Bob Dylan: To See or Not to See

It could be argued he is the literal embodiment of a “folk hero”. He’s been a rebel, an outcast, a martyr, a villain, a fraud, a voice, a shadow, a legend. He’s disregarded time limits, abandoned principles of sound mixing, rewritten the meaning of artistic license, broken the rules in nearly every way imaginable. He found a way to create dream worlds while keeping us cynically grounded. He’s always been painfully familiar with his own mortality.

He hit the road as a boy to write music, running away from society’s beaten path. He’s never stopped running. Through his words, he’s sought enlightenment, salvation, meaning, peace, answers, questions, perspectives, mystery, hope, wonder, love. But he’s never sought our approval.

But most of all, in the ultimate measure of influence, Bob Dylan has survived. His genius, his madness, his weaknesses, his sunglasses, his identity, his truth. Posterity, it can be assured, will not forget. To this day, he somehow tours and even releases new records rather regularly, yet maintains his mystical phantom-like quality.

Bob Dylan is one of my heroes. He is on my Mount Rushmore of both music artists and poets. And yet, I still have never seen him perform live. Why? I go to concerts – too many in fact, my wallet would argue – and I live in New York City, not exactly a place where there’s nowhere to see a show.

Music fans know the verdict on Bob Dylan’s live performances as he’s aged has been mixed at best. In front of crowds that tend to be fratty welters of over-privileged sycophantic saps, he performs groggy and sometimes unrecognizable renditions of his classic numbers at venues that usually prioritize drug-filled dayscapes rather than the intimacy he deserves.

He is Bob Dylan in the flesh, standing in front of mostly the obnoxious offspring of his original fans, yet he is not. He’s always been a poet before a performer, but now has become at best a determined statesman who’s fallen victim to time, and at worst a tragic shell of his former prophetic self. Despite hearing this heart-wrenching review hundreds of times, only recently did I finally consider that it’s likely at least approaching accuracy.

So comes the conundrum, that in a devilishly Dylanian way, mirrors one of life’s bigger questions. Bob Dylan, in all his scraggly and wizened grace, has become Santa Claus. Do I preserve his mythical artistry and stature, do I keep the truth hidden as Dylan seems to keep himself, do I continue to writhe in blissful ignorance?

Or is it finally time to reveal Oz behind the curtain, to face the cold truth that not even those who seem to transcend time can stay forever young?

Perhaps, in the right situation, at the right time, I’ll cautiously enter or be dragged against my will to one of his shows. Until then, however, I will continue to seek the hope that Bob once did and still does. I will neglect rationality and believe that some things truly are timeless and immortal. I will hide in the dream worlds that he so exquisitely created.

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18 Responses to Bob Dylan: To See or Not to See

  1. WONDERFUL ARTICLE.

    • The recordings will last forever — long after we’re all gone for future generations to hear — and you can always listen those early recordings. Time will not alter their importance nor the music Dylan committed to vinyl or CD. Bear in mind he is 72 and he will sound nothing like those studio recordings but he does have a very good band. Like many of us, Dylan has good days and bad ones — it’s the luck of the draw what you will get on any given night. I would encourage you to see Dylan if you have the opportunity — you might be pleasantly surprised by what he does bring to the table. When he’s gone from this world, there will be no more opportunities to see him and I think you’ll regret not making the effort to catch him in person at least one time.

    • No. It’s a piece of shit.

      • YOU r a a piece of shit Jim, and worse! Your breath smells like someone laid a shit in it when u were sleeping…snoring as usual with ur mouth akimbo wide…and this someone (likely a passing hobo) dumped a big stik, mangos filled log in your mouth! And now,

  2. Michael Sobsey says:

    I share your analysis of Dylan’s impact and greatness in poetry and music. However, I must say, I saw him as far back as 1974 with the band and as recently as this summer in Hoboken. Now seeing him live is not like listening to Bringing It All Back Home or Blond on Blond, but I found the live performance pretty great in its own right. The delivery and phrasing, the vocal inflections, the tight band, to me were utterly spellbinding. Sit up close for a better view and clearer sound, bring field glasses if your as crazy as me, then it is really an experience. Hard Rain from Brooklyn three years ago stills rings in my head when I pull up the memory of that great performance.
    I see how people could say his voice is gone, maybe – but he gets a lot out of what’s left – and all he’s journeyed through is embedded in the bluesy sound of it. That’s how I feel – we’re lucky to get to see him.

