“It’s either going to be really great or an absolute train wreck”
It was only minutes until Bob Dylan came onto the stage, our final act for Byron Bay Bluesfest. What a way to end a fantastic three days of music, with outstanding performances from some of my favourites such as Michael Franti, John Legend and Ben Harper.
I was a little concerned as Bob is kind of way beyond his prime, and that can do damaging things to someone’s credibility as a music revolutionist. I knew that how he appeared to me right now live on stage would be how I would most remember him when I left the Tyagarah Tea Fields.
Toot Toot. Chuga Chuga. Crash and burn…
It was the worst concert I have ever seen.
The rain came pelting down as soon as he began his first song. The thousands of people who gathered from all over the country to watch this living musical legend huddled together to help cover each other from the rain, straining our necks to get a glimpse of Bob at the same time.
We followed the spot light to see white hat of a small man sitting in the corner banging on the drums and singing.
The man in the hat
There he was Bob Dylan. The big screens sitting either side of the stage that for 5 days had been showing eager fans the faces of their favourite performing artists were now black.
How could they have such a tech stuff up for their main act? Was I going to be standing in the rain for the next hour and a half watching this white hat, trying to decipher just what the hell he was trying to sing?
But then I remembered the big black letters on the photography release white board out the back in the media room.
Bob Dylan- ABSOLUTELY NO PHOTOS- (Sorry Guys)
I guess no photos meant no filming either in order to live stream onto the big screens. I thought of the hundreds of people behind me who were sitting around the screen at the far back, behind the lighting and sound box making it impossible to see the stage. They had most likely been sitting in that spot for hours just waiting to see the musician who has recently been compared to Shakespeare, for his monumental contributions to the Arts.
How ripped off must they be feeling? I started to burn up with distaste for him, my respect for him slowly began to dwindle.
The rain had now passed, Bob had moved from behind the drums to center stage so we could see in full view his small stature, which to me was now representative of more than just his size.
There’s no denying that his accomplishments over the past 50 years deserve respect and admiration. I have spent many nights with friends in many countries listening to Bob Dylan, philosophising on life and dreaming of living through the days of the 60’s when change as a comin created by the hands of the people.
Those memories began to shatter like broken glass in a tornado with each note that was sung from barely recognisable songs.
If it wasn’t for Bob Dylan’s greatest fan bouncing around next to me in total joy singing the words his songs, I would never have been able to decipher the incoherent dribble that was coming out of his mouth. Not even the arrangements of tunes such as “Don’t think Twice it’s alright,” made it any easier to determine what he was playing.
Each once magical hit was absolutely butchered and sounded the same as the song that came before it. There was no singing of the lyrics, the ability for his husky voice to do that was lost many years ago to the haze of booze and bongs. A barking dog and the odd spoken word now replaced what was once so great.
“Woof, woof, woof…tooo. Wolf wolf wolf doo”
Repeated over and over again, to just different music. There were moments when Bob slipped into harmonica heaven during his songs that I was able to find some magic of what made him so great, but that connection didn’t last for long.
The dense crowd slowly began to thin out as after each new song finished a couple more people decided enough was enough and walked out of there. I longingly watched them walk away wishing I could just do the same, before ever memory I had of Bob’s music was totally smashed beyond repair.
I began to pull at my fingernails for comfort and crouched down to my knees, not just to relive my aching legs and back muscles, but in the hopes that maybe he sounded better from the ground up.
I felt as if I was sitting at the bar next to an old man inebriated on whiskey who rambled on and on incoherently to me about days gone by when life was great and he made a difference. And I was stuck trying to get out of there filled with pity, disbelief, and a complete misunderstanding of what this man once stood for.
“I really don’t think I can take much more of this Craig. I think I just have to go. This is absolutely horrible.”
Craig barely heard me so lost was he in his facebook community.
And then after not a single word to the crowd for the whole hour he raised his hand in farewell and exited the stage.
“Can you believe that he has not said one word to the crowd. Not one welcome, not one display of gratitude?”
Now I was pissed.
We had seen so many great artists performing over the last 5 days and each one had engaged and interacted with the crowd in such uplifting ways. They spoke of their love for the festival and their gratitude for their fans, some of them even pulled random fans out to dance or sing with them.. They told us the stories behind their songs, and their hopes for the future. Their words inspired us and gave us something to connect to and make relevant to our own lives. They helped us to believe what barriers we could overcome in our life in our quest to live our passions and dreams.
And he couldn’t even say hello.
“Have you noticed the back of the stage how he has black curtains up, where people backstage could stand and watch the artists perform.” Craig pointed out to me.
He had blocked out everyone. All he wanted was to be the star, the one who everyone came to see and worship. He didn’t come here to give back like everyone else has. He was not making a difference with his own two hands.
I know being in the limelight for all those years must be extremely hard, but this is the life he signed up for. It’s possible to still maintain some privacy while giving back as well. And if you can’t then give it up and do something else.
“Do your research, as he does not suffer fools,” was the advise given to me by a muso journalist when I thought I was going to have the opportunity to interview him. I’m glad I didn’t as I don’t suffer arrogance or those who think they are holier-than-thou.
Yes Bob, you are talented beyond many and totally changed the face of music all those years ago. But success in life is not one-sided. It doesn’t matter what field you are in or how great you are, your success is largely in part contributed to those who listen to your music, buy your books or watch you game after game slam dunk the winning shot.
The fans. There were those who travelled for miles to see you Bob, they spent their hard earned money to come pay their respects, the elderly, those with children. They sat in the rain, they competed for space just for a glimpse, they bought your records for years and years, giving you the opportunity to live your dream life, and you couldn’t even say hello, thank you or goodbye.
Bob Dylan, you stink. I don’t care how great you are or your music. Just because you are who you are doesn’t mean you can walk around like you are God, commanding the respect and admiration of others. You forgot that part of your responsibility for having the “stardom” or success you do is to give back to those who helped you get where you are. Usually a simple thanks or acknowledgment of presence will do.
Yes you came out for encore, which I refused to clap and cheer for. You still didn’t say a word, and who could get excited about an incoherent barking of “Like a Rolling Stone,” which the crowd tried desperately to sing and carry for you, not quite pulling it off with any enthusiasm that you would usually find at a concert led by a passionate and energetic star.
The grand finale was a song that would have moved any adoring fan, young and old, to relish life and the beauty of youth’s energy, had it been sung thirty years ago.
Woof woof woof, Forever young (spoken)
“Oh no Craig.” I whispered half way through the song when I finally worked out what it was. “This is one of my favourites and such an all time great. I’m shattered.”
He finished, the crowd cheered. He stood out the front in a line with his hands out open in a gesture that spoke, “What about that hey? Didn’t I give you a good show?” and then he turned and walked away.
Everyone always desires to be forever young, trapped in our prime. But, this cannot be.
Age is a part of life, and Bob, you should have immortalized yourself by retiring years ago. That way in our minds you would have remained Forever Young.