President Obama said of Dylan in 2012, “There is not a bigger giant in the history of American music.”
He’s so mythologised some people say it’s like seeing a ghost, and nowadays his words rasp like the last ones he might ever speak.
From tomorrow, Bob Dylan plays three nights at the Opera House, the first time the greatest living American artist has ever performed in town. He’s one of the very, very few musical icons of the last hundred years who hasn’t.
I have been asked, “Why Blackpool?” a lot this week. Well, in world touring terms, Blackpool is close to the conurbations of Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, so in that respect its a great choice for the northern stretch of his limited UK dates. This idea of people coming for the weekend and watching top shows was what we as a town used to do best – before we blamed Spain for everything.
Those unfamiliar with a Dylan gig may not be quite ready for the show they are going to get. Dylan is not like Paul McCartney or Bruce Springsteen or for that matter any other live performer of similar stature. By this I mean don’t be expecting a methodical run through of his greatest hits. Dylan is not part of any nostalgia circuit, so best brush up on his more recent work.
If he does play an old classic, knowing the words will help as there’s a good chance it won’t sound anything like the recorded version.
It’s unlikely he will say much if anything, it’s not rude because he’s not a stand-up comedian. He might not even pick up a guitar or play a harmonica and may just choose to stand behind an electric piano all night. It doesn’t matter anyway as his band are staggeringly good.
What I am saying is when you are sitting in the Opera House watching Bob Dylan play, it means more than all this. You are in the presence of a genuine living legend who’s cultural impact on the last 60 years can only be matched by The Beatles.
Somehow, in the day and age of offensive celebrities bleeding in public, Dylan has remained an enigma. He’s been at the top of his profession since he was 21. He’s now 72 and has had more faces than the National Portrait Gallery (where, incidentally, an exhibition of his latest artworks is on display right now – he’s a genuinely respected painter in his own right).
The teenage Minnesotan hitchhiked to New York and dived into his own, self-penned myth.
Looking for a truth and transparency which didn’t exist in a paranoid and segregated nation only 50 years ago, he became the voice of young America. His contribution to the civil rights movement alone is too often undervalued – he literally stood behind Martin Luther King at the ‘I have a dream speech’ in Washington DC.
With a lyrical alchemy of beat poets, French symbolism and American gothic – and exploring every chapter of America’s rich musical history – Dylan dominated the 60’s and 70’s with albums like ‘The Expecting Rain?.
The tour he’s on now actually started in 1989. Imaginatively, it’s nicknamed the ‘Never Ending Tour’.
I recently heard him saying he once made a bargain with destiny, with ‘the commander in chief’, and that’s why he’s been on the road so long.
Well, whoever he did a deal with, don’t miss this once in a lifetime opportunity, and if you already have a ticket don’t miss the point.
I doubt he will be passing through Blackpool again anytime soon – this is a real honour for the town.