Just breathing Dylan's air will do

23:36, Jun 15 2014
bob dylan
COMING TO TOWN: Bob Dylan will hit Claudelands Arena on August 9.

I want to join the chorus. How good is it that Bob Dylan is playing in Hamilton, in my very own neighbourhood of Claudelands? It is very good. I can walk down the road to see him, the skinny man with the reedy, raspy voice who provided part of the soundtrack to my growing up.

Dylan and the Beatles. Dylan was the protest musician, driven and intense; the Beatles' work was laced with their inimitable humour. I went to a concert at Western Springs in Auckland a long time ago to see my favourite Beatle, Paul McCartney, on his New World tour. Wife Linda performed with him; it was before tragedy struck them, and McCartney got into that messy business with Heather Mills.

I edged as close to the stage as I could. I think he may have looked in my direction, I loved every moment of it.

Now it's Dylan, the American singer-songwriter who spoke to my generation, whose anthems are printed on my mind. I missed his concert in Auckland at Vector Arena in 2011, the one that polarised his audience; some people said he was a genius, others that his voice was awful, and he didn't engage with his fans. My good friend Jill attended it; when I told her about the Claudelands concert she said simply, "prepare for disappointment".

Jill wasn't as explicit as a man on the internet who described Dylan's aging voice as sounding "like your baby boomer parents having awful sex; like someone sifting gravel; like a dial-up modem gargling," and more. There's certainly no shortage of people online who've put the boot into Dylan's vocals.

I don't care. I'm not besotted by him, I just want to be there. As one of my colleagues said when the Hamilton date was announced: "It's Bob Dylan, just to breathe the same air as him will be amazing".


I wonder if he really knows the impact he's had, the memories and images his music conjures. I only have to hear the opening lines of Mr Tambourine Man, Blowin' in the Wind, Lay Lady Lay, Just Like a Woman, The Times They are a-Changin', or Like a Rolling Stone to be flicked back to the '60s.

There we all are - big hair and short skirts - belting them out at Saturday night dances in Cambridge, at parties in my friend Hilary's parents' basement, in friends' flats in Hamilton, and there's Bill and me singing Dylan as we drive to the beach in summer. The radio in Bill's blue car at full volume, Dylan along for the ride to Whangamata, the Mount, or wherever.

A decade or more later, we went to couple of laid-back Nambassa festivals near Waihi, sat with hundreds of others in sunny, grassy amphitheatres, and heard various artists perform Dylan's work. So many others have sung his vast catalogue that sometimes it's hard to remember what's actually his.

I watched him on YouTube the other night, just after the Hamilton concert was announced. There's a wonderful vintage clip of him doing Mr Tambourine Man at the Newport Folk Festival in 1964. He'd have been about 23, a slightly built kid with puffy hair, a one-man band with his guitar, harmonica on a neck-rack, and distinctive grating voice.

There were no modern-day trappings of celebrity or any obvious minders on hand; a couple of men adjusted the microphones, Dylan jumped up on a makeshift stage and played and sang. Just did it. Now I can't get Mr Tambourine Man out of my head.

What was it about him that we liked so much? His poetic lyrics, his versatile musicianship, his intensity and obvious intelligence? In the 1960s, his music spoke of freedoms and liberal values that hadn't quite reached our conservative Kiwi shores. Dylan seemed a cocky, talented guy who didn't take any crap from anyone; he was his own man, part of a new wave. I think we liked that about him as much as his music.

His work covers more than five decades of social and musical change, and by all accounts he's had a challenging personal life running alongside his career. He's made dozens of albums, and his next release, Shadows of the Night, is to coincide with this latest visit to New Zealand and Australia.

Goodness knows why, at 73, he keeps touring so relentlessly. Surely it's more restless spirit than money. And goodness knows what the concert will be like. But as I said at the beginning, I don't care. I'll be the ex-'60s chick with silver hair applauding the legend who has unexpectedly dropped into my neighbourhood.