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I have a friend in Buffalo.  At one time, he might have been my best friend. I don’t know.  I don’t really understand how that stuff works.  But I do know that without his friendship, I would never have become what I became. He gave me my start in a lot of things, and encouraged me in some other things that I never really got off the ground.  Like my career in music.  I wrote a lot of songs, but could never hustle myself into the eye of the world. Not that my writing career has been all that notable in terms of a career.  But I have managed to make my living from writing since 1989, the year he facilitated my move into professional journalism, and I received my first check for a piece I wrote for his newspaper. Anyway, we liked a lot of the same music, and saw a lot of movies together, all in the Boston area in the1980’s. We went to quite a few concerts as well, and sometimes he brought some friends to hear me.  But although I’m a pretty good singer and have written some decent songs, I never enjoyed performing that much, and there weren’t many people who got much of a kick watching me perform.

Another old friend of mine who used to play in a band with me in Seattle explained to me once that in order to really be a successful performer, you had to think you were the coolest guy in the world.  I mean really believe it.  Like Kurt Cobain did. That guy really thought he was something.  And compared to most of the other stuff happening then in Seattle, I suppose he was pretty good.  Of course, he was no Brett Anderson, no Damon Albarn, no Jarvis Cocker.  But for Seattle, he was okay.

But back to Buffalo.  Bob Dylan starts his first North American tour there tonight.  And I don’t know if my old friend is going or not.  I posted something on his Facebook, but he never answered me.  I think maybe he thinks I went crazy when I expatriated myself out of the country to start a new life in Peru.  A lot of my old friends would say I lost my mind long before that,  way back even before the Seattle PI stopped publishing and I was jobless and became a hermit  and wrote and two books that I never even tried to get published because books didn’t really exist much anymore.  The main reason I moved to Peru was to be with the girl I loved, but another reason I left is because the United States as I had known it in my sixty years of the “American” experience had been pretty much wiped away by illiterate boors who got their ideas about culture and politics from talk radio and their dating do’s and don’ts from television shows like “Friends.”

Around the time I left for Peru, Bob Dylan had released “Tempest” and was touring the states but not playing many songs from the new album. He played Seattle a few nights before I left but I didn’t go because ticket prices were too high and I wanted to hear the new songs, not the same show he had been touring for the last decade.  I’m hoping that he plays a lot of Tempest songs on this new tour.  If he doesn’t, I’m afraid people are going to forget the album exists, much as they have forgotten Together Through Life. That album sucked and deserves to be forgotten. I don’t even think that many people heard it in the first place.  Every time I tried to listen to that thing, I fell asleep before the fifth song was over.

I listened to Tempest several times a day until I boarded the ship in Fort Lauderdale for Peru.  We left the harbor an hour before our scheduled departure in order to try to outrun Hurricane Sandy.  Had we failed, perhaps I would have something thrilling to insert here, but it was smooth sailing all the way to Panama and down the West coast.  A lot of people think the music from their idols of popular song are directed straight at them, and I fell prey to this superstition somewhat because I had left Seattle on a train and arrived in Lima on a  boat, taking something of the same journey Dylan had taken with Tempest.  But not really.  His Titanic was not the Titanic of History but the Titanic of   Prophecy, and the Veedam was in no way representative of the World’s End.   Quite the opposite,  Those ten days at sea gave me a taste of the luxury that most North American’s expect is their birthright, sure as they believe that God gave them the bomb to  protect them and their plunder.

So now, that nation is faced with the fallout of a stink-ass war that was supposed to have ended sixty years ago, and Bob Dylan is on tour again.  The Black Pope rises to rescue and return the church to God, and Bob Dylan opens the first concert of his new tour with “Things Have Changed.”.  Nicolas Maduro accuses the opposition of sabotaging Venezuela’s power grid, and I’m wondering if my old friend from Boston is going to see Bob Dylan in Buffalo tonight. Bob Dylan is doing a soundcheck and I am listening to Tom Robbins’ Notes from the Underground, a show he used to do for three hours every Sunday night on KRAB radio. And the sound of the music is so aggressively alive, like music used to sound in the days of records and radio. These same records sound so dead to me today when I listen to them on CD or ITunes and I wonder if it is my imagination, so after Tom Robbins plays Memphis Blues Again, and I hear what I heard in 1966 when I bought the album, I listen to the song on ITunes and yes, it sounds dead compared to the radio broadcast.  And it is not just that the radio has too much treble.

Between the songs, Robbins talks about LSD, subhuman policemen, the superiority of the Peanut Butter Conspiracy to the Mamas and Papas, the sexual desirability of both Sonny and Cher, the parody of a be-in promoted by Trips Lansing at Sick’s Stadium, the replacement of linear thought with original intelligence, and reads from the Bible, the LA Free press and answers a letter from a teenage girl fan who wants to know if artists should go to college. This was July 1967; a year and a half after the night Bob Dylan took a break from a Blonde on Blonde recording session in New York City to answer telephone   calls on Bob Fass’ late night radio show. Damn, radio used to be good.*

Kel and I were planning to go a dinner tonight that was sponsored by some pharmaceutical company that had a new painkiller on the market. It was a formal affair though, and we hadn’t any clothes, so we stayed in and had asparagus soup and popcorn. We played Battleship while following the live setlist on Expecting Rain, and Dylan was finally delivering the show he should have given us last fall. Duke Robillard had replaced Charlie Sexton on guitar, and he played four songs from Tempest, with the rest of the show, for the most part, eschewing material from the sixties and seventies. The exceptions were Highway 61, Ballad of a Thin Man, Visions of Johanna, and Tangled up in Blue.  For the first time in years, he played neither All Along the Watchtower nor Like a Rolling Stone, the latter of which should have been retired long ago.

It had been thrilling to hear that song played live in 1966 and 1974.  But when something is that big in the popular culture at a given point in time, the chances of it retaining its relevance throughout future years is slim. It was beginning to lose its steam in 1978, was slightly renewed in 1981, when he began adding secular material to his still gospel- heavy show, and the 1986 version with Tom Petty’s band was a decent recreation of its sound, although the song had become hollow inside.  After that, it was nothing but sputtering and choking, the long verses having become tediously meaningless, and the chorus losing all of the bite and spite of its echoed irony.  In 1974, when Dylan challenged the audience with the “How Does it Feel To Be a Lost and Forsaken Remnant of European Civilization?” refrain, they responded with cheers and lighter waving that seemed to answer, ”It feels goddam good.” Dylan was playing the prophet and the audience the ignorant multitude. Allen Ginsberg found the right words when he said that Dylan was like a column of smoke.  And most of North America mistook him for a swan.  But “Like a Rolling Stone” wouldn’t be his swan song.  Far from it.

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