Tom Palaima Collects and Presents Opinions and Reactions From Older and Younger Students and Aficionados on the Bob Dylan Concert
As the day dawned with clear skies Texas blue and sunny on Wednesday March 16, 2022, there was excitement in the air for a merry band of thirteen (paging the apostles—did Judas Iscariot have God on his side?) members of the University of Texas at Austin community who were soon to be joined by Professor Richard Thomas flying in from Boston around High Noon (note Dylan’s love of western motifs—e.g., the movie starring Gregory Peck in “Brownsville Girl”) in order to attend the concert of Bob Dylan and his band at the Bass Concert Hall with me.
It would be the sixth time that Richard and I, who both teach courses on Bob Dylan, at UT Austin and Harvard respectively, took in a Dylan concert together. Past concerts, with my reviews where noted, were:
- Austin 2010 https://www.boblinks.com/080410r.html#2
- Akron 2017
- New York Beacon Theatre 2019 December 6 https://www.boblinks.com/120619r.html#3 [see also my review of December 5: https://www.boblinks.com/120519r.html#6 ]
- New York Beacon Theatre two shows November 19 and 20, 2021
Richard, author of Why Bob Dylan Matters and an expert in the poetics of Virgil and Bob Dylan, graciously guest lectures in my UGS 302 course Bob Dylan and Socio-Historical Imagination on his ongoing discoveries in the Tulsa Dylan archives of how Dylan shaped his masterpieces into being.
In our merry band were students from my UGS 302 classes the past three years and from my TC 358 Plan II Junior Honors Seminar on the human creative response, individual and collective, to war and violence. Also part of the group were:
- George Walters, a former award-winning creative senior thesis writer who continues to work with me on interpreting Dylan.
- Antonella Del Fattore-Olson, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in French and Italian, who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation connected to Dylan years ago (1978). Antonella’s sister-in-law Carla Olson was lead singer in Carla Olson & the Textones to whom Bob entrusted covering “Clean Cut Kid” on their album Midnight Mission (1984) before he released it on Empire Burlesque in 1985.
- Garrett Bruner, PASP and INSTAP archivist in the Program in Aegean Scripts and Prehistory (PASP), which I founded at UT in 1986 and have directed for the past 36 years. Garrett is a passionate and learned humanist and a dedicated student of world poetry. Working with him in the PASP archives brings me great joy. His spirit pervades the archives and inspires everyone who has worked in PASP or remotely with its on-line materials.
The students, Melania Dobson; Lucy E. Kulzick; Collin Taylor; Anuj Mocherla; Andrew Vanek; Rachel Williams; Sofia Pratt; and Socratis John Zavitsanos, were drawn to the concert by a wide range of personal, musical and other creative interests. It has been a pleasure to explore with them the wonders of Dylan’s songs in their overall cultural and sociopolitical contexts. We will give their reactions to the concert below.
Most ticket expenses were covered by the Robert M. Armstrong Centennial professorship, for which we are extremely grateful. We thank Bob Dylan’s main office and Debbie Sweeney for facilitating getting the tickets that gave these students a close-up view of Bob Dylan and his band. This was a unique opportunity for students who have seriously studied Dylan’s work from 1957 to the present to see him perform. The two tickets I bought personally went to George Walters and long-time Dylan concert follower and reviewer Laurette Maillet (see her review of the March 16 concert at https://www.boblinks.com/031622r.html). Note that Laurette mistook current UT students for high school students. They were so much older then, but in Laurette’s mind, younger in the here and now.
Most gratifying for Richard and me as teachers of Dylan’s work and genius were the responses of the attendees afterwards. I thank them for permitting me to quote them here, largely unedited.
We talked ahead of the show with fellow Dylanophile Kathleen Hudson who teaches Dylan and other forms of Texas music to her lucky students at Schreiner University in Kerrville, TX, home of the famous folk song festival. Kathleen’s latest book Corazón Abierto: Mexican American Voices in Texas Music (https://www.tamupress.com/9781623499020/corazon-abierto) was just released by Texas A&M Press.
