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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I woke this morning at 5 French time, 4am in England, and a while later we put on the radio at, as it happened, exactly the right moment to hear, live, Barack Obama's victory speech. We were thrilled, moved and happy. We're not so naive as to think revolutionary political change will sweep away all the meanies, abolish capitalism and the arms race and let the meek inherit the earth - but it is a great victory for all those black Americans who suffered under, and struggled against, the segregation and disenfranchisement that still reigned in the USA when Blind Willie McTell died and Barack Obama was born. And for those of us who were always on their side. To see those long, long lines of black Americans, and a whole new young generation, waiting to vote with excitement, determination and hope, was electrifying.

Obama's speech echoed that hope. He showed himself aware of the wider world, thoughtful about how the US dominates this world, and full of grace and dignity. And it thrills me that while he doesn't thrust black American culture down different cultural throats, his rhetoric sounds resonant chords with everyone at all familiar with black church worship in the States. You couldn't but hear Sam Cooke's 'A Change Is Gonna Come', itself a transmitter of the cadences of black preachers, when Obama said, without sentimentality or triumphalism, "It's been a long time coming..."

Even Bob Dylan, mostly so wary, and rightly, of political endorsement, appears to have given Obama a sort of endorsement at his concert last night in Minneapolis. ("Sort of" because he wouldn't have been quite certain of the result when he was onstage, so that he was hesitant, perhaps, about counting chickens - yet his brief remarks invoked quite some historical sweep.) I rely, as often lately, on the report relayed by John Baldwin's Desolation Row Information Service this morning, as follows:

Concert Review: Croaky Dylan Welcomes Winds of Change
Jon Bream, Star Tribune, November 5, 2008
Tuesday was an historic night for the United States -- and for Bob Dylan. After what had been a frustratingly erratic performance at Northrop Auditorium, America's most famous protest singer finally made a long-awaited pronouncement before his final song. After not saying a word for the preceding two hours, Dylan said something about being born in 1941 and mentioned Pearl Harbor. And then he declared, "It looks like things are going to change now."

The sold-out crowd of 4,791 fans (who were wearing more Barack Obama T-shirts than Dylan T-shirts) roared with approval as Dylan eased into "Blowin' in the Wind," his classic 1960s protest piece recast as a slow Southern stroll. "How many deaths does it take to know that too many people have died," he barked in a hopelessly croaky voice. The crowd roared. Dylan, who usually closes with the rocking "All Along the Watchtower," ended this evening with a warm, gracious answer to America's problems.

After Dylan and his band took their bows and the houselights went on at Northrop, concert-goers checked their cell phones and started screaming about the results of the presidential election. They headed outside of Northrop and began singing and dancing on the University of Minnesota campus.

Earlier, the crowd had reacted enthusiastically to anything Dylan did that was remotely political. When he got to the second chorus of "The Times, They Are A-Changin'," the response was boisterous. During "It's Alright, Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)," the line about the president of the United States having to stand naked brought a huge reaction.

Making his first appearance on the university campus since he was a student there in 1959-60, Dylan didn't make any comments about the U or his home state. Maybe if he had stayed for more than a couple of quarters at the U, he could have taken a music class that discussed how a singer should treat his/her voice. Frankly, Dylan's voice hasn't sounded this bad for so many songs in recent memory. That gravelly croak suggested too many cigarettes, too much phlegm and too little hydration. His mumbling phrasing is challenging enough, but combine that with a parched growl that sounded like Tom Waits with laryngitis and Tuesday night turned too often into "Name That Tune."

Despite being in dubious voice, Dylan gave a fairly passionate performance. "Masters of War" was ominous. He sang the mellow "Shooting Star" like it mattered. He got into "Thunder on the Mountain," grooving with playful body language. He delivered the bluesy bluegrass scorcher "It's Alright, Ma," the night's high point, with emphatic conviction befitting this unforgettable night.

John Baldwin tries to clarify what Dylan said like this: 'After Like A Rolling Stone and after the band intro, Bob said what appears to have been - "I was born in 1941, the year Pearl Harbor was bombed. It has been dark ever since. I guess things are really gonna change now".

Minnesota voted strongly for Obama (with 98% of precincts in, it gave Obama over 54% of the vote to McCain's under 44%).


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Although it seemed obvious that he was going to win I couldn't help having this horrible feeling that things would somehow go wrong. After 8 years it seems that the US have finally come to their senses again and can maybe be a force for good in the world. God knows they've been the axis of evil for long enough now.

He'll have a hard time living up to everyone's hopes, but it's got to be a change for the better. Feels a little like when Kennedy was elected. Let's just hope he's not a womaniser, unlike his illustrious predecessors.

10:54 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

Let's just hope he's not assassinated.

2:02 pm  

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