Tag Archives: Bob Dylan

Joan Baez in Lowell

In the end it was like church. A generational church. A church of humanity. Of joy. Of suffering. Of soulful community. She had brought us together one more time, and there was a poignancy to it because a lot of us who were there are getting “up there” and have seen a lot of water flow under our bridges. A big part of the familiar sound of that water we’ve heard rushing toward us and running under the bridges came back to us last night in the auditorium at Lowell High School. She was in the city for the Lowell Summer Music Series. In a poem, Walt Whitman wrote that he contained multitudes. On her more than 50-year journey of music and compassion, Joan Baez has gathered up a multitude of experiences and people that layer her performances as an artist. In a city with History as one of its top industries, Joan Baez brought and shared her own extraordinary history to the stage. She reached back to her beginnings in the coffeehouses of Cambridge and Boston to play folk standards as elegantly as she did when just more than a long-haired girl with a guitar. She gave us selections of Americana, spirituals, and pop among choices from her own catalogue of compositions—both hits and deep cuts.

Always of her time, whether she was singing for Civil Rights at the Lincoln Memorial or pushing for human rights in Latin America, she name-checked the Supreme Court and this week’s decisions on the Voting Rights Act and gay marriage—one minus, one plus—and sang her commentary. She has a forever bond with Bob Dylan that gets richer and deeper as each of them ages. Her renderings of “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue” and “The Lonesome Death of Poor Hattie Carroll” were exquisite, heartbreaking, really, for all the profound emotional freight the music and lyrics carry. We got it straight from the source last night. She was there. She’s the carrier of that truth. She mentioned playing “Hattie Carroll” with “Bob” when the song was new in the very Maryland county in which the murderous act had occurred. “We had to get out of there fast after the show,” she said. On “Baby Blue,” she mimicked Dylan’s outlaw croon on a few key lies, drawing a laugh from the crowd. The audience loved her. The night began and ended with standing ovations.

She is such a generous artist. Her repertoire includes brilliant interpretations of work by the family of composers, those long-gone and others more recent. The encore featured a gorgeous version of “The Boxer” by Paul Simon. I wonder if somebody told her about Lowell as a fighter’s town? Throughout the evening her guitar-playing was a joy to absorb. Other than Carole King on piano, how many other women of a certain age are delivering a 90-minute show of singing and instrumentation? And who from her era is standing up with a guitar all night? Joni Mitchell sang a few songs on stage the other night at an event in Canada, I think it was. She’s younger, and I don’t think on the road these days. Joan Baez remains in play with her signature artistry, intelligence, morality, and subtle humor.

So, there was Joan Baez, who first played in Lowell in November 1975 as a member of the Rolling Thunder Revue, barnstorming the northeast on the Dylan bus. I remember their crystalline singing of “Blowing in the Wind” in the cozy Costello Gym in Pawtucketville. Late in the show last night, Joan Baez thrilled the audience with a beautiful and sly version of “Diamonds and Rust,” her monument to their legendary relationship. My guess is that many of the people in the auditorium last night had been on the lawn at Boarding House Park a couple of years ago when she played the National Park pavilion. My memory is that of a wonderful night of music under the stars.

She closed the show with a group sing of the John Lennon wishful anthem “Imagine.” There were more than a thousand of us in unison on the modern hymn. She led the gray-tinged choir in a wistful community gesture, singing for what might have been or what still could be if the spirit moves enough people at the same time. The auditorium became a cultural church of shared values, which in the moment sounded like the way things ought to be. At least the thoughts point in a good direction, a path for aspiration, a clearing in the woods to which we can head. And there was Joan Baez in Lowell, again, leading the choir. We knew all the words of that song.

Dylan in Lowell, Another Side

I’m glad I went down to the river last night. The preacher was in town, and the congregation was called to assemble. He made his fourth tour through the city of smokestacks and steeples, the small city with the world on its streets. The people arrived with eager, happy looks on their faces, a blend of loyalists who grew up with the artist and younger adventurers. We had a beautiful scene outside the Tsongas Center as music lovers streamed toward the arena and the regular Tuesday night Riverwalk runners wove through clusters of people on the pathways. I met a woman, whose name I can’t recall, who had been with Dylan on the 1975-76 Rolling Thunder Revue tour from the Plymouth, Mass., concert through Lowell and Madison Square Garden and on to the Zimmerman homestead in Hibbing, Minn. Mysteriously, she said, “I was one of the unknowns.”