I also include comments from Brandon Eichelberg, a student at the College of Charleston, whom I have been helping a bit with his senior thesis on Dylan’s love songs. Singer and songwriter Joe Goodkin, well known for his song cycles connected with Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey (https://www.thebluesofachilles.com/ and https://joesodyssey.com/home ) and also a regular in performing and discussing Dylan’s song poems in UGS 302 and TC 357, put Brandon in touch with me.
I append two additional recent responses to Dylan’s music from students in my current class who did not attend the concert.
Antonella, Richard, Laurette and I came of age listening to Dylan. The current undergraduate students and George and Garrett are forty to fifty years younger and were taking in and exploring Dylan and his music two generations later. Here are their responses, given alphabetically.
You will see with Mr. Bruner that, to steal and use from Planet Waves, something there is about Dylan’s music that strikes a match in him. I think these reactions offer eye- and ear-witness testimony that Dylan’s song poems are timeless and enduring and speak profoundly to the human experience. Dylan’s songs lead listeners to moments of thought and feeling that they would not come into contact with otherwise. They also offer looks into the hearts and souls of human beings in different times and places trying to live their lives as social creatures.
In the standard set list for the Rough and Rowdy Ways tour, Dylan gets us to meditate about what we and he are doing during our times on earth and what humankind has done during its long and wasted years. The set starts with the 1971 classic “Watch the River Flow” that tells us that sometimes the best thing that we can do is plunk ourselves down and just plain be:
If I had wings and I could fly
I know where I would go
But right now I’ll just sit here so contentedly
And watch the river flow
Mid-set in “My Own Version of You,” Dylan’s own not entirely tongue-in-cheek take on themes explored in Frankenstein, Island of Dr. Moreau and “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” he confronts us with the unrelentingly and immutably miserable history of “man’s inhumanity to man”:
I can see the history of the whole human race
It’s all right there – its carved into your face
Should I break it all down – should I fall on my knees
Is there light at the end of the tunnel – can you tell me please
Stand over there by the Cypress tree
Where the Trojan women and children were sold into slavery
Long ago before the First Crusade
Way back before England or America were made
Step right into the burning hell
Where some of the best known enemies of mankind dwell
Mister Freud with his dreams and Mister Marx with his axe
See the raw hide lash rip the skin off their backs
You got the right spirit – you can feel it you can hear it
Dylan closes by giving us binary options:
I want to bring someone to life – turn back the years
Do it with laughter – do it with tears
And after “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” thumps the bible and proclaims the creed in this lost land of ours, Dylan ends the whole show with “Every Grain of Sand,” conveying his moving existential reflections on what we confront time and again, inevitably out in the world on our own, during the unpredictable journeys of our lives:
I have gone from rags to riches in the sorrow of the night
In the violence of a summer’s dream, in the chill of a wintry light
In the bitter dance of loneliness fading into space
In the broken mirror of innocence on each forgotten face
I hear the ancient footsteps like the motion of the sea
Sometimes I turn, there’s someone there, other times it’s only me
I am hanging in the balance of the reality of man
Like every sparrow falling, like every grain of sand
The set simultaneously exhausts and inspires our minds, hearts and souls with its accumulation of the emotions and viewpoints Dylan himself has had during his years as a master song-poet.
The fourteenth song of the seventeen-song set distills the nature of the aloneness we all feel along the paths of our lives. Straight, pithy, no chaser, Dylan croons the B-side of Frank Sinatra’s first single “Melancholy Mood.” His current band fills in superbly for Harry James and his orchestra.
Gone is every joy
Tears are all I have to show
All I see is grief and gloom
Till the crack of doom
Oh, melancholy mood
Listen to “Melancholy Mood”, below
It was the highlight of the fall tour for me and it highlighted the soon-to-be-springtime Austin tour date, too. A small, sparkling jewel Dylan put in his own crown three songs before they turned on the lights.
