Dylan rolls on with Blaisdell concert

Apr. 24, 2014 | 1 Comment In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan's return to Hawaii includes a concert Tuesday at the Blaisdell Arena. He performed on Maui on April 26. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

Singer-songwriter Bob Dylan’s return to Hawaii includes a concert Tuesday at the Blaisdell Arena. He performed on Maui on April 26. (Star-Advertiser photo by George F. Lee)

BY ELIZABETH KIESZKOWSKI / ekieszkowski@staradvertiser.com

Bob Dylan has reached a point in his storied career when seeing a concert by the famously idolized (and criticized) singer-songwriter involves swimming through memories, real and imagined, separating the experience of hearing the music live from the recovered sensations of hearing the music for the first time, allowing for the passion of fandom and taking the time to listen — really listen.

It’s possible that there are some — the very young and very old, perhaps — who have never heard Bob Dylan or music shaped by his vision, but that is hard to imagine.

BOB DYLAN

Where: Blaisdell Arena

When: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday

Cost: $59-$125

Info: ticketmaster.com, 866-448-7849

“Blowin’ in the Wind,” from the seminal 1963 album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan,” may be the artist’s most widely pondered and admired song. To an adapted melody taken from a slave-era spiritual, the singer asks, “How many times can a man turn his head/Pretending he just doesn’t see?”

The question echoes through the ages because it has no specific answer. No wonder the tone is mournful.

Along with “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall,” the songs from “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” formed a backbone for the protest movement. Released in the year that segregationist Gov. George Wallace took office in Alabama and President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, neither song called for specific action but rather called out evil and sent out a warning.

Rolling Stone magazine called “A Hard Rain” “the greatest protest song by the greatest protest songwriter of his time: a seven-minute epic that warns against a coming apocalypse while cataloging horrific visions — gun-toting children, a tree dripping blood — with the wide-eyed fervor of John the Revelator.”

Other commentators have marveled that songs of such lyrical complexity could be Top 40 hits in the era.

A few years later, Dylan’s sand-papered, gospel-flavored song “I Shall be Released” was a floating seed that affected folk music internationally. Many who hear it now might not realize it is not a traditional song — in fact, Dylan released it in 1967.

The song is quintessential Dylan, with its imagery of imprisonment and longing for freedom, of endurance and buried resentments. It manages to be simultaneously soothing and agitating, as befitting a lullaby during wartime. Since 1967, it has been recorded by reggae artists The Heptones, Elvis Presley, Nina Simone, Jack Johnson and even Maroon 5.

By 1967, Dylan had amassed 10 Top 40 hits, including “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “Like a Rolling Stone.” He could have stopped there, but he continued on to leave indelible marks on the music of the following decades.

(Associated Press)

(Associated Press)

IN 1975, Dylan embarked on the “Rolling Thunder” tour with a group of like-minded musicians including Roger McGuinn and Joan Baez.

A trademark song of the tour was “Hurricane,” telling the story of Rubin Carter, a New Jersey boxer who’d been convicted of murder in 1966 under questionable circumstances.

The song helped make a national figure out of Carter, who won an appeal and was convicted for a second time before he was eventually freed by a federal judge in 1985.

Carter and “Hurricane” were again in the forefront of the national conversation this month when the boxer died on April 20 at age 76.

“Many Dylan fans consider the 1975 epic to be his last great protest song — and one of his greatest songs, period,” David Hinckley of the New York Daily News wrote in an April 20 feature. “But ‘Hurricane’ wasn’t just a legal brief set to music. It’s also a great song, a musical freight train that picks up terrifying speed and fury as it roars down the track.”

IN THE 1980s, Dylan’s star faded. He converted to Christianity and released a devotional album, “Slow Train Coming,” in 1979 that provoked confusion among many fans.

But critics and many followers remained interested in his choices. By the ’90s and up through the present, listeners and critics were again praising his choices and parsing his lyrics.

Dylan was recognized with a Kennedy Center Honors presentation in 1997; in 2005, Martin Scorsese traced the musician’s life and career in a PBS documentary, “No Direction Home.”

