About a week ago, Bob Dylan was here and gave a concert. I didn’t go. I really felt no need. I have seen him in concert quite a few times. In large halls, and in cozy small rooms, and always enjoyed listening to him. I’ve already written about how much I love him. But I don’t need to see him. I enjoy him just as much when I’m listening to one of his records, and without all the people around, and all the difficulties going to public places with crowds, though I did hear that things were pretty loose at his concert, and there was smoking and dancing, and so on. I also read his poetry, occasionally… his songs which have appeared in a number of books for the length of his career. Those of you who have read some of the things I’ve written about him, know that I really love him as an artist.
So I didn’t go to the concert, but some of my children did. And the morning after the concert, I couldn’t help but check out the reviews in two of the papers. One was very positive, and in the paper I usually read, there was a rather negative review. Ah, this aroused my curiosity. I learned that the concert was given in a football stadium, and so it wasn’t so easy to see him. And the cameras weren’t allowed to get close, so even on the screens, one couldn’t see him very well. And that he didn’t talk to the audience. We’re used to flattery around here. These world famous artists come to Israel, and tell us how much they love us, and what a wonderful audience we are, and how great it is to play for us. We almost take that for granted. And he didn’t say anything. And then, to make matters still worse, most of what he sang was unfamiliar.
The next evening, Eran Sabag spoke of his experience at the concert, and invited a fairly well known local music critic to join him in a discussion of two subjects; the concert of Bob Dylan, and the life and work of John Lee Hooker, who died ten years ago to the day. Eran Sabag has a rather interesting program on the army radio station, in which he discusses interesting people in history, and plays music, very often blues, between bits of conversations he has with guests in the studio… or bits of information he tells us about throughout the program. His program is on almost every night, starting at 10:00 o’clock, and I listen to it mostly because of the blues he plays… I’m usually familiar with the stories of history he tells us. I don’t listen every night. He is a great fan of Dylan, so it wasn’t much of a surprise that he went to the concert, nor that he described the concert on the radio the next day. He thought the performance was terrific. And his guest, the music critic, agreed with him. By coincidence, both of them had taken their girlfriends with them to the concert, to introduce them to Dylan. I feel a certain congeniality with Eran. We like many of the same things.
As he started describing the concert, it felt as if I was having the experience myself. He described the songs that were played, and quoted some lines from the songs, which he felt were in fact, Dylan talking to the audience. He had heard some of the criticisms… just like I had. He quoted the line, “God said to Abraham, kill me a son. And Abe said, God, you must be putting me on…” You see, said Eran, he was talking straight to us. He spoke of all he heard, and how the people around him behaved, and conversations overheard, including sentences passed between people, as they were going out when it was over… and I tell you, it was just like being there. When Eran’s program was through, I felt as if I had gone to the concert with him. I could understand the complaints too. It’s not so easy for Israelis, most of whom don’t know English all that well. And even if they do, I remember, when I first listened to Dylan, I didn’t always understand all the words.
There were people who compared his performance to another we had here, not so long ago, when Leonard Cohen came to visit. Not only did the cameras get real close, so you could see every expression on his face, but there was also simultaneous translations of his songs, written on the screen, so everyone could understand the meaning of the songs. And Cohen had sung his songs in a very recognizable way… not too different from the way they were on his records. Dylan is a different sort of artist. He has written a lot of songs… more than he has sung, and some were written for others or sold as songs. He doesn’t want to find himself turning into a juke box or a parrot; hearing himself sing the same song the same way. Each time he performs, it’s a new experience… for him too, and he does different versions of the same songs. That is one of the reasons that I liked the Budokan album so much.
At the start of this week, I was off to celebrate the summer. These are the long days of summer, and so there’s quite a bit of time left when the day’s work is done. Not to speak of the fact that school is over, and all the kids are free, even though they too have alternative plans, trips, summer school, clubs, special courses, soaking up the sun, and surfing. You ask a ten year old child these days if he feels like going to the beach, and he has to check his calendar before he can give you an answer. But that’s okay. His calendar is connected to his phone… and he’s never without his phone.
So, I filled the car up with gas, and then, with Noga by my side, we steered down the mountain going north-west… heading for a beautiful beach in Rishon Letzion, where we’ve been before. Gamliel and Hagit were going to join us there, with their six kids, and Yael was going to join us with her four. And Jonah was going to come straight from work… though as we got there, we heard that he’d been delayed at work, and would come later. The beach was clean and beautiful, with paved sidewalks for the more sensitive. There were coffee shops, and restaurants, and toilet facilities, and music in the air… there were cute trash bins in the shape of a dolphin standing up… and because of the well designed sidewalks there were a number of handicapped people on wheel chairs that had come out to take advantage of the beautiful summer weather. The sun was beginning to descend towards that large body of water that is the Mediterranean sea, and it was reflected in the sea. I found myself completely sun blinded, as I tried to watch the great expanse of water before me, and I sipped my strawberry milk shake through a straw.
The heat of the sun brought thoughts of sun storms, fires on the sun, and how they can affect our weather down here on earth. With most of the educated and politically aware people of this world worrying about the dangers of global warming, the signs are out there that we may have to spend a rather colder 50 years ahead, because of sun spot activities. It has happened in the past and it will happen again. The earth has known ice ages, and green jungles covering the globe, at different periods… long before anyone was worried that human activities might increase concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.
For someone used to thinking, one thought leads to another, and a train of very interesting and deep thoughts can occupy one’s mind simultaneously with continued sensual pleasure, and visual stimulation, just as one can listen to music while washing the floors. The one doesn’t have to affect the other… it doesn’t… but it did for me… on that day. For months I’d been longing for a visit to the sea; wanting to hear the thunder of the waves against the shore, and see the deep blue waters; wanting to smell the sea, the salt, and the sea creatures beneath the water… and likewise, I had looked forward to the family get together, and the wondrous freedom of a carefree summer day. But I had become lost in thought on the minuscule importance of man within the system of nature. How fleeting and transitory was life… and it happened… I lost my connection to the place, to the moment. The physical reality escaped me. I wasn’t there. Now I’ll have to go back, and do it right.
Two memories; one in which I wasn’t there, but came to life by the grace of another’s enthusiasm… and another, in which my body was there… but my mind was lost… and it became as if I wasn’t there.