A couple of the fans had been to Kerouac’s grave earlier in the day, making the pilgrimage to the grave the same way Dylan himself paid respects to one of the writers who influenced him as a young man. We had a reporter from San Francisco who writes a daily column on Dylan for an online publication. I met a teacher who told me he is the person he is today because of Dylan’s music and ideas. I haven’t seen so many gray ponytails in one place in a long time, probably since the last Dylan concert. I was reminded of the Gray Panthers elder activists from the 1970s. Dave Lewis teaches business at UMass Lowell; he had his green 1965 VW bus parked outside the Tsongas with doors open as a living artifact of the root-times of Dylan. Dave, Mary Lou Hubbell, and I handed out 700 copies of a commemorative pamphlet about Dylan, UMass Lowell, and the city to appreciative concert-goers—an instantly collectible essay by writer Dave Perry with pictures of Dylan in Lowell. In the parking lot, I talked to a guy who had been to the two previous shows, and he extolled the performance: “You’re going to enjoy this tonight, but he will only play about three songs from the old days.”  The event had something of a feel of a high-school reunion, a gathering of the faithful for another dose of the sound and the voice that have already gone down in history. In the same way we drop the names of Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens as legendary visitors to Lowell, this man will be spoken of for a hundred years or more when the cultural chronicles of Lowell are mentioned.

Bob Dylan was in good spirits last night on the UMass Lowell stage. I’ve seen him perform about ten times, and he offered a fine show, better in my view than in his last appearance at the Tsongas. He leaned into the songs and honored the words, shaping the phrases to fit his older throat.  He opened strongly with “Things Have Changed,” and on the sixth number thrilled the audience with the first notes of “Tangled Up in Blue.” The floor was semi-packed and the seating bowl filled about a third of the way around—not a capacity crowd or even close, but the people who attend now are connoisseurs or new converts; the recreational rubber-neckers have been drained out of the “endless tour.” I understand the reason for the smaller crowds; this edition of Dylan is an acquired taste, and, honestly, I take some of it like medicine now. But it’s a unified field of creative work. You are there because you need to be there now—nobody is “making the scene” to be seen or to chase a celebrity. The preacher comes to town. The congregation assembles. “So let us not talk falsely now/The hour is getting late.”

‘Checking the Property’ — for Presidents’ Day

Here’s a hat tip to the climate-change demonstrators in Washington, D.C., who are speaking on behalf of the planet this holiday weekend. Lowelltown is as white tonight as the monuments in the capital city. I wrote this poem after a family trip to Washington in the summer of 2004. There were John Kerry-for-President signs in the windows. GOP posters for “W,” too. Barack Obama was a figure on the horizon. — PM

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Checking the Property

My nine-year-old son says, “I’m going to read the ‘Gettysburg Address’”—on the other side is the lesser-known second inaugural speech. What’s the Lincoln shorthand? Freed the slaves; saved the union. People crowd the marble steps at dusk. A sign asks for silence. When he sees my wife lining up a snapshot, a guy in a straw cowboy hat offers to take a picture of my brother’s family, my wife, son, and me in the glow of the civic temple. Climbing the steps, I caught sight of the figure set behind the columns, and then lost him because of the steep ascent, only to come upon the sculpture again near the top, where visitors gaze at the huge seated president, whose massive square-toed boot juts out, looking as if it could kick Jeff Davis’ football the length of the Reflecting Pool and onto the white spike of the Washington Monument, which, in the after-supper hour, reflects sun along its narrow western face, a mighty glo-stik on the national common, a staunch obelisk, a big white numeral standing for the first president, who set the constitutional republic in motion, the stone blocks a different shade on the top half, marking a stop in work and resumption, the monument telling its own story, one in which protesters rolled cut stones into the drink, foreshadowing later protests and rallies and comings together, like the 1963 March on Washington that brought Martin Luther King to these same steps to declare his dream of a nation at last free for all, the same steps where Joan Baez and Bob Dylan sang for justice and where Dylan returned to sing for Bill Clinton’s booming inaugural, the same steps from which movie-land Vietnam vet Forrest Gump spoke, and from which he spotted his life-long love and source of ache splashing toward him, the same pool in which the spaceship crashed in the Planet of the Apes remake, this electric stretch of public land without timber or copper, a wide open space in which to make a verb of America—to recall and celebrate and to do democratic research and development in this red clay-lined lab, bordered and crowded with evidence of the ongoing experiment, and bearing key formulas and equations inscribed in stone.

