If You Want Me To, Yes


In the year 563, a fellow called Paul the Silentiary visited Hagia Sophia and was entranced by the effect of the hanging lamps lighting the interior of the church. “Thus, ” he commented, according to the little placard beneath a surviving lamp fixture in a case on the first floor of the Metropolitan Museum, although to whom the Silentiary provided his comments I couldn’t say, “is everything clothed in beauty…no words are sufficient to describe the illumination in the evening. You might say that some nocturnal sun filled the majestic church with light.”  All we  can  know, now, in 2010,  of the marvelous light within  Hagia Sofia 1447 years ago, is the eloquent stupefaction of this man.  The phenomenon can’t have an objective reproduced life outside this man’s wonder.

This is a sad loss, that the works of humankind cannot any longer be known only through the impressions of the people for whom the works were made in the first place. Nothing now is made, nor done, nor schemed, without an immediate objective reproduced  life distributed immediately to anyone, incurious or curious.

It’s all true, everything you’ve heard: the performances of  Bob Dylan’s current tour are, well, a nocturnal light, a  marvelous handiwork. You’ve already  read the reports of Bob Dylan’s strong and nuanced singing, the band’s working joyfully at a new level of togetherness, the new arrangements exciting and revealing, and, most of the most,  Dylan’s newly greathearted stage self. You can, and should, see and hear it all for yourself.

Here at gardenerisgone, all this newness comes after a drought of 357 days.  There was United Palace in Manhattan last November, and then 357 dry days passed, and then this past Sunday, there was  Monmouth State University, in Long Branch, New Jersey.  These droughts are fraught with anxiety ranging from ordinary fretting to nightmarish apocalypses.  And as I download set lists hours after shows I am utterly unable to attend, a concept supernatural to Paul the Silentiary-  I’m also fraught with bitter or wistful envy for anyone anywhere who managed to share time and space with Bob Dylan and Co., while I endured life in Brooklyn. The drought ended with an hour’s subway ride, another hour on New Jersey Transit, and another hour in a friend’s car to get to Long Branch.

 I’m directing all these comments to someone in the year 3457, whom I imagine has just discovered Time Out of Mind, or The Witmark Demos. I am hoping this person finds my tale  something similar to what I found in Paul the Silentiary’s account:  something quaint and thrilling and gone forever and ever.  Perhaps the archaeological record in 3457  will not reveal  what New Jersey Transit is, just as I do not know and do not wish to know what a Silentiary is. Although  I’m certain it’s something we need more of in 2010.

So my drought ended. I thought I knew the song Not Dark Yet, and always I levitate when I get to hear it live, and there it was, coming to life in Long Branch. And….something happened in those 357 days to alter its genetic code.  When I worked in a bookstore, whenever someone bought a book by or about Dylan Thomas, I would chortle, “Oh, the lesser Dylan,”  a comment I recognize is neither polite nor clever, despite being sincere.  I liked to set Not Dark Yet against Do Not Go Gentle into That Good Night, as the difference between a true and beautiful  vision of age, and  a naive and selfish vision of age. Raging against the dying of the light is the sort of phony ardor that a young poet wishes his own elders to model. In reality, the dying of the light sounds and looks like the deep slow burn of Not Dark Yet. Vitality in age is sleepless endurance without the will to fight the coming darkness, indeed, some of this vitality is spent in tempting the darkness.  A young person may be seduced by the beauty of Not Dark Yet into the singer’s aging shadow world, but a young person is likely to be reminded by Thomas’s poem that he really simply does not want to grow old and feeble.

I was proud of my subtle and arrogant reading of the song, I was sure I had it nailed.  At Monmouth State University, Bob Dylan did his signature stage prance up to the microphone, the lovely low notes announced Not Dark Yet, and Dylan sang the song. Front and center, arms out, hands open–all disarming and all intent–he faced down the song’s different  surrenders, and helped us hear the moral muscle needed to do this. The song will never console, but now it can inspire, when I previously thought what it could do was instruct and move. 

In the new arrangement of Tangled Up in Blue, the story is abridged to the point of mutilation, and then delivered with a care that tells you  what you must know about the singer’s need to get his life across to himself. And then the story is illustrated with a nearly perfect harmonica solo. It’s  become a strange performance art– it’s oddly irrelevant how many or few verses he sings one night to the next.

