Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Bob Dylan rolls into Mullins Center

By Mark Schiffer

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Music fans, the so-called “holy grail” of folk-rock has arrived: Bob Dylan, the creator of what has turned out to be some of the most enduring music of all-time, will be playing the Mullins Center this Friday at 8 p.m.

Even his biggest fans have begun discussing the possibility that this living legend has “lost it.” Time has passed, and quite frankly with age the man has shed at the very least some of his power. Not that you’d ever hear Bob Dylan say anything like that. With his “Never Ending Tour,” and consistent album releases since the late 90s, the man clearly has been doing everything within his power to please his fans while fulfilling his full artistic potential.

However, having been on his “Never Ending Tour” for what has basically been 22 years, it is only natural that at least some of his edge would have been worn down, both in terms of lyrical content and musical originality. His sound over the past couple of years has come to resemble an almost militantly relaxed feel, with influences mainly stemming from Cajun music and blues; little of the enigmatic and beautiful imagery that he made his name with in the 1960s remains. This frustrates some fans, who are justifiably annoyed with the so-called “selling out” of their favorite musician.

This isn’t to say the music lacks value. In fact, there is nothing disappointing at all about what the man has been producing, as long as one accepts the fact that for some artists, with age, comes contentment. “Together Through Life” and “Christmas in My Heart” – both quite recent releases – certainly aren’t the best albums Bob Dylan has produced. But they don’t feel overly derivative, or even mediocre. Both are solid albums in Bob Dylan’s extensive body of work.

Potential concert-goers who are fearful of a sedate show, led by a detached Dylan who is completely out-of-synch with his surroundings can rest assured. Since 2001’s “Love and Theft,” Dylan has been touring and recording with the same backing band. Consequently, the performance this Friday will undoubtedly be energetic and tight.

Dylan’s constant shifting of arrangements and vocal techniques should mean that this performance will be full of surprises. He has, for example, been known from time to time to perform his classic “All Along the Watchtower,” which on its original 1967 release was an acoustic slow-burner, in the style of Jimi Hendrix’s 1968 rock version. Such a shift potentially represents a willingness to adapt his works to suit stadium venues, which once again could disputably be seen as a negative thing. But as an experience, it undoubtedly works.

There have been grumblings from both fans and non-fans alike regarding every potentially negative aspect of the performance that will be occurring this Friday. Bob Dylan has long generated controversy among his fan base regarding his artistic decisions, but it isn’t that simple in this case. There wasn’t any real sell-out in the mid-60s, when he began recording electric albums. It was a change in musical style, with a purely artistic motivation. The frustration at this point seems to lie with the very concept of the “Never-Ending Tour,” which has been going on since 1988. One could argue that such a rigorous performance-schedule exists purely as a cash grab. Others see Dylan as giving as many of his fans as possible the chance to see him perform. The perspective of the cynical fan is fair, but purposeless.

Dylan carries the burden of outliving the majority of his contemporaries, who never were forced to tread the musical minefields (particularly the 1980s) that claimed the reputations of countless artists who survived the 1970s. Few would argue that he has unceasingly continued down his own chosen path, and his restless artistic spirit still seems as unpredictable and exciting as ever.

Bob Dylan will be playing this Friday at the Mullins Center, at 8 p.m. Tickets are still available for $47.50.

Mark Schiffer can be reached at [email protected]


6 Responses to “Bob Dylan rolls into Mullins Center”

  1. Glenda on November 19th, 2010 10:08 am

    I’m sure your journalism teachers made you read-up on Dylan…but that is NOT the way to write about this man. Your second paragraph reads like 1965-1966-1967…2009, 2010…etc, etc. The problem we have here is a failure to communicate…that is to say: Dylan communicates TOO WELL, always has. Even my poet friends have a hard time trying to keep up with him. He is always pulling signals out of the air that only become clear over time and experience. They sink in a little at a time, and because he writes in a universal mode and a symbolic landscape, the layers grow and grow and change and grow some more. So-he talks his songs sometimes. He has been doing that from the beginning…the trouble is the people who write the reviews don’t have the time they would need to track all the changes, and see the patterns. Neither do his fans. But that is OK. Just relax and play along with him. He will make you mad one song, and break your heart the next. If you relax and let it sink in–you will realize that there is no one out there who has sooooo much to give. That is why he tours endlessly. He is a giver. Not a taker. I wonder if he even breaks even on the touring end of his business enterprise. He isn’t lazy, god knows! He is just using different methods for different reasons at different times. Let him “play”. Isn’t that where art begins and ends–“playing”. Once you stop and let it roll over you like weather–you will come to appreciate that he has let you into the room while he “plays” and you will come to love that special access you had to someone feeling his way through an endless supply of very special musical dramas that he has every right to do with as is his wish. Stop complaining. ( I am really tired of all the complaining!!!) ENJOY. Then go home and let it sink in. Soon little green vines will start growing around your fingers and toes, and out your ears and your nose. Art is taking root. Have Fun Friday!

  2. Mark on November 19th, 2010 11:41 am

    Not being a journalism student, it would have been difficult for my journalism teachers to tell me to read up on Dylan. I used the knowledge I gained from having listened to Dylan from the age of 13 on. I tried to give as fair and balanced an account as I could to address the concerns I heard being raised on campus regarding the concert. I wanted to explain the legitimacy of the claims I was hearing, while stating why I didn’t necessarily agree with them. I wasn’t complaining. Far from it. I saw Dylan perform several years ago, and it was incredible. I am looking forward to the show. I understand why you are saying this, but it feels like a bit of a needless attack. And yes, I know that you aren’t trying to phrase it as an attack.

