With A Mixture Of Folk, Rock And Comedy, Dylan Shows He Can Take Every Insult But Not A Compliment
"EQUALITY, I spoke the word, as if a wedding vow, ah but I was so much older than, I'm younger than that now..."
Bob Dylan thus changed. It all began with a song called 'My Back Pages' recorded some three years ago on an LP and reached its probable culmination at the Royal Albert Hall the other week when he performed his last British concert.
As always, Dylan is logical and compromising. A full half of his concert is given purely to his "folk" image in which he accompanies himself on guitar and harmonica. He sang songs like 'She Belongs To Me' (nothing like the record), 'It's All Over Now Baby Blue', 'Desolation Row' and 'Mr Tambourine Man'. No new songs of protest – of course – although a few of the tuning up sounds were suspiciously reminiscent of the intro to 'With God On Our Side'.
If any of the Beatles were in the audience they may have been embarrassed – or flattered – by Bob's version of 'Norwegian Wood' which enlarged and coloured on the original theme by Lennon-McCartney.
He also sang 'Visions Of Johanna' which he hasn't yet recorded and another tune, beautiful and nameless, which proves his talent in this field is unblemished and unaffected by his rock exploits. But before he sang one song he had something to say.
"I'm not going to play any more concerts in England." (This was greeted by a loud silence, which was obviously greatly appreciated by Bob Dylan, who crouched even more elf-like over the microphone like some Uriah Heep).
"I'd just like to say that the next song is what your English musical papers would call a 'drug song'. I have never and never will write a 'drug song'. I just don't know how to. It's not a 'drug song'. It's just vulgar."
These brave words were greeted by loud cheers, even though 'Rainy Day Women' (he didn't plug that one) is supposedly an American term for Marijuana cigarette. After the interval he returned with his group and launched into an ear-splitting cacophony which he hadn't recorded. The sound, despite being electrical and groupy was still so far removed from conventional group music as to be still strictly Dylan...
Then the old guard started walking out. The people who had been secretly hoping that Dylan would reform and make a full confession of his musical sins realised that Dylan was taunting them as much as ever. Before the end of the concert, about 25 percent of the total audience had walked out. Another 25 percent stayed under sufference and didn't show overmuch enthusiasm.
"I like all my old songs," he said. "I never said I didn't like my old songs." (his pronunciation when saying this was unbelievably funny). "It's just that things change all the time. Everybody knows I never said they were 'rubbish'. That word isn't in my vocabulary. I wouldn't use the word 'rubbish' if it were lying on the street and I could pick it up."
The hecklers were in full force now and just about everything possible was being hurled at Bob (verbally, no missiles were seen). He coped very well with them, like "The music you are hearing – if you have any suggestions on how it could be played better or the words could be improved?" He ploughed through 'I Don't Believe You' which was originally a folk tune and which he's now rocked up. Others included 'Everybody's Down' and 'I See You've Got Your Leopard Skin Spotted Pill Box Hat'.
"This is not English music you're listening to. You haven't really heard American music before. I'm sick of people asking what does it mean. It means NOTHING." He then launched into 'Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues' amidst shouts of 'Rubbish' and 'Rock and Roll for ever'.
The highlight came when Bob sat down to the piano and did 'Ballad Of A Thin Man', which silenced even the folksier elements. He ended up with 'Like A Rolling Stone', jumping and yelling all over the stage and looking (as all the girls said) very sweet.
But the only thing he couldn't do was take compliments. When anyone yelled out in favour of him, all he did was give a sheepish embarrassed smile and a little condescending wave.
© Norman Jopling, 1966