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—Paul Marion (c) 2004

 

‘Checking the Property’

With Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. being remembered tomorrow in a special way across the nation, I went back to a prose poem written after a family visit to Washington, D.C., in the early summer of 2004, another presidential election year. We were months away from seeing Barack Obama make news with a speech at the Democratic Party’s convention in Boston, and the extraordinary memorial for Dr. King was yet to be installed on the National Mall. — PM

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Checking the Property

My nine-year-old son says, “I’m going to read the ‘Gettysburg Address’”—on the other side is the lesser-known second inaugural speech. What’s the Lincoln shorthand? Freed the slaves; saved the union. People crowd the marble steps at dusk. A sign asks for silence. When he sees my wife lining up a snapshot, a guy in a straw cowboy hat offers to take a picture of my brother’s family, my wife, son, and me in the glow of the civic temple. Climbing the steps, I caught sight of the figure set behind the columns, and then lost him because of the steep ascent, only to come upon the sculpture again near the top, where visitors gaze at the huge seated president, whose massive square-toed boot juts out, looking as if it could kick Jeff Davis’ football the length of the Reflecting Pool and onto the white spike of the Washington Monument, which, in the after-supper hour reflects sun along its narrow western face, a mighty glo-stik on the national common, a staunch obelisk, a big white numeral standing for the first president, who set the constitutional republic in motion, the stone blocks a different shade on the top half, marking a stop in work and resumption, the monument telling its own story, one in which protesters rolled cut stones into the drink, foreshadowing later protests and rallies and comings together, like the 1963 March on Washington that brought Martin Luther King to these same steps to declare his dream of a nation at last free for all, the same steps where Joan Baez and Bob Dylan sang for justice and where Dylan returned to sing for Bill Clinton’s booming inaugural, the same steps movie-land Vietnam vet Forrest Gump spoke from and from which he spotted his life-long love and source of ache splashing toward him, the same pool in which the spaceship crashed in the Planet of the Apes remake, this electric stretch of public land without timber or copper, a wide open space in which to make a verb of America—to recall and celebrate and to do democratic research and development in this red clay-lined lab, bordered and crowded with evidence of the ongoing experiment, and bearing key formulas and equations inscribed in stone.

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—Paul Marion (c) 2004

 

On Bob Dylan’s 70th Birthday: A Film Clip from Lowell

Thanks to Lowell Celebrates Kerouac! on Facebook and the blog Reader’s Almanac of the Library of America for this film clip and commentary about Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac, and Allen Ginsberg. The footage is from November 1975 in Edson Cemetery in Lowell, when Bob Dylan was in the city with his Rolling Thunder Revue for a concert at the brand new University of Lowell (now UMass Lowell). Here’s the link.

Bob Dylan and Allen Ginsberg at Jack Kerouac’s grave in Lowell’s Edson Cemetery (Photo by Ken Regan (c) 1975)

Dylan…and Kerouac…in China (Bob’s Report)

Bob Dylan on stage in Beijing, April 2011
Web photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

bbc.co.uk today reports that Bob Dylan via his website has responded to critics who claim he submitted to Chinese political censors’ demands and sent authorities the list of songs he planned to play on a recent visit there. Dylan stated that he played everything he “intended” to play and gives the background on the set lists provided before the performance. He also mentioned that his concert was framed in the Chinese media as a performance by one of the rebellious figures of the 1960s, including Jack Kerouac. Read the complete article here. 

Dylan wrote:

“The Chinese press did tout me as a sixties icon, however, and posted my picture all over the place with Joan Baez, Che Guevara, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg,” he wrote on his website.

“The concert attendees probably wouldn’t have known about any of those people.

“Regardless, they responded enthusiastically to the songs on my last 4 or 5 records. Ask anyone who was there. They were young and my feeling was that they wouldn’t have known my early songs anyway.”

By the way, Dylan played his first concert in Vietnam today on the other side of the date line. Read the report on bbc.co.uk here. The concert at a university drew 8,000 people.

“Bob Dylan’s music opened up a path where music was used as a weapon to oppose the war in Vietnam and fight injustice and racism,” Tran Long An, 67, vice-president of the Vietnam Composers’ Association told AP.

And here’s an advance Happy Birthday! to Bob Dylan, who will turn 70 on May 24.

Final note: In a recent Rolling Stone magazine poll of “musicians, writers, and academics,” Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” was ranked the best and most important song he has composed and recorded.

