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Dylan at Eighty

In Flagrante is including at least two Bob Dylan songs in their Summer Concert on 12 July 2023

Dylan, aged 21, performs at the Singers Club Christmas Party in London, 1962. Photograph: Brian Shuel/Redferns

Bob Dylan has always been in my life, firstly, my brother is a great fan and then, when I met my husband, I discovered he was too.

Well, I must admit I have always admired Dylan’s writing and the words and sentiments are exceptional. As some of you know, I sometimes write the occasional poem, but I am not in Dylan’s league!

He was, of course, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016.

To me his words can read as poetry, but as he says himself. in his Nobel address, “The words in Shakespeare’s plays were meant to be acted on the stage. Just as lyrics in songs are meant to be sung, not read on a page. And I hope some of you get the chance to listen to these lyrics the way they were intended to be heard: in concert, or on record, or however people are listening to songs these days. I return once again to Homer, who says ‘Sing in me, oh Muse, and through me tell the story’.”

Intense virtuosity ... Bob Dylan in 1965. Photograph: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

However, I have always struggled with listening to his very unique voice and would prefer to hear other artists sing his songs.

Nonetheless, over the years, I have mellowed and hearing him sing with the Traveling Wilburys, where his voice blends so well with Tom Petty, George Harrison, Jeff Lynne and Roy Orbison I was converted, to a certain extent! His lyrics still stand out e.g. ‘He wrote a long letter on a short piece of paper’

He has now celebrated his 80th birthday, which seems incredible. When he wrote A Hard Rain at the age of 21 years, he just listed all the ideas of possible songs he could write as he thought he would never live a long life and put them into this one song. That, like another of his songs,

Blowing in the Wind, (which we will perform) is as true today as it was when it was written 60 years ago.

He is an artist who can transform his personal experience into something mythic and then back again into something that is personally meaningful to his listener. (This double operation is at the heart of his genius.) Dylan writes songs that feel iconic and yet intimate. Songs that seem to stand for decades, movements, issues, moments in history, yet also say something acute about how you feel today.

Dylan has written more than 500 immortal songs. He has a way in which he has continued to write that is still so alive and expressive, well into his eighth decade. His last album, Rough and Rowdy Ways (2020), will come to be considered one of his finest. His late works stand as measured and resonant equal to the raw, intense virtuosity of his unsurpassable early output – those first eight albums, written and recorded between the ages of 21 and 26.

Dylan has always been true to himself and with his live performances he has played what he wants to perform rather than be a crowd pleaser. Sometimes with an acoustic guitar and on other occasions, controversially with an electric guitar.

Dylan performs at Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, California, 1975. Photograph: Alvan Meyerowitz/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Every night he plays his songs in a slightly different way. Works from decades ago will be reimagined and reshaped so as to acquire new resonances – not just for the audience, but also for Dylan himself.

The songs come through him and by him but they’re not for him. They are there for the benefit of anyone and everyone who wishes to fathom human nature in their company.

Dylan performs at the Vieilles Charrues music festival in Carhaix-Plouguer, France, 2012.

Photograph: Fred Tanneau/AFP/Getty Images

They exist for all the world today and they will exist for all the world tomorrow.

They will always be there for me. They will always be there for you.

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