Some people walked out of some Bob Dylan concerts this summer. Paul McCartney wonders if Bob Dylan is doing too many new songs at these shows. “But my concern is for the audience,” he says and I believe him. Sir Paul is a man who knows money. He thinks about what I’m paying for a Paul McCartney concert ticket. He respects the contract between us. I saw his show in Albany, NY, in 2014; it was his first after an alarming little hiatus while he recovered from something he caught in Japan. The evening was a parade of pleasure. He brought 50 years ago to life, he even brought 30 years ago to life. If we’d forgotten why we love him, he reminded us dozens of times. He flowed from instrument to instrument; he danced and smiled and laughed. The customary comment that he’s “spry” for his age doesn’t cover the joy he takes in running here and there and simply being Paul McCartney. I don’t know what it takes to make those songs sound the way I wanted to hear them–exactly like the record, but nothing like a recording. I forgot there was a contract between us because Paul McCartney did not forget there was a contract.
Now I want to turn back into a pumpkin and lecture on the dark arts of Mr Dylan whose contract with the ticket in my hand is not less binding, only differently binding. Of course he cares as much as Sir Paul cares about delivering on my purchase of his time. Of course he works each song. Of course he hears himself. He’s not immured, or stranded, in an unreachable realm of intentions none of us can fathom. Although he doesn’t boogie so much for us, and his beauty is an acquired taste, Bob Dylan is even so not a weaker magnetic field than is Sir Paul.
“So much for these long and wasted years…But I miss you most of all, my darling.” These two lines are what I hear most often two months after the four shows I took in (Wolf Trap twice, Forest Hills, and Atlantic City). He sang Long and Wasted Years and Autumn Leaves back to back each night. The songs are both disingenuous about the same thing: how painful it is to endure memories of love–listen, listen, there is more pain where that came from. The first song feels like the iron it mentions; each word rings out like metal striking stone and turns the air cold and acid. The next song is deep and mild; I could hear one ochre leaf falling from its branch, and see, there is a crimson one following its dying brother. In the first song the scenes of a long lifetime are hard to bear: an exiled family; hints of ugly scenes. In the second song I just follow each bygone moment fall softly to its rest. Both songs need a deeply-lived voice and that’s what they get. Cracked and sore.
There’s not enough of me to have lived the lives of either of these songs, let alone both of them. But if I pay enough attention, Bob Dylan will live them both for me.
Bob Dylan fans are cultish arrogant dullards. We’re a cult of opacity and contrarianism, and contests of endurance and minutiae. Our love is so deep and agonistic. We think Sir Paul is right, and we like to see people leave the shows. Each disappointed ticketbuyer only deepens our pretentious righteousness.
Just give us more.