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Bob Dylan at 77, and the Nobel Laureate’s Never-Ending tour goes on

The whisperings have begun. The Nobel laureate for Literature, if recent history is repeated, may visit these shores this year. There’ll be no readings in quiet surrounds, no book signings nor handshakes. This laureate sings his body of work electric, most of the time.

If Bob Dylan does return to Australia, he will be 77. His birthday is on May 24. Given his record of tours Down Under (the last was in 2014), by the time another comes around he will be in his 80s. That is, of course, given good health and inclination, no reason to stop, but with each year the wheels turn slower, even on a Never-Ending tour. It’s the natural order of things.

Never ending is, after all, a fairy tale. There is no Peter Pan, though the rock and roll life does a good job with the mythology.

Patti Smith, a mere spring chicken at 71, said farewell to her Australian fans last year. Others of her’s and Dylan’s generation have announced final tours: Paul Simon, 76, who begins his this month and ends at Madison Square Gardens in September, Elton John, 71, begins his three-year farewell that month and American southern rock legends Lynyrd Skynyrd finish up this year, 45 years after their debut album.

Never ending is, after all, a fairy tale. There is no Peter Pan, though the rock and roll life does a good job with the mythology.

Dylan has been on tour for what seems like forever, but is merely a few decades. He didn’t call it that, but the label has stuck simply because no one can keep up to his schedule on the road.

Just from the ’90s on, he has played Melbourne in 1992, 1998, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2011 and 2014. According to the website citylab.com, which analysed his Never-Ending tour here: until 2013 he had played more than 2500 shows at more than 800 cities and travelled more than 1.6 million kilometres. The numbers now are of course bigger. He is just coming off a tour of Europe.

A date is locked in for him to play the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan on July 29. Really, if he can get to Japan, it’s only a sleep away (about nine hours) to Australia. He toured Japan in 2014 before the Australian leg. So, perhaps, his eyes will turn south.

With such longevity comes the luxury for a listener of caring and not caring for sections of his career be it folkie, protest, electric, country, gospel, swing and covers. It is all Dylanesque.

Dylan first toured Australia in that maelstrom year of 1966 when the bonfire he lit in 1965 by “going electric” backed by the Hawks, later The Band, seemed to raze the past and build a present and future unseen before in rock. Shortly after that 1966 tour, everything changed again. He had a motorcycle accident, and disappeared from view, retreating to the country.

When he did emerge, his was a different music, but anyone who cared to look and listen closely would realise it was all of the one piece. As it has been for half a century.

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With such longevity comes the luxury for a listener of caring and not caring for sections of his career be it folkie, protest, electric, country, gospel, swing and covers. It is all Dylanesque. And so enraptured are some fans they will go to every concert in every city of to see him perform. At this stage of Dylan’s career, where the setlists rarely change on tour, this is a monumental (and expensive) act of homage. What other artists – in any medium – can engender this devotion and faith?

Dylan, in his Nobel lecture, said that songs were unlike literature. “They’re meant to be sung, not read.

Dylan, in his Nobel lecture, said that songs were unlike literature. “They’re meant to be sung, not read. The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert or on record or however people are listening to songs these days.

“I return once again to Homer, who says, ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story.’ ”

When you hear a Dylan song, you are not just in that moment, you are hearing centuries of stories of men and women travelling down the highway, feeling at home, feeling lost, inside and outside themselves and society. It could be ancient Greece or modern New York.

Time renders all things as one, and there will come a time, as songwriter James Long wrote in 1871 that the “long lasting quiet waits for me/down in the silent grave”, when the voice will be stilled.

What is a song if it is not sung?

What is a poem if it is not read?

Until that conquering, there is a song to be heard, a concert to see. Perhaps.

Bob Dylan’s setlist in Germany last month:

Things Have Changed, Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, Highway 61 Revisited, Simple Twist of Fate, Duquesne Whistle, Melancholy Mood, Honest With Me, Tryin’ to Get to Heaven, Pay in Blood, Tangled Up in Blue, Early Roman Kings, Desolation Row, Love Sick, Autumn Leaves, Thunder on the Mountain, Soon After Midnight, Long and Wasted Years. Encore: Blowin’ in the Wind and Ballad of a Thin Man.

READ MORE STORIES ABOUT BOB DYLAN HERE

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10 responses to “Bob Dylan at 77, and the Nobel Laureate’s Never-Ending tour goes on

  1. DAVID AND i HAVE HAD THE HONOUR TO SEE OUR MUSICAL POETIC FAVOURITE 5 TIMES ABSOLUTELY LOVE HIM. . wOULD HAVE GONE AGAIN BUT HAVE A NEEDY FAMILY AT THE MOMENT AND COULDN’T REALLY SUBSTANTIATE THE COST. i AM SO GLAD THAT THE REVIEWER WAS REBUKED FOR USING HIS MOBILE PHONE. WHATS WRONG WITH A PENCIL AND PAPER. WE HAVE HAD CONCERTS ALMOST RUINED BY PEOPLE FILMING AROUND US. RESPECT FOR THE ARTIST AND FELLOWMAN AROUND WOULD SEEM APPROPRIATE. THE LACK OF MANNERS AND LAZINESS ARE INFURIATING.

  2. Yes, You’re absolutely right. Copy is being corrected. My only excuse is I must have been listening to Under the Red Sky at the time.
    Warwick

  3. Um, actually his birthday is 24 May. Can’t argue with anything else. I’ve been to many of Bob’s performances but not all. Loved some but not all. Would I go again? Probably, if only to avoid possible regret if I don’t, but not if it means sitting half way back in Rod Laver arena.

  4. I saw Bob at the Tivoli in Brisbane on his last tour, it will be one of the standout gigs of my life. It was the second time I had seen him. The first in my 20’s in the early 2000’s I didn’t really enjoy it. Since then I had gotten into the blues and Tom Waits and this time round the set just resonated with me. A small venue and the crowd was there to enjoy it. I remember seeing Tim Finn walk by at one stage.

    1. It was an awesome gig Ro – hope he does a club show again – will see 5 or 6 this tour (if and when it happens)

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