18 November

A Kind Of Goodbye. Blowing Kisses To Bob Dylan, 50 Years Later

by Jon Katz
Blowing Kisses

So there I was with Maria, three hours into the Bob Dylan/Mavis Staples concert at the quite gorgeous Palace Theater in Albany, tears streaming down my face,  blowing kisses to Bob Dylan as he sang an encore and walked off of the stage.

Dylan and I have a curious 50-year-relationship. I was living in Greenwich Village, holed up in a tiny apartment above a pizza parlor,  trying to write about the violent and divisive 60’s, when it seemed as if the country was tearing itself apart (there is really nothing new in history.

The cafe culture was still affordable and accessible in the Village then (there is Starbucks coming to the Cafe Wha) then, the young could afford to live there, and word went around that a skinny young singer from Minnesota of all places, a disciple of the dying Woody Guthrie, was going to sing.

There was something about him – a gift for writing, a fierce folk ethic, a charisma, and a curious voice – that caused a lot of buzz. He was said to be an astonishingly brilliant writer. I needed to see him.

Somehow, everyone seemed think he was going somewhere. I went to the cafe and was stunned by what I saw and heard. I knew right away the rumors were true, he was unlike anyone else.

The buzz was correct. Dylan had tapped into something power, something Guthrie himself had sung to, he had an empathy for ordinary and working people and a passionate sense of social justice. His music and lyrics blew me and everyone away. He wrote anthems that touched people deeply. I wish he were doing that today.

I went to hear him sing several times, and saw him walking around the village but we never met and he has not, I am certain, ever heard of me. He is a Nobel Laureate now, and still writing and singing, although he has moved far away from the folk culture and no longer writes anthems that stir the young.

He is still an amazing musician now, his voice is different, he still sings and plays for hours while never speaking to or acknowledging his very devoted fans. I did not closely follow Dylan’s music in the past decade or so, I do not know the lyrics to all of his songs. I do not make a great fan.

I try to listen to his new albums and I admire his experimentation and lack of bullshit and hype. I often listen to his brilliant early works.

In his 70’s, he still tours all the time, and it was a joy to see Mavis Staples, she had the crowd on its feet screaming.

My connection to the Dylan has always very personal, he brought me back to a different time in my life, when I was living in New York City, and like so many others in the world, trying to make my way in Oz. I saw him from beginning to end, I celebrated his rise.

There, at that time, and partly because of him,  I chose to become a journalist and save the world and continue my writing. My life changed. Dylan was definitely an inspiration to me, the times were changing, and I wanted to be a part of it, and he was the great chronicler of it.

Dylan evoked rec that lonely and idealistic young man drunk on the magic of New York City, but drawn to write about the 60’s rather than join a movement. I became a watcher, detached and curious and obsessed with writing.

My life did not quite go the way I imagined then, I never ever thought I would be living on a farm with donkeys and sheep and dogs, but I have no regrets about it either.

Dylan has this habit of singing some of old songs, but most are barely recognizable to me, he has quite admirably continued to experiment and change. His music is still brilliant and strong, his presence one of dignity and purposefulness. He is at ease with who he is, he is no Woody Guthrie, he is the musician he wants to be, well into his 70’s.Good for him, he has never stopped making music.

My sadness came from the sense that i was seeing Dylan for the last time, that this was a goodbye, I felt it in my bones.

I don’t know if I will have $400 lying around next time, and mostly, I just wanted to see him one more time, to connect the present with the past. I suppose I was also sad because when I first saw him, we were young men on fire at the start of our adult lives, loose and living in one of the most exciting and fascinating places on the earth.

I am fine being older, but there is this sense of loving in the present, not of dreaming about the future. That is a loss.

I had this almost mystical sense of connection with Dylan, now we are two old men brought together again after a half-a-century in upstate New York. How strange. I avoid nostalgia, it seems a trap to me, but I was swept back in time and promise last night, it was powerful and emotional.

My life is so much better now, I am so much happier now, but I admit I felt an overwhelming sense of emotion, even melancholy, at this farewell. Dylan never says anything at his concerts, he just sing and I certainly got my money’s.

I have no idea what he might be thinking, whether he might have some of the same thoughts..

But it was a goodbye, and a farewell, not just to him but to so many dreams and hopes, of necessity left behind in those enchanting and distant times.

Suddenly, i was crying and blowing kisses to Bob Dylan, as he walked off of the stage, not 50 yards from me. So long, Bob, how remarkable to play so great a part in the life of a stranger, and so many other strangers.

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