Expecting Rain is the website that, each day, provides links to the huge number of Bob references, news items and reviews that are published daily throughout the world. Its founder, Karl Erik Andersen, runs this massive project from somewhere in north Norway. It is a source of endless delight, fascination and information: a series of running updates to Michael Gray’s masterly Dylan Encyclopœdia.
A couple of days ago, it flagged up a short piece by Andrew Muir, the exemplary chronicler of the Never Ending Tour, who expressed his surprise at the recent “negativity in fandom”: “I am a little taken aback at the amount and strength of the gripes over the as yet unheard Fallen Angels” he wrote, pointing out that much of this negativity “seems to come especially from guys in their 60s who saw Bob in the ‘60s and are forever complaining that Bob isn’t doing what they want him to do”.
We are, of course, talkin’ about my generation. I am one of those guys. I am well into my 60s and first saw Bob in 1964. I have embraced (almost) every musical and cultural move that he has made, defying the party line in ’65 to welcome – even relish - the thin wild Mercury music, and then to learn to love the country pie, the rolling thunder, the Christianity, and on and on until we reach today and the ‘Sinatra period’.
Sinatra is pretty important to us baby-boomers. Sinatra was what was playing on our parents’ gramophones when we were small. We absorbed the songs and the style through osmosis. We know them just as we know Bob’s lyrics because, to borrow George Steiner’s distinction, we did not learn them by rote, but by heart.
Is this why so many of my contemporaries have such a problem with Bob doing Frank? Or is it because ‘covers’ are not regarded as ‘creative’? But Bob has always done ‘covers’ – one of the highlights, for me, of the Never Ending Tour was his London Calling at Brixton Academy in 2005. And of course, he ‘covers’ his own songs constantly, reinventing and recreating them. That’s what those of us who love ‘the song and dance man’ as well as the recording artist love. That’s what makes us schlep hundreds of miles to see and hear him.
I haven’t attended as many shows as Andy Muir, but I’ve been hittin’ some hard travellin’ too. Only once have I been profoundly disappointed, at Birmingham in 1987. Which means Bob has an approval rating from me on a par with Don Bradman’s test average. And I am confident that, when I see him this year, the vibe will be positive and passionate. I for one want to hear him sing Melancholy Mood and That Old Black Magic. I want to hear his take on them.
Of course, talkin’ about my generation, there is a broader point to be made about Bob and us. Andy makes it succinctly: it is “a resentment at once being so in thrall”.
We are, in so many ways, a failed generation. And there is a temptation to project our sense of failure on those who epitomized and articulated our hopes and ambitions, our sense of ourselves in the days “when we were thin” (thanks CP Lee!). I suspect this is where many of my friends and contemporaries sit today.
But one thing I know: When your gravity fails and negativity don’t pull you through, don’t put on any airs. Wherever you are.
Today from the everysmith vaults: Bob at Earl's Court in 1978, one of five nights as part of the Alimony Tour. Brilliant.