Last Saturday I experienced my first Bob Dylan concert. Even now, trying to write about it, makes me feel…not exactly star-struck, but a little inept. It was probably one of the most poetic experiences of my life — in a surprisingly organic kind of way. But it’s taken me a week to reach this conclusion. My first impression was that a Dylan concert is a lot like a Bob Dylan autobiography. The lights go up, the lights go down. You only see what he wants you to see –at least that’s what you think — in the beginning.
In the beginning of the concert, before the lights went up, Bob was introduced by an unnamed recorded male voice whizzing through these words: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome the poet laureate of rock ‘n’ roll. The voice of the promise of the ’60s counterculture. The guy who forced folk into bed with rock. Who donned makeup in the ’70s and disappeared into a haze of substance abuse. Who emerged to find Jesus. Who was written off as a has-been by the end ’80s, and who suddenly shifted gears releasing some of the strongest music of his career beginning in the late ’90s. Ladies and gentlemen – Columbia recording artist, Bob Dylan!” Then the lights went up, and for the next 90 minutes we only saw him when he was playing and singing a mere 14 of the over 400 songs the icon has released over the past 47 years. The only words he spoke were to introduce his band, and that didn’t come until after the first song of the three-song encore.
But that is the genius of the Poet Laureate of Rock ‘n’ Roll. He forces us to focus on the songs, the poetry. Bob Dylan accomplishes in a very literal sense what C.S. Lewis wrote about poets, “The poet is not a man who asks me to look at him; he is a man who says ‘look at that’ and points.”
You cannot look at a man in the dark, and in the concert, Bob turned on the lights (literally and figuratively) with every song. That is how he points us to the full, brilliant pictures of life — his and ours. Seeing Bob Dylan in concert didn’t show me anything new about this legend. You don’t have to “see to believe” Bob Dylan. You just have to listen.