Dylan Can’t ‘Stay in Mississippi’ Long Enough for True Fans

To the astonishment and gratitude of serious fans and to the ambivalence of lesser ones, Bob Dylan has played Mississippi for more than ten concerts in a row.  Prior to this he had only played it on a few (?) occasions shortly after its 2001 release on Love and Theft.  There are also two lovely versions of it on Tell Tale Signs: The Bootleg Series Volume 8.  Both Sheryl Crow and The Dixie Chicks have covered it.

A friend of mine was in an argument with an ill-informed girl who said with an assured arrogance typical of the ill-informed that she didn’t listen to any Dylan post-1966 (a year in which she was not even alive).  He sent her not even the song, but just the lyrics to Mississippi and she quickly changed her tune.

It contains couplets that measure with some of the best verses in Dylan’s peerless body of work.

I was raised in the country, I been workin’ in the town
I been in trouble ever since I set my suitcase down

As someone who was raised in a small isolated community and still misses his old life, still dreams of his old friends whether I want to or not, and has suffered plenty of  metropolitan heartbreak, this line will always be particularly resonant for me.

But my heart is not weary, it’s light and it’s free
I’ve got nothin’ but affection for all those who’ve sailed with me

Not only a beautiful line, but this is refreshing for long-time fans to hear.  The Dylan of the late 80s certainly gave the impression of having a weary, heavy heart.  The Dylan of the early 90s was a confirmed alcoholic.

The second line is also such a warm and generous remark from a person who has long been accused of being aloof and leery of hangers-on, manipulators, etc.  Here we see the warmer incarnation of Bob’s spirituality, as opposed to his End Times a Comin-style evangelical masterpieces like Blind Willie McTell or Slow Train Comin’.  This is an older, wiser, kinder Bob.  I’ll take ten.

Sung live, I see that affection line as a good replacement for this applause-generator in Spirit on the Water:

You think I’m over the hill
You think I’m past my prime
Let me see what you got
We can have a whoppin’ good time

It’s like Bob, who has previously said that he’d have to retire if people stopped showing up to his concerts, is offering an appreciation to the effect of:  “Hey you’re still here; I got nothing but affection for you!”

So many things that we never will undo
I know you’re sorry, I’m sorry too

This simple message of forgiveness, one of the most concise and beautiful lines Bob’s ever written, is delivered with heartbreaking pathos on the official releases (some might argue:  because Dylan could still sing then) but in 2011, live, it’s delivered in the fashion of a mentally insane children’s performer.  The too being practically yodelled like many, many octaves higher than the pure gravel of the preceding lyrics.   A critical listener might sneer and say, “Uh, is it meant to be funny Bob?”

Stick with me baby, stick with me anyhow
Things should start to get interestin’ right about now

Yet more built-in encouragement for we fans who aren’t going anywhere no matter how funny/weird/scary Bob sounds.

And things getting “interesting right about now,” is fascinating given the time period in which the song was written—immediately preceding the glorious comeback years of 1997 through 2003 (it’s debatable in which year the purest glory of this comeback ended).

Maybe he’s singing Mississippi again because he’s confident he’s on the verge of yet another reinvention/resurgence.

Well, the emptiness is endless, cold as the clay
You can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way

A possible admission that Bob understands he’s lost something [like his ability to sing melodic notes (except in that bedeviling White House performance{below})]?

So, as said above, serious fans are counting down the days to whichever show they hold tickets for, hoping this song remains in the setlist.  Fickle fans who only hope to hear Like a Rolling Stone are murmuring “Is this one of his new ones?”

What’s important is that Bob has another collection of ingenius lines to play with in his inimitably fun way.   It’s probably not a huge deal to Bob what anyone thinks anyway—say anything you wannna, the bard has heard it all.


Bob Dylan Review 07/08/11 – Rochester Hills, MI

As a Dylan advocate (you might at times have said “apologist”) I sometimes fear my legitimate praise of the great man will be perceived as mindless fawning.

So let me first complain about the last show I’d seen at the Kitchener Aud (terrible acoustics) with a bunch of Greatest Hits enthusiasts, and poor Bob looking almost bored to tears.  Even at this type of vaguely disheartening show I’d rationalize:  “Well it looked like he was having a good time.”  I was saying this because he bobbed his knees a few times.  And because at previous shows I’d seen he’d looked like he was having a downright bad time.