Dylan Is Like Moxie

Sitting among thousands of people at the Tsongas Center at UMass Lowell tonight, witnessing Bob Dylan and his band lifting up the audience with powerful renditions of his songs, I had a thought: Dylan is like Moxie. In performance, he has become a completely singular mixture for which you either have the taste or you don’t. It would be difficult to talk someone into attending one of his concerts these days because without prior knowledge of the recordings and his history the novice would probably recoil at the crashing vocals and growling phrases wound around spectacular instrumental work by his band and him. I bring about 40 years of serious listening to his catalogue, which is a huge help when I see him live on the “endless tour.” Tonight, the culminating and darkly soaring  performance of “Ballad of a Thin Man” was worth the price of admission. It was the last song before the standard stage exit and then standard encore. The second of the two-song encore, “Like a Rolling Stone,” brought the audience near the peak of joy that it had reached just before with “Thin Man.”

I missed whole patches of lyrics and a few entire songs because I didn’t have a handy Dylan-song-finder in my pocket. Some of the other high points: “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” “Tangled Up in Blue,” “Not Dark Yet,” “Simple Twist of Fate,” “Visions of Johanna,” “Highway 61,” and “Jolene.”

For a few songs, Dylan pulled out the iconic harmonica, which always sends his crowds into a frenzy. He spent most of the night behind an electric piano or organ, I don’t know the difference. He’s a master of the keyboard, reminding me of the “Highway 61″ album sessions and his comment about wanting to achieve that aural moment that he calls “a thin wild mercury sound.” He played electric guitar on a few numbers early in the concert, and for a few songs stood without instrument as a raspy solo blues crooner.

He was dressed like a Mexican soldier at the Alamo with a light broad-brimmed hat, long dark jacket that looked like a uniform coat with bright buttons in front, dark pants with a silver stripe up the sides, and western boots. Through binoculars he looked his age, about 70. That said, he worked the keyboards and guitar neck with verve and intensity for two hours and showed a spry leg as he leaned into the music and words for effect, sometimes kicking up his knee to accent a run of notes.

Yes, he’s like Moxie, and he’s got Moxie. From Lowell, he’s on to three more shows in New York. Go, Bob, and thanks for stopping in Lowell. See you next time.

Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue in Lowell, 11/2/75

Here’s my account of Bob Dylan’s Rolling Thunder Revue performance in the Costello Gymnasium of the University of Lowell on November 2, 1975—PM

Dylan was excellent in Lowell last night. Baez was superb in Lowell last night. The Rolling Thunder Revue was really something in Lowell last night. Dylan, the singing poet troubadour, sang all night. Joan and Bob played as two. Bob sang a song for Sara; Joan sang one for him: “Diamonds and Rust,” for “the original unwashed vagabond phenomenon.” Roger McGuinn played “Chestnut Mare.” Joan Baez sang maybe ten songs, each a wonderful choice: “Please Come to Boston,” “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” “I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill.” Joan and Bob played “Blowin in the Wind”—starting with the lights out behind a sheer curtain, and the audience went wild.

Dylan sang and played with enthusiasm and energy, looking like he loved every minute, bouncing around the stage and dancing and stamping his foot, his whole leg, in time to the beat. Bob played “It Ain’t Me Babe,” “Hurricane,” “Just Like a Woman,” “I Shall Be Released”—he dedicated “A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall” to Jack Kerouac. Ramblin Jack Elliott had earlier dedicated “Me and Bobby McGee” to Kerouac. Bobby Neuwirth played an “on the road” song. Dylan played a batch of new songs, sounding like a Mexican balladeer on some. The show ended with the whole troupe, including poet Allen Ginsberg on tambourine, singing Woody Guthrie’s  “This Land Is Your Land.”

It was a classic night of music. Dylan, in flower-plumed broad-brimmed hat and yellow bell bottom pants, wore white make-up with reddened cheeks, a kind of clown face. In his dark leather jacket he looked small and thin, but full of life. He played acoustic and electric guitar and harmonica. We were told that the concert was being recorded and filmed for a movie. The audience stood for 15 minutes, applauding and cheering, at the end of the show.

—Paul Marion, (c) Nov. 3, 1975

Bob Dylan in Lowell, November 1975

Poet Allen Ginsberg and Bob Dylan in Edson Cemetery (1975) [Photo by Ken Regan, courtesy of tangledupinlheurebleue.blogspot]

Show flier for Rolling Thunder Revue at ULowell (1975) [Web photo courtesy of picasaweb.google.com]

At Kerouac’s grave in Edson Cemetery (1975) [Photo by Ken Regan]

At Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto, Franco American School (1975) [Photo by Ken Regan]