    Having said that, I hope that you enjoy the show as well!

  3. Glenda on November 19th, 2010 5:26 pm


    Sorry-didn’t mean it as an attack, but there comes a point when tearing down an artist, any artist, but especially some one as gifted as Dylan just needs to be answered. He is an active artist still creating. People keep trying to encase him in glass. It is just beyond me why people can’t relax and soak it in while they have a chance. The point is that the “critical mind” is not the mind to take to a Dylan concert. When the audience makes a puzzle out of him, they miss the magic, and the heart, and the pain, and the humor, and all the little things that make his art so rich and romantic and human. I had an art history teacher who said: The Mona Lisa is the most boring painting in the world the first hour–then slowly it becomes the most fascinating painting in the world. We know why. Dylan told us. She has the highway blues. I hope you come out smiling that mysterious smile. Lets us know what you experience tonight. (I do apologize for being cranky!)

  4. Gloreme Graham on November 20th, 2010 4:18 pm

    This is a good article. But I disagree about Together Through Life which is an excellent album. If you look back over 40 years and more, Dylan has always been primarily a blues singer. Together through Life is basically the same blues format as Blonde and Blonde and Bringing it all back Home. All his albums are basically blues with some ballads thrown in. To those who complain about his authentically weathered voice- do you expect Mississipi John Hurt or Sunhouse or Leadbelly or any other folk-blues singer to sound like Nat King Cole or Bimg Crosby? Of course not. Blues simgers are supposed to sound rough and gravelly. If you can get hold of a recording of the concert you will find that Bob´s diction is actually excellent. You just were not expecting the new way he has presented the old favorite you love. Expecting this historical figure- who will survive any criticism we care to make of him thankyou very much- to reproduce exactly the same renditions he did in the 60s and 70s is like expecting Picasso to stay in his blue period. And don´t forget that Michelangelo and Picasso produced some of their greatest art well into their 90´s. Keep on keeping on Bob. I know you will anyway… you are a hard worker amd a great man too.

  5. Garth Brody on November 20th, 2010 9:14 pm

    My goodness what is it about Bob Dylan that provokes such self-righteous and defensive reaction to reasonable criticism:

    “He is a giver. Not a taker. I wonder if he even breaks even on the touring end of his business enterprise. He isn’t lazy, god knows!”

    “…you will come to love that special access you had to someone feeling his way through an endless supply of very special musical dramas that he has every right to do with as is his wish. Stop complaining.”

    “Expecting this historical figure- who will survive any criticism we care to make of him thankyou very much- to reproduce exactly the same renditions he did in the 60s and 70s is like expecting Picasso to stay in his blue period.”

    Yes, Bob Dylan is a giver. So are the vast majority of musicians and artists working today, but they still expect to be judged on what they are giving. And most of them aren’t playing the Mullins Center on a bad day. Bob Dylan has reached a cultural plateau, but if you treat him like he should be comfortable on that plateau during his lifetime, then you are contributing to the petrification of his art. Please, Glenda – let his art live. You said yourself that his music can be maddening one minute and heart-breaking the next. So why would you pounce on an article expressing mixed reaction to it? If music is the love, then you are in one hell of a repressed relationship with Bob Dylan.

  6. Glenda on November 21st, 2010 6:04 am

    If you had been listening to the SAME complaint for fifty years…I wonder if you wouldn’t be REALLY tired of hearing it? It just seems to me that we all can do better than that. Dylan is a performer, that is one layer. Dylan is a poet, that is one layer. Dylan is a unique musician who covers most of the history of popular and obscure traditions, that is one layer. Dylan is a storyteller who reflects us, like a mirror, that is one layer. Dylan is…. you get the point. So why can’t we talk about some of those things? Instead of harping on the NATURAL changes in voice and energy that goes with aging. Guess what, aging is a layer too. But of all of the “giving” he does-harping on natural changes that I have watched with every kind of artist- just seems to not be helpful. Believe it or not-artists do have their feelings hurt by such nonsense. If he destroys a song-discuss it. Just have something new and useful to say about it. Please. Complaining – I have found just makes artists defensive, and can wear them down. Don’t you think going out and facing that every night MIGHT not be helpful as he relentlessly (yes like all the other wonderful musicians I can think of) finds ways to communicate despite whatever the limitation. Try humor. Try changing the subject. Try just thinking about all the mysterious effects he puts across that no one talks about–like his ACTING. The way he finds just the right way to say key words in a song…as a writer I am forever “blow away” by this skill I don’t have, and few writers have to say a word fifty different ways and totally change the meaning of the line. (ONE EXAMPLE) That is all I am saying. Mark wrote before a performance-and I UNDERSTAND that he wanted to prepare the audience. But it might have been more helpful to guide the audience to at least consider some other things to take from their time with an important artist. Or to point out how he uses his vast experience to “find a way”. I find it EXTREMELY moving to watch artists do this. I watched Count Basie, John Lee Hooker, Lightning…look how Johnny Cash went into a studio and found a way to communicate songs even when he was extremely sick. To me THAT is heroic. Not something to be belittled. I’ll bet you that when Willie Nelson has three notes left he will find a wonderful way to use those three notes to do whatever he needs to do! That is part of art–working within limits. Can’t we celebrate and be awe struck by this amazing ability men and women have to “give” and “give”. I think of Pete Seeger at Obama’s celebration. Just seeing him standing there made me cry. And others have told me they cried too. Why take that away from us by insisting that he “perform” at some different level. I find reality and real life to be awesome. More awesome than some made up “standard”.

    I think I have said enough. Thanks! I hope Mark had a GREAT time. I would love to hear a DETAILED telling of the tale. I promise you this is MY last word!

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