July 12 had finally arrived, and there we were at the Toledo Zoo amphitheater for the long-awaited Bob Dylan concert. As our tickets revealed, our seats were in row W. The seats were not individual chairs but, rather, spots on benches. While I tried to find our seats, I made the joke that there we were, looking for the "group W bench." A person a few rows down laughed. He understood the allusion I had made to "Alice's Restaurant" by Arlo Guthrie, a song released in 1967. It was then I knew that I was taking my place among a very different group of people my people.
Besides the fellow who understood my joke about the group W bench, I spotted many with gray hair. Others had visibly dyed hair with gray roots. There were quite a few gray ponytails and balding heads. Of course, there were younger people, too some accompanied by parents who grew up in the '60s, and some on their own. But most had been around when Bob Dylan first became a star. We had come to see one of our heroes.
When Bob Dylan came onto the Toledo stage last week, it was such a thrill. It didn't matter that he was so far away from me, in row W, that I couldn't really see his face. He was wearing a hat throughout the concert, and it didn't matter whether, as I theorized, he might be wearing that hat to cover up a balding head. It was an honor to be in the same general area as Dylan. That was enough.
Since it was a concert, I should focus on telling you about the singing. As many of you know, Bob Dylan is not a great singer. Never was. Still, I was not prepared for his hoarse voice which croaked out lyrics even less melodiously than he used to. I could not understand the words as he sang them; some songs were only recognizable by the instruments playing the chords and keeping the beat while Dylan "sang." It didn't matter. I knew all the words from listening to his records over and over again. I recognized the chords; I was thrilled. I was in the presence of greatness.
Here's part of what the Toledo Zoo Web site said about him, in promoting the concert: "Much of Dylan's most notable work dates from the 1960s, when he became an informal documentarian and reluctant figurehead of American unrest. Some of his songs, such as "Blowin' in the Wind" and "The Times They Are a-Changin'" became anthems of the anti-war and civil rights movements."
Oh, is that what he was? A figurehead and a documentarian? I thought he was a musician and poet singing directly to me, putting my thoughts and feelings about love, war, politics and hypocrisy into words. I can remember playing "The Times They Are a-Changin'" for my parents (who I then thought were very old), to try to let them know how obsolete they were. I had a Dylan poster hanging on the wall of my bedroom. But I had never seen him perform I could not have afforded the tickets.
So here I was, decades later, in his presence. And a smile refused to leave my face as the music blared and Dylan croaked many of his old songs, as well as some new ones.
He wasn't the same, but then again, who is? And in his immortal words, "He not busy being born is busy dying." At the age of 66, Dylan is going strong, and I was there to see him. Maybe I'll buy a Dylan poster.