France last year recognized Dylan for his global artistic contributions by awarding him the country’s highest civilian award, the Legion d’Honneur medal.

In 2012, Dylan released his most recent album, “Tempest” — praised widely for its passionate, mournful and often death-focused music.

It includes a 13:54-minute title song about the Titanic. In his review of the album, Allan Jones of Uncut magazine wrote, “The song vividly describes the panic and confusion as the great ship flounders, a metaphor for the folly of over-reaching ambition; mankind again brought low by God’s intervention.”

LIKE BRUNO Mars and Lady Gaga, Dylan changed his name: He was born Robert Zimmerman but dubbed himself “Dylan” in tribute to poet Dylan Thomas.

Dylan, who was born in Minnesota, shuns interviews and has largely refused to participate in them — to the point where the tension between those who would define him and the man himself has become the stuff of legend.

In 2007, director Todd Haynes released the film “I’m Not There,” which plays up Dylan’s mystery and American roots. The film is composed of a series of fictional vignettes inspired by Dylan’s elusive history. Actors including Cate Blanchett, Christian Bale, Heath Ledger and Richard Gere portray the musician, in spirit.

With his rough voice — much rougher these days, it was described as a “catarrhal death rattle” in a 2006 review published by The Guardian of Dylan’s album “Modern Times” — and many changes of direction, the artist will never be an easy one to listen to. But for those who savor the challenge of interpreting his songs and unpredictable performance, he remains deeply rewarding.

BOB DYLAN: A CHRONOLOGY

» 1941: Robert Zimmerman is born in Minnesota.

» 1961: As Bob Dylan, the Woody Guthrie-worshipping coffee-house musician moves to New York City. He is signed the same year to Columbia Records.

» 1962: Debut album “Bob Dylan” is released.

» 1963: “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan” is released.

» 1965: The folk singer embraces rock. Dylan plays electric guitar at the Newport Folk Festival and is heckled by the largely young audience.

» 1965: Album “Bringing It All Back Home” is released; it includes hit singles “Like a Rolling Stone” and “Subterranean Homesick Blues.”

» 1967: Album “John Wesley Harding” is released; it includes “All Along the Watchtower,” famously covered by Jimi Hendrix.

» 1969: Country-music album “Nashville Skyline” is released, again breaking form. Johnny Cash contributed to the album, which included hit single “Lay Lady Lay.”

» 1975: Album “Blood on the Tracks” is released; Dylan embarks on the “Rolling Thunder” tour.

» 1979: Dylan releases the first of two Christian albums, “Slow Train Coming.”

» 1983: Critically respected album “Infidels” is released.

» 1988: Bob Dylan is inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, with an introduction by Bruce Springsteen.

» 1989: Joining forces with the Grateful Dead, the album “Dylan & the Dead” is released.

» 1997: “Time Out of Mind,” a hauntingly atmospheric album hailed as one of Dylan’s best, is released. It’s Dylan’s 30th.

» 1997: President Bill Clinton presents Dylan with a Kennedy Center Honor.

» 2001: “Things Have Changed,” a song written for the film “Wonder Boys,” wins an Academy Award.

» 2001: Album “Love and Theft” is released, incorporating the sound of vintage jazz and swing music.

» 2004: Autobiography “Chronicles: Volume One” is released, reaching No. 2 on the New York Times best-seller list.

» 2005: “No Direction Home,” Martin Scorsese’s biography of Dylan, is broadcast on PBS.

» 2006: Album “Modern Times” is released, reaching No. 1 on Billboard U.S. charts.

» 2007: Todd Hayne’s film “I’m Not There,” which uses various actors to portray Dylan in the ’60s, opens in theaters worldwide.

» 2012: “Tempest,” Dylan’s most recent studio album, is released.

» 2013: “The Very Best of Bob Dylan: Volume One” is released by Sony and Columbia Records.

  • elf

    If I wanted a history of Bob Dylan there are many other more detailed & accurate sources.
    If I wanted to know about Dylan’s Honolulu performance this was not the place to get that information.