March 17: I don’t go to concerts much. It’s been years since one. And could be years before another.
So I didn’t have much to bring to this. But I thought Dylan and his band were top notch. What Dylan’s doing at his age, I appreciate — it looked like he was enjoying himself. And despite the setting of a concert hall, I thought the band played very warmly, welcoming as if you were visiting a friend’s backyard.
My ear kept keying on each performer’s instrument at times. And Dylan’s voice and lyrics had their effect. The depths he’s able to sing! I’m still thinking about them, reading afterwards the lyrics I heard or had missed. Quieter songs I liked, for example, “Black Rider.”
“My Own Version of You” also had me reflecting. I have nothing conclusive really to say about it. At times I thought it was the song speaking to the songwriter. Maybe if Pygmalion’s wife had her say. The elusiveness still has me going over what it’s saying though.
(I should add I re-read the same books for years, without really knowing what they mean, so it wouldn’t be unusual for these songs to stick with me in the same way).
“I’ve Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You” was especially moving. Classic sort of images. Rivers, stars, embodied in the speaker, as traveller, on the move. What was moving about it to me was a vulnerable sense of yielding to someone else. What the traveller misses if there isn’t someone to share experiences with. Similarly, it was good to share this concert with friends here at home in Austin.
March 19: I’m still listening to the songs. This morning listened to all of Rough and Rowdy again. “Mother of Muses” is special, reminiscent of a Pindar ode I love, Olympian 14 (For Asopichus of Orchomenus Boys’ Foot Race ?488 B. C.), one of his compressed invocations, to the Graces. Moving.
March 24: Still listening to Dylan a week later. Never gave him a fair chance before, but he’s won me over since that concert. So, thanks.
I think the best compliment paid to chefs is just if you ask for seconds. I’ve been listening to more and more of Dylan since Wednesday. Thanks Tom, again!
April 2: I’m still somewhat in awe, still absorbing having seen Dylan. What a treasure that evening was! I mean it. I’ve listened to Time out of Mind every day since that concert, and much of Rough and Rowdy Ways, Blonde on Blonde. Anyway. Thanks again!
April 9: Still continuing my odyssey through Bob Dylan’s CDs. Now onto Desire and stunned by the opening track “Hurricane”. Most of all its resonance with the past years of strife following George Floyd’s murder (though the song and Floyd are fifty years apart), the buildup and release of what fury Ronee Blakley’s backing vocals add.
How can the life of such a man
Be in the palm of some fool’s hand
The couplet above (and the conclusion about giving Rubin back the time he’s done) reminded me of the poet Zbigniew Herbert and a line from his poem, From The Top of the Stairs, about those like Rubin Carter who are “hostages of a better future.”
Antonella del-Fattore Olson
Thank you so much Tom! It was an amazing evening.
I will try to find the video in which my sister-in-law, Carla Olson, played with Dylan.
She was in his video 1983 “Sweetheart Like You” pantomime of Mick Taylor guitar https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PpRKstHl7Y0 . Then he gave her “Clean Cut Kid” to record in the Textones first album https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvNpmJS63nQ.
Below my reaction to the concert
Seeing Bob Dylan’s concert last night was very emotional to me. I saw him with my late husband Bob at the Erwin Center in Austin, many years ago (1981?). Bob helped me a lot when I wrote my thesis about Dylan, even longer ago (1978). I shared with Bob the magic reality of Dylan’s songs and his magnificent music made particularly special by the wonderful artists who played him. Bob Dylan was as powerful as he has always been.
I really enjoyed the experience of seeing Bob Dylan in concert, and had a much greater appreciation for the performance after taking the course on Bob Dylan. As a whole, you could tell how much respect everyone in the audience had for Dylan and the band; the atmosphere of the audience felt very connected, like a uniting experience that we were all taking part in. This is something felt at other performances, but not to the extent of this show. The performance itself was cohesive, quite seamlessly moving from one song to another, which I really enjoyed, as it allowed for the music to carry the performance along. Which of course makes the set list all the more impressive, as it was able to bring everything together.
