Dylan. That was big. Another time I was sitting in the third row center stage at a Paul Simon concert at The Santa Monica Civic Auditorium. This was about 1974. The lights went down and Paul came out and began to play when someone came in and sat in the second row right in front of me and I recognized Bob Dylan. Cool! I got to sit right behind Bob Dylan at a Paul Simon concert.

So, while I had seen Bob Dylan, I had never seen him play live. I quickly bought a couple tickets. I was really anxious to go see Dylan. Maybe I built him up too much in my mind all these years. I don’t idolize him. I just think he did some great shit. Maybe I do idolize him. Don’t we all?

But at this concert, well…..he came out, never said word one and plowed into the music. He didn’t play the guitar; he stood at an organ the whole time. The only movement I could see was the shuffling of his feet. Now, as I said, I like electric Dylan. But this band sounded like a shitty garage band. Nothing in the world like Robbie Robertson and the boys in The Band. I couldn’t even recognize what song they were playing until I could somehow pick up a lyric or two. Oh, this is Like a Rolling Stone. Hmmm, I think this is All Along the Watchtower (actually that was probably the best song they did that night.) The singing was muddy. The band was messy and overpowered the vocals. Basically it sounded like shit.

That’s an amazing thing to hear myself say. I’m a huge Dylan fan, always have been. But he sounded like shit. I know this may sound bad, unappreciative maybe, but if he had only come back out with an acoustic guitar and sung Mr. Tambourine Man, I’d would have head home a happy guy. I must say I was disappointed. Oh it won’t stop me from listening to all the old stuff. In fact, I immediately started putting in Bringing It All Back Home, Blood On The Tracks, The Basement Tapes, I love the Scorsese thing, No Direction Home. But Modern Times and the concert? I know it must be hard to be a person like Bob Dylan. It must be hard to always have to play the same songs again and again and again through the years. It must be hard to always be on center stage, spotlights shining and perform up to everyone’s expectations. But hey, that’s the life of a musician. Paul Simon has had to play The Sounds Of Silence a lot too. James Taylor has had to play Fire And Rain how many times? Come on Bob, at least try.

Modern Times. Maybe it’ll grow on me. My father says it’s growing on him. My father introduced me to Dylan when I was eleven so I’ll trust him and keep trying. Maybe you can too.

© Jeffrey Beyl 2007
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