We were young again the other night, even if only for a couple of hours. It all went away: the infirmities of age; the fall of Saigon; napalm and Agent Orange; Grant Park and Haight-Ashbury and hippies and yippies and the SDS; assassinations and the Chicago Seven. And the death of our generation, one tiny piece at a time. Every bit of it went away. No one had been to the moon back then.
We had our youth and still did not know what to do with it. The energy and the angst. It swept over like some sort of tsunami, washing away all those days lived and loved and now lost.
All this happened just sitting in the balcony, Section 1 Row C, seat 508 at Emens Auditorium in Muncie Saturday night. All this happened when the lights came up and the old man on the stage took us there.
No “hello, how are ya?” Didn't expect it from this man.
Just the opening lines of the opening song, the first of 19 he would sing before taking a final bow and back to his bus and out into the night:
“A worried man with a worried mind
No one in front of me and nothing behind
There's a woman on my lap and she's drinking champagne
Got white skin, got assassin's eyes ...”
And I will tell you that, yes, I had to look them up the next morning because, precious as Dylan's words are, none of us, or at most few of us, caught more than an occasional word or phrase. His diction has been terrible since he first took the stage 58 years ago this week, and it hasn't improved. Didn't expect it to. Didn't really want it to. It wouldn't be right to understand what Bob Dylan was saying, would it? It's all of it: The music, still superb, the lyrics, still mumbled, the words that told so many of us who we were, what we might be come and how did that work out?
Bob Dylan. The Zimmerman kid from Hibbing, Minnesota, the fuzzy-haired genius who told us to put away our bobby sox and bubble gum and get serious: “The Times They are a-Changin,” he warned us. And he cautioned us: “The answer my friend is blowing in the wind.. .”
Thirty-five hundred of us were there. Nearly a sellout for an evening with a guy who hasn't been played on the radio for a generation.
Behind me were two young men who had caught Dylan in Chicago last week and were headed to the next stop in Columbus, Ohio.
Dylan-heads, if such a thing there be.
They knew the set list. Seventeen songs. Two encores. No chatter.
Opens with “Things Have Changed.” Then “It Ain't Me, Babe.” Then “Highway 61 Revisited.” And on through “Thunder on the Mountain” and “Soon After Midnight.”
The encore, with most of the audience, young and old, on their feet. “Ballad of A Thin Man.” You'll remember this without looking it up: “There's something happening here, but you don't know what it is, do you, Mr. Jones?”
He's 78 years old now, and that voice, which never was much of a voice, is still just that.
It sounds just as it did when it came from the kid bleating against the war.
But so much in between. The acoustic years, then the plugged-in years and the homage to Sinatra. Pick up a copy of the complete lyrics of Bob Dylan. A hefty volume. Six hundred and ten pages of the purest poetry of our time or any other.
And they – the hoity-toits – recognized that a few years ago. This song-and-dance man, this man who can weaponize a harmonica and prefers his piano to be upright, was given the Nobel Prize for Literature. Not for tunes and ditties. For literature.
But what of him today? Still tiny, still puckish. Still roaming the stage as though it were a pasture or a neighborhood bar to be explored. Touring mid-sized cities and selling out the house to college kids who weren't even around for the days of “Blowin' in the Wind.”
In the end, he has given an anthem to our generation and a soundtrack to our lives.
Ed Breen is the retired assistant managing editor for photos/graphics at The Journal Gazette. He wrote this as a commentary for WBAT-AM in Marion.