Tim Van Schmidt
Starved for some new music, I recently turned to an old, trusted musical friend for some relief — namely singer-songwriter Bob Dylan — and ordered up his new album, “Rough and Rowdy Ways.”
After spinning the disk a little in the car and at home while making nachos, I realized that even though the flow of the words was impressive and some of the tunes rocked, I just wasn’t listening.
So I thought I would fix that by experiencing my own personal Bob Dylan “concert,” circa 2020. You know, sit down and seriously listen.
Of course, this wouldn’t be anything like Dylan’s famous concert at Hughes Stadium in Fort Collins in 1976 — the soggy Rolling Thunder Revue show that became the album “Hard Rain.” My wife went to that while she was attending UNC and she says all she remembers is being crowded in close — and the rain.
There would be no crowds or rain when I settled into my media room to tune out virus concerns — and all the other bad news –and tune in to Bob Dylan.
To open the “show,” I brought in Bob Dylan, circa 1963. I pulled out a vinyl copy of Dylan’s 1963 album, “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” to remind myself of the feisty, clever, acerbic, tender, dead-serious, and crazy creative artist he was when he broke onto the scene.
“Freewheelin'” is Dylan’s second album — released in May 1963. The album is jammed full of classic young Dylan, including his most enduring song, “Blowin’ in the Wind.” But the most powerful track here is “Masters of War,” an unflinching, cold stare-down of a song, taking to task the military-industrial complex with a resolve that might have been considered dangerous.
“The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” remains vibrant — it’s a true work-out of words, music, and personality. Dylan even experiments with a rough band arrangement on the song “Corrina, Corrina.”
Skip through 57 years of other Dylan music-making, and enter the main act of my home “concert,” Bob Dylan, circa 2020.
“Rough and Rowdy Ways” is as impressive an outpouring of words and expression for the 79-year-old artist as “Freewheelin'” was for that 22-year-old.
The music itself on “Rough and Rowdy Ways” is more or less wallpaper, although very effective at times, especially the full band stuff that’s far and away more sophisticated than “Corrina, Corrina.”
What’s really important here are the words that Dylan keeps spinning into a rich fabric of wry observations and whip-lash vision. These nine new songs, which are more like rap pieces at times, are perplexing, challenging, expansive, and curious all at the same time – in other words, pure Dylan.
The encore for my Dylan home “concert” was the extra disk that came with “Rough and Rowdy Ways” — a 17-minute musing on the assassination of President John F. Kennedy titled “Murder Most Foul.”
It’s a sobering experience, listening to this modern bard tie together so many cultural and political threads. He does some riffing here- calling out to legendary DJ Wolfman Jack to play a whole list of his favorite recordings. But for the most part, “Murder Most Foul” stands with “Masters of War” as an unflinching condemnation of the worst of human scheming.
My “Bob Dylan concert 2020” left plenty behind. I’ll be thinking about what I heard for a long time to come and that’s the mark of a good “concert.” That’s also the mark of an artist that is still burning.
Tim Van Schmidt is a writer and photographer based in Fort Collins, Hear his interviews with international musicians on Youtube at “Time Capsules by Tim Van Schmidt.”