Montreal - May. 27, 2011 - Wow.
Yes it was a wow kind of night at Petit Cafe Campus on Bob Dylan's 70th birthday. A very Montreal wow.
No matter who or what I'm listening to I always make it back to Dylan. At least once a month. Yes, I'm somewhat addicted (Not obsessed as one Gazette Letter to the Editor suggested. If you're really looking for obsessed, you have no idea.) but it feeds my core belief about the human condition. That the head, the heart and the soul are one. And when they're all working together it's sheer beauty. Music, especially live music, gets me to that place. Dylan's music transports me out of the ballpark, out of sight and out of this world. Nobody comes close. A Bruce Springsteen concert is a live event like no other, the greatest show in rock and roll. Some of his songs are brilliant and attending a Springsteen concert can be a spiritual experience but ultimately I've always felt more affected in a physical sense. Listening to Dylan makes the experience metaphysical.
I'm constantly plugged in to a wide variety of music but in anticipation of Dylan's birthday I started working backwards all the way to his debut album in 1962, aided by the newly released Mono versions of his first eight albums plus the also recently released Witmark Demos which feature many of his classics being recorded onto tape for the very first time. The number of quality songs that Dylan has written is beyond staggering. The fact that he managed to write so many great songs that also happen to be so meaningful is beyond remarkable. And that so many of these great songs have crossed the borders -often straddling them -of so many various American music genres (folk, country, blues, rock, gospel, soul) is almost beyond belief.
Bob Dylan will always be identified, mostly, with the 1960's. His body of work in that decade is what made him an icon. If, God forbid, he had never gotten up after falling off his motorcycle in Woodstock in 1966, his body of work would still be help up as model for aspiring songwriters and performers. His troika of albums in the mid-60's, "Bringing it all Back Home", "Highway 61 Revisited" and "Blonde on Blonde", recorded during an 18 month period, raised the bar to a level that's never been equalled. And doubtless, never will be. But his production in the 60's didn't stop. Recuperating from his accident and/or an addiction to heroin (perhaps) and amphetamines (probably) Dylan and The Band recorded the highly influential "The Basement Tapes" (only a portion of which were ever officially released) followed by "John Wesley Harding" and "Nashville Skyline". No wonder he decided in 1970 to release a double album of mostly covers ("Self Portrait"). Although derided by critics, time has again proved that Dylan was way ahead of the pack. Which major rock star since has NOT put out their own version of "Self Portrait"?
Dylan in the '70's was almost as brilliant beginning with "New Morning", which featured Bob on keyboards for the majority of the songs ("What's he doing on keyboards???" has been a common complaint by some of his "fans" after attending a Dylan concert in recent years. Well, he was actually doing that 40 years ago). He composed his first film soundtrack "Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid" and then, if not replicating his mid-60s output, coming fairly close in releasing "Planet Waves", "Blood on the Tracks" and "Desire" in rapid succession. Some people point to 1978's "Street Legal" as the beginning of a decline but I love that album. It's sound was horribly muddy upon initial release but nicely cleaned up in a recent remastering. His marriage over by then, it's Dylan singing at his soulful best. As the 70's ended Dylan released "Slow Train Coming" an album that revealed his conversion to Christianity which prompted hundreds of thousands of his "fans" to replay, en masse, the chant of "Judas!" that was hurled at Dylan while on stage in Manchester, England in 1966 because he had the audacity to pick up an electric guitar. This time it was because the same guy who sang "..don't follow leaders" had apparently committed the ultimate betrayal by singing about Jesus. As somebody who has never been a believer in organized religion I did not, as many of my fellow Jews did, throw in the towel and consider him to be some kind of traitor. His vocal performances on that album - and on the tour that followed - left little doubt as to the sincerity of where he was emotionally. And, dammit, how else would I have discovered Shirley Ceasar or The Dixie Hummingbirds or The Blind Boys of Alabama?
There's no doubt Dylan floundered in the 1980's. His autobiography "Chronicles Vol. 1" explains that era well. But the 80's also featured songs like "Solid Rock", "The Groom's Still Waiting at the Altar", "Every Grain of Sand", "Jokerman", "Dark Eyes", the epic "Brownsville Girl", "Silvio", "Everything is Broken", "Most of the Time" and one of his greatest ever, "Blind Willie McTell". A life's work for some. A"bad" decade for Bob Dylan.
Dylan seemed to get his groove back in the early 90's. And, as Van Morrison once suggested in concert, "It's Too Late To Stop Now!" He's still on the road, "...heading for another joint..." at age 70 bringing his body of work to a new generation of fans and, on those real good nights, reminding so many of his long time fans what attracted them in the first place. It's Dylan as performing artist. I watch him now, as I had the opportunity to do so a few months back at UMass in Amherst, spitting out his words at the lip of the stage, to "Ballad of a Thin Man":
You see somebody naked
And you say "Who is that man?"
You try so hard
And you don't understand
Just what you will say
When you get home
Performing naked, with nothing but a harmonica in one hand while answering the never ending criticism that still comes his way. (A recent Wall Sreet Journal editorial suggested he should retire while Maureen Dowd of The New York Times raked him for agreeing to perform in China while being "censored". A claim that had no truth to it at all.)
All the truth in the world adds up to one big lie
-Things Have Changed (Oscar winning song, released 2000)
I don't know when or even if I would have discovered Dylan if not for my late sister Cherise who was playing something off "Bob Dylan's Greatest Hits" while I was reading Red Fisher in the Montreal Star. I put the paper down and walked into the room where my sister was. Anticipating my question while no doubt studying my face, she said "It's Bob Dylan. You like it? He's great".
