Sunday, August 14, 2011

Keeping Up With Mister Jones

I have literally understood 11 words that Bob Dylan has sang tonight. Hoping to make it to 15 before the concert ends. - Justine_B, Twitter

Omg he's playing a song I know! (And I still have no idea what the heck he is saying.) - Justine_B, Twitter

Ah, but I was so much older then
I'm younger than that now. "My Back Pages", Bob Dylan, 1964

Adrian Rawlins Statue, Brunswick Street, Fitzroy
A hundred years ago I lived at 43 MacArthur Place in Carlton, a university suburb of Melbourne, Australia.

Most of my life from that time is now a blur, but I can remember one day perfectly. Actually it was a night. The night before we (me, my boyfriend and my boyfriend's friend) went to see Bob Dylan play at Festival Hall. My boyfriend and I were in the upstairs bedroom, when we disturbed by rapping on the front door. We let our house-mate, A, answer it.

Next thing we hear he was bounding up the stairs. "The Band is here, The Band is here!" he was yelling.

We told him to get lost and kept on with what we were doing ...

I must admit I was a bit naive. "The Band". "What band?" I was thinking.

Later we discovered that the "The Band", Bob Dylan's Band, had in fact come calling. Looking for a guy called Adrian Rawlins who we were sub-renting the house from.

Adrian was a "beat". A poet. Something rare in Melbourne in the sixties. You can see a statue of Adrian if ever you go down Brunswick Street Fitzroy. Or you can just look at a photo of it here!

Our house-mate A invited The Band in, and they stayed a while. But I didn't get to meet them. Pity ... I have my priorities in a better order nowadays...

But I did get to see Dylan perform the next evening. For the first part of the concert he played the old folk-songs - "Come Gather Round Children ..." and so on. And then after interval, out came the electric guitars, and the boos.

A bit short of forty years later I saw Dylan again, this time at a concert at Madison Square Gardens in New York. And again last night I saw him at a concert at Jones Beach, New York.

The Jones Beach Crowd - Waiting for Dylan
It's hard to belive he is seventy. Even though we had "orchestra" seats it was hard to see what he looked like.

But it was a great concert. And yes, his voice was raspy and it was a bit hard to make out the words. Especially as he was giving new interpretations of old songs such as "Ballad of a Thin Man" and "Tangled Up In Blue". But he was Dylan. And that was enough for me.

And the audience - it was the same it was in Melbourne 1966, but yes something has happened and we do know what it is - we have all gotten OLD! I looked around at the crowd. Yes, Melbourne Australia plus forty years!

Something was weird. Yes it did look like the crowd at Festival Hall 100 years ago. And that was the problem. Melbourne. Australia. The "White Australia Policy".

Where were the black people? There weren't any here at Jones Beach. How could that be?

Back in Manhattan I called a friend. A black friend. And I asked her how come there were no blacks at the Dylan concert. They are all gone, she told me. He was popular with blacks in the sixties and early seventies. Those people have all gone.

All of them? I wondered. And what about us white people? It's all getting too confusing. And too scary.

Native American at Babylon Fair, New York
On the way back from Jones Beach we stopped at Babylon where we saw there was a Native American fair. We decided to check it out.

It was a sad sort of fair, much like the "street fairs" that they have in Manhattan where imitations of imitations are displayed by people pretending to be fair people. The only difference here at the Indian Babylon fair was that the vendors were selling fake feather instead of fake glass earrings. Some of the so-called native Americans sported blonde hair and pale faces. But there were a few of the genuine article. Here's one. Sleeping.

As I wandered through the crowd I pondered and wondered about the Jones Beach concert.

And realised. I've traveled 12,000 miles and a hundred years and the times just ain't a'changing.

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