Disarming and intent. Front and center, then  back to the keyboard, then front and center. These shows have a different rhythm that’s a mongrel of  theater and concert. Sometimes Dylan’s a storyteller, sometimes a sideshow barker who knows exactly how strange his creatures are, sometimes a heartbreaker, sometimes a singer–I think Bob Dylan has hit his stride as a minstrel, a one man show of many fictions and no lies. He closed  with Ballad of a Thin Man, remaking that carnival, and gently reminding me  that I don’t know what’s happening either. And now he’s framed  by the curtain behind him with another foreboding  image from a deserted and lovely floating world —well, my goodness, poor Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill are rolling in their graves and muttering, goddamn that’s what we meant all along.

You must go,  you absolutely must. You can hear vigor and expressiveness (and sometimes even Stu!)  on a recording, but you must be there to share the greatheartedness, to enjoy your slice of this nocturnal sun. There’s so little of ours we can keep the future from stealing, take all you can get.


4 thoughts on “If You Want Me To, Yes

  1. YES!
    What a gorgeous review. I wish we could have met and exchanged a hello. I too was at that show and told anyone who would listen it was the best show and Dylan show I’d ever experienced. (I didn’t put it quite so eloquently, using many more expletives in my excitement! lol) I tried to explain to people about the performance art and theater aspect, the great storyteller telling us his life- and ours- but… you had to be there.
    Tangled was perfect- the way he started in the third person, past tense and then to first person- the older man remembering and telling the story of the younger self’s experience. And that was just one layer.

    For me Forgetful Heart was so moving, the weariness, the self understanding.

    Your take on Not Dark Yet is lovely. I would add though that you did “have it nailed” for the time and place you were when you felt that meaning. Again, just one layer. That is what separates Dylan, shows his genius, his beauty. The layers just grow and become fuller as we do. Patterns become more complex and meaningful, take on more breadth and depth, move us more deeply as we are weaving the patterns of our own lives. This is what separates a good and enjoyable novel from a great one, “nice” poems from timeless poetry, (and maybe why some scripture resonates for some and not others?)
    Dylan really is a great, timeless artist. Which doesn’t begin to say it, like saying I’m a “fan.” Reading thoughtful Dylan talk really helps one for articulating one’s own thoughts, feelings, insights into his artform.

    I still haven’t quite come down from the show- It was two years for me since the last show in Asbury Park where I live. I too, when I read the reviews and then the comments on the shows throughout the tour envy all those who get to go. I read the songs he is doing and hope he’ll do this or that one. I don’t begrudge them hearing some of the pieces I want so much to hear live but I always wonder how people can get to so many multiple shows in each tour and wish I could spend a year following the tour, and after shows my laptop and some basic art supplies in a hotel room writing and creating art journals of the experiences. (like a half crazed, obsessive aging groupie is how some of my friends and family might put it!)
    You really expressed so much of what I felt at that show. I’m glad you waited a bit to write it, giving me a chance to come down from the infusion and absorb your thoughts.
    I thank You.

  2. Oh-mercy, you sound so much like me! Hello there. I can’t wait for my next Dylan experience. What a great write-up about ‘Not Dark Yet’, it’s probably my favourite song. I struggle with and also know why I find it so strangely comforting. I shouldn’t worry about that any more than I should worry about loving Mr. D. It’s all good…

    Thanks for this – I’ll be downloading this show asap.

  3. Nina:

    Wonderful review. I love the way you sneak up on yourself when you are really moved. All I can add is that you saw the same kind of show I did, in Ann Arbor a month earlier. I’ve seen Dylan about once a year for the past 20+ years. Two or 3 of those shows were fairly weak–though never without their splendid moments–but most of the time I have left feeling elated, thinking “yeah, he’s still got it, he’s still the man telling our tale.” But a couple of times–in the spring of 96 and a month ago–I left thinking, “Oh, I’ve never seen or heard this before.” I’ve had that experience 4 times (live) with Dylan–of the 40+ times I’ve seen him–once in ’65, once in ’80, and these last 2. And the great thing is, none of those 4 Dylans is remotely the same, though many of the songs are (except of course in 80). I don’t know how I would sum up the first 3, but “greathearted” absolutely does it for the last. Thanks.

  4. NINA
    Thanks for your email.
    I’m behind on everything so I’m just going to post a quick reply now and get back to you later- I know you will be busy with Bob this week.

    No- I am not going to see Bob anywhere else.
    I would love to go to the Borgata but I do not have a car and the transportation logistics are a nightmare- not to mention the cost though if money came my way through selling something- anything- I’d look for a ticket on ebay and rent a car.
    I need to move where cars are not a necessity.
    Have a blast! I’m looking forward to hearing/reading your experiences.

    As an aside I got my Montague street 2 and will order a copy of the first edition after the first of the month- don’t want to miss one issue of this.
    It really is GREAT!

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