Thank you again so much for this opportunity, it gave me so much appreciation for Dylan, his music, and his impact on history, as well as his lasting impact today.
Brandon Eichelberg, commenting on the concert Sunday March 27 in Charleston:
March 28 Just to give you an update on the Dylan concert — It was great! As I said, it was my first time seeing him, which made it all the more enjoyable. He played and sang wonderfully, and I specifically favored “To Be Alone with You” because it was just so interesting hearing an aged Dylan sing one of his younger songs. His whole performance was amazing, but if I had to choose another favorite, it would probably have to be “I Contain Multitudes,” especially since he was smiling throughout most of it. All and all, it was a memorable time!
It seems that we all got separated on the exit, but just wanted to reach out again and say thank you so much for allowing me to come see Dylan live with you and your students! Dayton has spoken nothing but the highest of praise for your work and the class he took with you and I hope we can meet once more before I graduate this Spring!
Have a great night Professor!
I lost you after the show but thank you for the opportunity to see Bob Dylan. I’m still in shock 😂
What was special about the concert was ‘seeing’ Dylan. I greatly admire Shakespeare and Jesus Christ and Homer, but I will never get to see them in my mortal lifetime. That makes seeing Dylan truly exceptional.
I loved the lecture that you organized and helped give at the Union a few years back (University Lecture Series: Bob Dylan: The Next Generation March 21, 2017 with Michael Chaiken, the lamentably late Tom Staley and Caroline Frick https://ugs.utexas.edu/events/uls/spring17-3 and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9AClQVnnkVE ) about the Tulsa Dylan Archives.
A major point that resonated with me was how Dylan traveled and kept moving to have inspiration. I remembered that Shakespeare traveled to Italy and all over Europe before he started seriously writing.
Malcolm Gladwell writes about a “crucible” moment that artists and entrepreneurs go through before they produce work of value. I like how these writers’ and musicians’ crucibles were traveling from place to place. Jesus not as much, but you get the picture.
Thanks for a night I’ll never forget! I really do appreciate it, Tom! I must say I came away a lot more impressed than I thought I would.
Thank you so much for the opportunity to see Bob Dylan! Here are my thoughts after experiencing the concert:
Seeing Dylan in person was truly a special experience, especially as he ages (quite gracefully!) and there are potentially fewer chances to see him perform live in the future.
His voice and presence were spellbinding; it truly did sound like sand and glue as Bowie described. It was one of the best concerts I had ever been to, and I will treasure for the rest of my life that I was able to see one of the greatest musicians of all time in person. I am so grateful to have been able to go, especially after analyzing his works in TC358 (as they related to the Kennedy assassination, people in poverty and landmark injustices in civil rights). It was interesting to hear how his voice captured emotions so precisely.
Thank you so much for the tickets!! Experiencing Dylan live in concert near the front of the venue at Bass was truly unforgettable. I do not know of a single other class at UT that would accommodate students with this kind of rare opportunity. Huge thanks to Bob’s music office as well for reserving the tickets for us in very desirable seating locations. And thank you so much for emailing me and giving me the opportunity to take up on those tickets. Dylan’s performance was truly memorable and the musicians he had alongside him were extremely talented (I was especially amazed by the drummer, Charley Drayton). I’m super glad I could attend and cannot thank you enough. This class was amazing!!
Appendix: Aside comments from two UGS 302 students
April 5: I want to make sure I produce an awesome presentation this Thursday on “Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” Again, thank you so much for your constant help and support! I’m looking forward to presenting and expressing my newfound love for Dylan’s musical genius.
Megan H. Adams
April 5: I think you are a really great and compassionate teacher. I always get a lot out of your class and wish that it was in person so that I could listen better. I enjoyed working on that presentation and I now know how powerful the song “Blowin in the Wind” is and I learned a lot of things I never knew. Have a good day. Thank you!