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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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Friday, February 12, 2010


. . . or rather, there might have been more but wasn't. Another YouTube video has emerged, just showing the end of the 'Times They Are A-Changin'' performance - but then lingering on Dylan and showing, I think very clearly, that he was expecting to be singing a second song (which would supposedly have been either 'Blowin' In The Wind' or 'Chimes Of Freedom') - and after a minute's uncertainty, he's told he can't do another. (Presumably because of the strict scheduling.) It's an interesting moment, and it's here. Thanks to John Baldwin's Desolation Row e-newsletter for drawing it to my attention - and also for relaying these much more positive comments from other newspapers:

Washington Post:
“Onstage, no one seemed rushed -- especially not Dylan. Giving his first performance at the White House, America's most iconic pop songwriter ambled onstage and dragged his wonderful, weather-beaten voice over a handsome piano and bass arrangement of "The Times They Are A-Changin'." After the song, there was an awkward pause, a handshake with the president and a hasty exit.”

Wall Street Journal:
“The highlight of the evening may have been the brief appearance by Dylan, who sang an arrangement of his song “The Times They Are A-Changin’” that featured piano, stand up bass, and acoustic guitar.”

For myself, I still like it, and having watched the PBS videos on YouTube of Joan Baez's performance of 'We Shall Overcome' and Smokey Robinson & Jennifer Hudson's 'People Get Ready' - the first with its gushy spoken intro and its inappropriate schoolmarmy getting-everyone-singing stuff in the middle, the other so showbizzy (a great song, of course, but so slick and safe a performance) - the more I appreciate Bob Dylan's having achieved something so one-off and so reflective. It's to his credit, isn't it, that he brought something so precarious to so over-polished an occasion?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Beautiful & majestic; deeply attuned to the meaning of the occasion.I feel it would be wonderful for him to tour small venues with this type of backing & arrangement.


10:16 am  
Anonymous wee tommy said...

I agree that Dylan's choice of song and his performance of it are just wonderful. One to be treasured. I cringed a bit at Baez's, but I can understand why she did it - in a way she's waited nearly 50 years for the chance. Also, there will be a lot of people in the US having fits at the sight of a black president singing along to We Shall Overcome, and it's worth it for that alone. I think you're a bit unfair on the Hudson/Robinson contribution.

2:45 pm  
Anonymous Bev said...

It is good - the 'review' I saw in the Guardian suggested Bob was dreadful and the worst performer of the night, but actually hearing it shows how wrong they were.

7:19 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I thought Bob's performance was brilliant. It was very moving, and a beautiful arrangement. To see & hear Joan sing "We Shall Overcome"; the same song she sang (at Dr. King's side) 47 years ago at the March on Washington (outside The White House), today (inside the White House) in front of President Obama is pretty amazing in many ways. I respect Joan for singing (and speaking) her heart & mind to audiences in concerts around the world, and doing the same to the most powerful man in the world, and not "skipping a beat".

9:15 pm  
Anonymous kieran said...

Why did they do that? He'd just sung beautifully, and he was plainly ready for more. He's Bob Dylan! You don't "disturb his Never-Ending Tour" in the worst snow on record to have him sing one tune!

I have to admit, he shrugged it off in style, but they should have given him another song at least. Especially on this form...

10:10 pm  
Blogger joe butler said...

What was Dylan about to sing next at the white house? I feel a whole new blog and a boatload of seminar papers coming on.
Would he have had the nerve to sing Hattie Carrol? That song would have beautifully recalled how it must have felt to be at the back of the bus.

3:20 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm curious about the number of comments over the past eight or nine years concerning a theory that Dylan is arthritic, and no longer able to play guitar.
The assumption is that the "real" reason he has played keyboard over the past several years in concert, and the opinion of some observers that his playing at the White House was prompted not by his intent, but because of acute pain and disability doesn't reconcile with something like this clip from only a few months ago does it? I play enough to envy the ease and dexterity with which Dylan moves around the fret board. Pat Ford

6:30 am  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

He was apparently going to sing either 'Blowin' in the Wind' or 'Chimes of Freedom', though the former seems to me highly more likely. I agree about Hattie Carroll: I think it would have been the most exciting, apt, eloquent and dramatic choice in the circumstances. But then 'Times They Are A-Changin'' was the safest

9:04 am  
Anonymous McHenry Boatride said...

I'd venture to suggest that Only a Pawn in Their Game might have been an even braver choice than Hattie Carrol given it's acceptance that there are two sides to every story. But we'll never know, so I guess it doesn't really matter.

As an aside, what did you think of John Mellancamp's performance? Seemed OK to me, and an interesting little preamble.

10:52 pm  
Blogger Michael Gray said...

McHenry, you're right: 'Only A Pawn in their Game' would have been a brave choice.

Let's not keep on about Mellencamp. His preamble seemed to me smug self-satisfaction (in effect "I was so right-on I had black friends and didn't even notice they were black" and "hey, I'm tough: I used my fists y'know") and his performance numbingly nothing. So we're never going to agree about him.

10:37 am  
Anonymous Bev said...

Even the NME (who I doubt have even mentioned Bob for years) had some kind words to say about it, and quite apt ones too:

"If all the blogging and spinning and hyping leaves you feeling a bit jaded at times, it’s good to remember that music really can be part of something more solid than a record number of MySpace plays. It doesn’t get more emotive, or iconic, than Bob’s astutely bare, graceful rendition of his definitive protest song at a celebration event for the civil rights movement, hosted by one Barack Obama."

6:22 pm  

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