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  • Ballad of an Untimely Man:Bob Dylan at the Hollywood Bowl
  • Taylor Black (bio)

Never Ending Tour. Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, October 26, 2012.

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Figure 1.

"Bob Dylan, Live: By Paolo Brillo"

Unbeknownst to most of the very distracted and all-too-chatty members of the audience for Bob Dylan's Friday night show at the Hollywood Bowl on October 26, 2012, there was a moment when it became clear that the concert was something more like a war between Dylan and us. An untimely hero, Dylan has already predeceased himself; the man we heard that night was a man paving his victory trail into a world-to-come. As he spat and echoed his way through the always menacing "Ballad of a Thin Man," he [End Page 397] had won. Dylan rose up from his seat behind the baby grand piano, where he had spent most of the evening tapping his toe and crooning his hits, to grab a microphone, proceeding to prowl around the stage with a devilish grin and started in:

You walk into the roomWith a pencil in your handYou see somebody nakedYou say, "Who is that man?"You try so hardBut you don't understandJust what you'll say when you get home

Because something is happening here,But you don't know what it is,Do you, Mr. Jones?

A standout track from an already formidable collection of records making up Dylan's 1965 album Highway 61 Revisited, "Ballad of a Thin Man" is a searing and grotesque send-up of the kinds of questions and ponderings that clutter the modern world and make it so noisy, as well as a thinly veiled mockery of a particularly rotund journalist that gained Mr. Dylan's ire back on one of his infamous tours through England in the early sixties where he and his band electrified and busted up the genteel folk audiences who had at one time come to concerts to kneel beneath his gilded toes but who now called him Judas and screamed at him to go home. His fans wondered then why Bob Dylan had forsaken them? Why couldn't he respect the place given to him in the pantheon of American folk music and just sing the damn songs the folks wanted to hear? And how could this so-called voice of a generation commit sins of self-righteous individuality and still have the nerve to charge the public admission?

Still on the road and certainly still confusing and confounding audiences as he goes, Dylan has not escaped his own legacy enough to avoid the incessant drumbeat of passive-aggressive admiration and rabid nostalgia that his adoring public seems to love so much. In some ways, it may make sense that the man that we all know and refer to as America's folksinger king may have made a quick escape from that sound and that scene just as soon as he was given credit and praise for making his way into it. Maybe the "folks" he has performed for and given himself to need Dylan even as they profess, as they always have and undoubtedly always will, that they don't really like him anymore. Maybe Dylan's dedication to his "Never Ending Tour" is a prophetic one for him. Perhaps his path is led by a righteous dedication to singing to the [End Page 398] reprobate consuming public, hurling his songs and his tricks at them like holy water on a possessed corpse. Perhaps Dylan just wants to show us how good and true a man can be.

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Figure 2.

"Bob Dylan, Live: By Paolo Brillo"

For Dylan, the disappointment and confusion that his live performances create for his audience are charismatic effects that he is conscious of—a performative challenge he is able to make the most of. His concerts are opportunities for fans and listeners to gather before him and enter into the very banal but always deceptively thoughtful remarks about Dylan's talents that followed him through his electrified barnstorm tour of England in 1966 and that mutated...


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pp. 397-404
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