Well, last night in Rochester Hills, Michigan, Bob looked (not just to me but to even a neutral observer) like he was having a fucking hell of a time.  I think the biggest improvement is that Bob’s new configuration of switching from organ, to centre-stage crooning to playing guitar really mixes up the dynamic.

Previously, when all Bob did was plunk away on his circus organ (sometimes called the “instrument of torture”) things began to sound dreadfully similar and it could lull you to sleep, even if there were some grand moments.  It also led to a lot of sing-songy shouting that disappointed the people who wanted the songs to sound at least something like the songs they love.

But, now, for the handful of songs played on the IOT you get a great attack between the organ and Charlie Sexton’s subtle, exquisite guitar slinging.  In the past there had been accusations among knowledgeable fans that Bob was drowning Charlie out.

But it’s when Bob is crooning that his shows are now the most fun.  During his early 60s appearances in Greenwich Village some compared him to Charlie Chaplin because of the comical way he’d look nervous and uncomfortable before tearing into some ballad that held the room in the palm of his hand.  Also maybe because he is really short and cartoonishly cute in appearance.

Well, now the Chaplin comparison has come full circle as Dylan seems to, more than ever, embrace the role of comedian.  He prances about in a way so comical that I couldn’t help pointing it out to the somewhat aggravated “long-time-listeners-first-time-attendees” beside me.

These people were also trying to have a kind of religious experience with Bob but a kind that wasn’t quite up to date.  The woman was interested in my tips about what to expect.  But her companion, after delivering a non-sensical speech about Blowin’ in the Wind that kept coming back to his condemnation of marijuana-smoking, was shushed by his more-savvy companion, so he eventually became insecure and boorishly yelled at me to leave them alone in stereotypical American nastiness, for which his date later apologized, referring to him as “her friend” as though she wanted precious little to do with him after his dickish outburst.

As I have a sensitive psychic constitution this rattled me for the remainder of the show.  Also, because the premiere area under the pavilion is seated, it’s a totally different vibe than standing general admission which encourages dancing (and in my case, a Bob-inspired duck walk).  When I was yelling out the encouragement I felt Bob deserved I was generally perceived as a lunatic.

That brings me to my main point.  In the past I’ve had a theory that when an audience is rocking, Bob gives them what they deserve, but when an audience is passive Bob phones it in to a degree.  This might explain why the shows in Europe and abroad are consistently better than the ones in America.  Last night he fought through that beer-drunk passivity and just did what he does best now.

It’s my opinion that songs two through four are usually the highlight of any Dylan show.  And the last time I saw him, once those were over it was a long slow death march through Highway 61, Thin Man, etc.

Last night was a totally even show, consistently good from top to bottom.  Those aforementioned songs that I usually skip when listening to bootlegs are becoming nightly highlights.  It could also be that they’re meant to be heard live where the power of the band really comes across.  But more so than usual, the band was drum-tight on those songs.

The addition of Mississippi allows Bob to play with the lyrics to one of his most beautiful songs in the way he’s been doing with Visions of Johanna and Desolation Row for the last few years. 

For some this is, to quote one message board commentator, “pissing on the Mona Lisa,” but for others, going to a Bob show and hearing one of these lesser played masterpieces is, like, a reason for living.  I can attest to that somewhat extreme statement.  The night previous I’d been at a wedding, and, as usual, due to my proclivity for hard drinking and the sensitive psychic constitution mentioned above had made a sort of minor scene.  So I was hungover, plagued by guilt and a Kierkegaardian “sickness unto death,” and in this sorrowful condition, watching and hearing Bob healed and nourished me in ways that would only sound silly to anyone but a fellow Bob freak.

Back to the music:  When this boot comes out…pay particular attention to the clipped yelling on Things Have Changed.   Clipped yelling is what people have grumbled about for years.  Some idiots have even called for him to quit because of it.  Maybe that lit a fire under Bob.  Because this is a new kind of clipped yelling that even the Greatest Hits fans can’t help but be amused by.

Something is happening here…