Did I ever tell you about the time I saw Bob Dylan at an ice rink in Oshawa, Canada? No, of course not, but I have decided to spill the beans since that's what we're supposed to do on this blog. Bobby, as I've never called him before, wasn't skating as one would imagine one to do at an ice rink, nor was he watching a game of ice hokey, but rather he was putting on a show for a packed stadium. No! Not Disney on Ice style - they covered the ice up somehow and put seats all over it.
Now, a show in an ice rink may sound strange to Australian ears, but I can assure you that it is quite normal up north. But, in classic Bob style, the venue was anything but normal. Which reminds me, my dad once peed next to Bob at a urinal in a bar in New York in the 70s. Bob had just rocked up and started playing the harmonica for Muddy Waters. "those were the reasons and that was New York ...' (two bob for anyone that can name the singer and song that was ripped from without googling, and some good hippy vibes if you know what the song is about.)
Anyway, getting back on track, my guess is that most of you have never been in an air hanger, so imagine you're standing in an aluminium shed in the very back corner of your yard. Now make this shed grow until it is big enough to play a noisy game of ice hockey in and shove it past the outskirts of the biggest city you know and into a town that has been devastated by mass layoffs as a result of the almost complete shutdown of the North American auto industry. Think, working class, high unemployment, and more taxi drivers than a crowd of thousands can poke a stick at. It was no accident that Bob snubbed Toronto and chose a shed in Oshawa to play to the people. The place probably also holds some sentimental value, as one taxi driver told me that many years ago Bob turned up on the doorstep of one nearby house and asked the owners to take a look about. Strange? Perhaps. But if you lived in the childhood home of Neil Young and Bob turned up on your door, I'm sure you'd let him in too.
Back to the concert. For those of you that know a thing or two about Dylan, you would know that he, now more than ever, speaks his song words, often very fast and mumbled. He also likes to reinvent the song for the audience - what's the point of hearing something you've heard a hundred times already on CD, right? So, at the best of times, when you can't make out the words and have no familiar tune to go by, even the most dedicated Dylan fan has a hard time working out what he is singing. Combine this with the poor acoustics and echo of an ice rink and you're in for a challenge. I was proud to say I emerged from two hours of song having recognised five of them. And having closed the show with an identifiable version of 'all along the watchtower,' Bob sent the crowd off into the night with smiles on their faces, including mine. Recognisable or not, Dylan and his band play good music. You just have to go with the flow.
So that's Bob. The now radio DJ and Christmas carol singer has taken a bit of a beating lately, accused of selling out, especially with his 'Christmas in the Heart' album. But really, what could be more absurd, and historically fitting, than for Bob to make a Christmas album? Absurd because Bob is, or wasn't, someone that you'd imagine singing Christmas carols - he's pushing the limits, going beyond the boundaries set by others. Fitting because carols have played a significant role in the history of music and are very closely tied to folk, and there you have it, Dylan's totally serious and juxtaposed celebration of Christmas folk tunes. Buy one this Christmas. The money raised will support the homeless.