  3. Bill Royal Oak says:

    Just go hear him. He’s great, the band plays great and if you go the part your missing will be revealed. Just have fun….it’s great music and poetry live….that’s all you need….nd then go as many times as you can…..Have Fun!

  4. Bill Royal Oak says:

    Just go hear him. He’s great, the band plays great and if you go the part your missing will be revealed. Just have fun. it’s great music and poetry live, that’s all you need and then go as many times as you can. Have Fun!

  5. See him. Even when a genius fails, his work is worth a look.

  6. John Linklater says:

    What do you mean by this: “In front of crowds that tend to be fratty welters of over-privileged sycophantic saps, he performs groggy and sometimes unrecognizable renditions of his classic numbers at venues that usually prioritize drug-filled dayscapes rather than the intimacy he deserves.”

    How do you know? You don’t go. And you seem to be indulging some fantasy that Dylan “deserves” the intimacy of playing to you alone as an audience of one person.

  7. The sad part of a mass media culture–is what your article reflects. Change the figure you are talking about–make it your Dad or Mom or Grandparent. Would you stop seeing them so you could carry around a polaroid dream image INSTEAD? I hope not. LIFE is change. He opens with a change song–just to remind you of that. It occurred to me one day that I had probably listened to Bob Dylan’s VOICE more hours in my entire life than anyone. His fans know when we skip excitedly into the concert hall that we are seeing a flesh and blood presence in our lives. Poets-when they are as good as Mr. Dylan enter our inner ear and become like family. I’m always excited to hear him in person, on CD, on the radio, and in my inner ear. The more you expose yourself–the more friendly he becomes. I know you prefer a troublesome REAL friend to a polaroid tacked to the wall….GO NEXT TIME HE IS NEARBY. Expect change! Plan on it. Watching it over YEARS will lead only to deeper love and understanding. Just like Dad, or Mom, or your old college friends. GO. And then keep going….sit and let him in like you would any old friend. I’ve almost never seen any musician who wasn’t better in person than in the media. No matter where he was along the life-time path. It is very moving to watch them rise and fall, and rise and conquer. It is heroic in fact. It will give you courage in your own life when you MOST need it. GO. If you don’t go–you WILL regret it someday.

  8. I think your brilliant by not attending a bob dylan show! After all why set yourself up for disappointment and pain of the one, two punch, when you find yourself NOT seated with: “crowds that tend to be fratty welters of over-privileged sycophantic saps.”

    and then the the realization that he doesnt “perform groggy and sometimes unrecognizable renditions of his classic numbers at venues that usually prioritize drug-filled dayscapes rather than the intimacy he deserves. ”

    Man all that disappointment might knock you out! Yes, believe in yourself cause if you don’t who will.
    Carry on with your brilliant self , don’t do it!

  9. Matt, I am from the great state of Minnesota, and recently saw Dylan play at his hometown of Duluth, MN. You can’t call yourself a true Bob Dylan when you question if you should see him live! I have now been to concerts in Fargo, Duluth, Santa Monica and last year at the Hollywood Bowl. Dylan is amazing.

  10. Please go see the show. I too live in the dreams . But to be there today ..this time and place and listen to the changes … is mystical. Well worth the effort to for the memories /SOUVENIRS.

  11. I heartily recommending checking out Zimmy on this tour if you can. Vocally he’s in the best form I’ve heard him in for the past ten years.

  12. I have been going to see Dylan every year for over ten years and always look forward to seeing him again. Of course it’s true that you never know if you go to see him this late in his career whether you’ll see a good show or a bad one. I’ve gone to shows where the sound of his voice on certain songs made me cringe and others that were good beyond my expectations. The hope of seeing a good show is what keeps me going to see him and also the knowledge that someday he will no longer be with us and there will be no more chances to see one of music’s greatest legends. When that day comes it will be a sad one and I’ll have time to reflect on the fact on how fortunate I was to have seen the musical genius we know as Bob Dylan.

  13. “He’s always been a poet before a performer, but now has become at best a determined statesman who’s fallen victim to time, and at worst a tragic shell of his former prophetic self.”

    A. He’s never been, nor claimed to be, a poet. He’s a songwriter and a singer. But above all, first and foremost, a performer.

    B. How can he be a “tragic shell” of something he never was, nor claimed to be, in the first place? Prophetic? You’ll be calling him ‘Judas’ next.

    Like yourself I wouldn’t wish to go and listen to him nowadays either, but not because he’s failing to live up to some ‘ideal’ that was false in the first place. Once he was capable, on the right night, of being magnificent. Now he’s not any more. Simple as that. It’s called the aging process.