It was in the spirit of Cherise, and the city I love and the musicians that help me love it, and of course the man who links us all, that I decided, with a little help from my friends Lloyd Fischler, Gary Silverman, Glenda Rother, Mojo Len and Bill Brownstein, to throw a Bob Dylan 70th birthday bash at Petit Cafe Campus. Every musician who was asked to play, for nothing but beer, played. Some waited nearly eight hours but they played their asses off. Gary and I tried to get a surprise special guest to show (Levon Helm, Garth Hudson, Jimmy Lafave and Greg Keelor among others, politely declined) but then it wouldn't have become the magical Montreal moment that it was. Jammed to beyond capacity, the front door was locked at some point after 9:30. Yes it was noisy, but s### happens in a bar. And the artists gave so much. Some of the most mesmerizing performances took place in the final hour in front of about 50 die hards who waited out 30 acts and nearly seven hours.
Among those still applauding at 3 AM was my sister, Rhona.
Thank you all.
May 24 @ Petit Cafe Campus
8:10 PM - 3 AM
Bob Dylan (Recording) - "All I Really Want To Do"
Future Ex-Wives w/Shane Murphy - "If You Gotta Go, Go Now(Or Else You Gotta Stay All Night)
Craig Morrison & Friends w/Ryan Fleury, RD Harris, TerryJoe Banjo & Danielle Lebeau-Petersen
Alex Nesrallah - "Love Minus Zero/No Limit
Alex - "It's All Over Now, Baby Blue"
Craig Morrison - "Seven Days"
Craig - "My Back Pages"
Craig & Alex - "Mr. Tambourine Man"
Gerry Kandestin - "Just Like A Woman"
Gerry - "Man in the Long Black Coat"
Pat Loiselle - "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues"
Danielle Lebeau-Petersen - "Buckets of Rain"
Danielle & Everybody - "Odds & Ends"
Lloyd Fischler - Reads Greil Marcus on Dylan
Beaverness - "Love Sick"
Beaverness - "John Wesley Harding"
Bill Brownstein - Speaks & Intros...
The Steamfitters - "Goin' To Acapulco"
The Steamfitters - "Ring Them Bells"
The Steamfitters - "Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat"
Lloyd Fischler - Reads Patti Smith on Dylan
The Van Roskies - "Like A Rolling Stone"
The Van Roskies - "I Shall Be Released"
Lazarus Moan - "Going, Going Gone"
Lazarus Moan w/Jim Zeller - "Watching The River Flow"
Bones Malones - "Political World"
Bones Malones - "Beyond Here Lies Nothing"
Matt Large & The Smalls - "Lonesome River"
Matt Large & The Smalls - "Man of Constant Sorrow"
Terry Joe Banjo - "Man on the Street" & "Troubled And I Don't Know Why"
Pat Lesyk & Jonathan Moorman - "It Ain't Me, Babe"
Pat & Jonathan w/TerryJoe Banjo -"Wagon Wheel"
Norm Rennie w/TerryJoe Banjo on mandolin - "Senor (Tales of Yankee Power)"
Pat Mastey w/TerryJoe Banjo - "Tangled Up In Blue"
Pat Mastey w/TerryJoe & Craig Morrison - "Isis"
Tim Smith - "Simple Twist of Fate"
Laurel Jackson w/DLebeau-Petersen, Katie Sevigny & Lee Mellor "You Ain't Goin' Nowhere"
Bobby Dove - "The Cuckoo"
Bernard Perusse - Reads Arlo Guthrie on Dylan & Intros...
The Echohunters - "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright"
The Custom Outfit w/TerryJoe Banjo - "Ballad of Hollis Brown"
The Custom Outfit w/TerryJoe Banjo - "Masters of War"
The Future Ex-Wives - "Girl From The North Country"
The Future Ex-Wives w/Shane Murphy - "It Takes A Lot To Laugh (It Takes a Train To Cry)"
Filly & The Flops - "Wallflower"
Filly (Felicity Hamer) & The Flops - "You're No Good"
The Jimmyriggers - "Queen Jane Approximately"
The Jimmyriggers w/Jim Zeller - "Cold Irons Bound"
Lee Mellor w/The Jimmyriggers -"Chimes of Freedom"
Lee Mellor & The Jimmyriggers - "Slow Train Coming"
Dave & Bill Gossage w/ Bud Rice - "Ballad of a Thin Man"
Dave & Bill Gossage w/ Bud Rice - "Forever Young"
Annakin Slayd - "Subterranean Homesick Blues"
Leela (The Damn Truth) w/Jim Zeller - "She Belongs To Me"
Leela w/ Jim Zeller - "Oh Sister"
Johnny Griffin - "Meet Me in the Morning"
Johnny Griffin - "Satisfied Mind"
Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald - "In My Time of Dying"
Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald - "I Threw It All Away"
Rob Lutes & Rob MacDonald w/JZeller - "Blind Willie McTell"
Jim Zeller w/ JD Slim - "I'll Be Your Baby Tonight"
Jim Zeller w/ JD Slim & David Pearce - "Lay Lady Lay"
Paul Deslauriers - "Down in the Flood (Crash on the Levee)"
Paul Deslauriers - "(Most Likely)You'll Go Your Way & I'll Go Mine
Shane Murphy Band - "Highway 61"
Shane Murphy Band - "See That My Grave Is Kept Clean"
Shane Murphy Band - "Rainy Day Women # 12 & 35"
Shane Murphy Band - "Highway 61 (Revisited)"
The Lights came on at 3:05 AM.
So when does Keith Richards turn 70?