Dylan’s age shows through during St. Paul concert

Published 6:23 pm Saturday, November 17, 2012

After Bob Dylan’s Nov. 7 concert at the Xcel Center, I heard most people leaving grumbling about how the famed singer/song-writer was finished.

During a three-song-stretch that opened with what Rolling Stone magazine called the best rock song of all time and closed with “the most famous protest song ever written,” I mostly saw people filing out of the arena.

I worried there’d be no one left for the encore.

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Those who’d filtered out by the final three songs — “Like A Rolling Stone,” “All Along the Watchtower” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” — were the kind ones.

As I walked out after that final song, I heard people say things like “that sucked,” “he’s done,” “he shouldn’t tour anymore,” and “someone should unplug his keyboard.”

I spent most of Dylan’s 15-song set struggling to define my own emotions as I strained to understand Dylan’s growls as words and decipher what song he was choking through.

It took me entire verses to recognize both “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall” and “Blowin’ in the Wind” — both rank among my favorite Dylan songs.

The first emotion was awe and its entire dictionary definition: the wonderment and admiration along with healthy doses of dread and fear.

Even though Dylan has aged harshly (abrasively), there’s still a reverence about seeing him live, even if it’s for the third time.

My emotions soon subsided to melancholy, especially during “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.”

When I recognized the song, albeit a few moments in, I instantly remembered a quote by the beat poet Allen Ginsburg on hearing the song’s final verse:

“I heard ‘A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall’ … and wept because it seemed to me that the torch had been passed to another generation.”

But my dread came from the thought that maybe this was the end, maybe this was Dylan’s final concert in Minnesota.

Looking back, I highly suspect he’ll return to perform in a few years, but the age in the 71-year-old’s voice was grinding. Some musicians and everyday people of 71 exude youth, but Dylan and his voice were painfully weathered and mortal that night.

Though Dylan’s latest album, “Tempest,” was very good, his live shows are leaving much to be desired. Most fans don’t have time for artists who are past their prime.

Afterall, we are a culture that transforms its icons into immortals, and perhaps prefers those who depart long before their time.

Take Jimi Hendrix, who died at 27. Did you know Jimi Hendrix only released three studio albums and two live albums during his lifetime? After his death, there have been nine studio albums, 19 live albums, 28 compilation albums and 23 official bootlegs.

Another prime example is Jim Morrison in the 2009 documentary “When You’re Strange.” Multiple scenes show Morrision bent over a map with a flashlight, gassing up a car, and slinking around the desert as news reports of his death play, creating an inkling of doubt that maybe he just jumped ship and has been hiding out all these years.

Tupac Shakur, who died in 1996, is back on stage as a holographic image. A 2010 report found 7 percent of Americans believe Elvis Presely is still alive.

This is not to argue that Dylan is near death — I wish him many more birthdays and more formidable musical years. But, this society glosses over flaws, blurs mortality into legacy, and preserves the images it wants to remember.

In his lifetime, Dylan has been turned into a demigod of the American culture — he’s the man who picked himself up from humble beginnings and made himself into a star.

Example: The first time I head Bob Dylan was in a classroom. And when he awarded Dylan the Presidential Medal of Freedom — the highest civilian honor — President Barack Obama said “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”

Dylan even won an honorary Pulitzer in 2008 to go along with his Academy Award, his Grammies and countless other recognitions.

But on Nov. 7, Dylan’s legacy didn’t stop the steady line of people from streaming up dimly lit steps to beat the crowd and get home before the night was too late.

At least after the concert, we still had Dylan’s words … those we could understand.