Bob Dylan performed after three other musicians whose performances I did not catch. The sky was just beginning to fade from the deep blue of dusk to the bruise colored, purple-black summer night sky.
The stage was not very crowded, so we—myself, my friend John, and my new friend Lucas—could stand fairly close to the stage. Soon the house lights grew dim and an announcer called Dylan and his band to the stage. He was wearing clothes that made him look like he was from another time—loose dusty gray pants with a broad white stripe down the side, and a massive straw gaucho hat whose top looked like a cake. He looked like a soldier just returned from a battle in the Mexican revolution.
Amid all the costume, however, what struck me most was how physically small he was. He seemed diminutive to me, hollow, drawn into his own faded wrinkled face. This was the first shadow I glimpsed that evening.
Two songs captured me deeply. The first was just past the midway point of the set, called “Workingmen’s Blues #2.” It is a nostalgic song but also an invigorating song, that is sung from the point of view of a laborer who is too old to fight for his rights, as he once did, against the owners of the factory where he works, even though those rights are beginning to become compromised again. He is talking to his son, or grandson, or nephew, and telling him that while he doesn’t have to fight, “you’re best on the front lines, singin a little bit of these workingman’s blues.”
played Workingmen’s Blues
and it hit me
My dad’s been out of work
for a year
Next the band played a boisterous number, “Highway 61 Revisited,” but then the lights become tobacco-colored and dim, as though being viewed through the haze of a smoke-filled saloon. The projection of the light came from a low place, and the figures of the band members and Dylan became much smaller than the shadows on the screen behind them. One musician was playing a fiddle, and as he moved the bow he looked like a marionette doll, like a puppet whose strings were being pulled by shadows. The song was “Aint Talkin’.” It is nearly eight minutes long, and the refrain is, “Ain’t Talkin/ Just walkin,” with two more lines he changes throughout the song. My favorite variant is, “Walkin’, with a toothache, in my heel.” For this song Dylan was playing the organ, and his solo sounded like a horse descending a spiral staircase from a deep valley into depths below. I could hear the hooves clank on the wrought iron of the steps, the awkward shuffling of the motion and the clink of the saddle as the horse’s rider struggled to stay mounted.
After the show was over and we had exited the stadium, I ate some cold leftovers ravenously and talked with my friends. We got back onto the highway around 11 PM, with me in the backseat. John was driving a Jeep with no doors (they had been stolen a few days ago) and the top down. My hair once we stopped was very tall on my head! But as the air whipped and tossed me at 70 mph in the dark sky, I thought of how the wind had gathered during that organ solo and riffled at the screen projecting the shadows. I leaned back and remembered how the gusts of Great Lake Erie’s wind made the stage look like a confrontation with natural forces. Dylan’s organ playing somehow seemed to charm it, to tame it into some sort of workable chaos, if only briefly. It felt as though he could hold the rain back by funneling it and everything else in the present moment of the atmosphere into his fingers and soul and the way he played.
And breathing deeply that wild quick air on the highway, I was interrupted by Lucas, who pointed back over my shoulder, and exclaimed, “Look!” There stood, almost at the horizon line, a large orange moon, the color of charcoal embers, burning low in the sky and half occluded by gray clouds, as though wrapped in smoke.
I pack my tipi
on my back
and just go
Talk all day
Up listening all night
3 days ago