How Bob Dylan is Teaching Humility
The latest Bob Dylan concert humbled, educated and enlightened 2,000. Dylan bans electronics and doesn’t talk much — forcing us to watch, listen and learn.
Restoring concerts to original design? Something told me we needed to see Bob Dylan when he came to the Wharton Center at Michigan State University.
The first clue something big was happening? The metal detectors. I’d never seen them at Wharton concerts (going back to 1983) but there they were — as if we were about to see the president or board a plane. “This is certainly different,” my bride chuckled.
Ominously, ushers began warning us (repeatedly) about Dylan’s strict electronic device policy: If we were seen using a phone or camera during the show, we would be removed from the auditorium.
The announcer repeated the words of caution. The older people around us (ancient Hippies and Beatniks now using walkers) as well as the young students listened. All generations dutifully complied with the rules.
Dylan taught us how to enjoy art
A single ray of light shines in total darkness. When a theater is dark, even a single iPhone recording video shines so all obeyed. But wait, there’s more:
- Distinctive Voice. Dylan literally speaks his own language making it hard to understand what he’s singing if you don’t already know the words. That made me keep my distance for years but Dylan is like opera or a foreign language symphony. You don’t need to understand what they’re saying to know they are displaying unique gifts no one else can share.
- The Man of few words who literally skips the small talk, singing song after song. No introductions. No “Hello (insert local town). He just plays and sings.
- Soup Nazi of Song. In “Seinfeld,” the Soup Nazi was this temperamental genius who made the best soup in the world and was highly temperamental and picky about who he would share it with. Dylan seems similar. When someone has the audacity to shout out “Lay Lady Lay!” Dylan ignored him. No requests for you! The most popular songs most people know weren’t played. The artist picks the music, not us.
- Not Karaoke. At a normal concert, half the audience is singing along and the singer often holds up hands and lets them take over as if we are Karaoke singers there to sing with the artist as karaoke machine. Not the case with Bob Dylan. We weren’t always sure what he was singing and no one sings like him so we shut up and listened.
- Not a dance. Again, it’s hard to even sit in most expensive concert seats because other show goers are standing and dancing or pretending they are camera people recording the entire show for their fans. None of that here. People sat for two hours and just listened. We stared at him, studied him.
Bob Dylan gave us back our souls
So there we were humbled, unable to play videographer with our phones for two straight hours. Forced to surrender, sit, watch and listen to a genius.
It was liberating, like slaves freed from their electronic addictions. Life isn’t about us and our relationship with our personal smart device. Life is actually about loving one another and getting to know the other.
It was like the difference between having a dinner with someone (looking at your phone the whole time) and shutting off the phone getting to actually stare at them and totally focus on someone other than yourself for two hours.
Revolutionary. Even in the pre cellphone days, concerts were so noisy that the Beatles quit touring at their peak because they couldn’t hear each other. And worse, they knew the wild fan reaction was the same whether they did well or so-so, making them feel no one was actually listening.
Bob Dylan was actually big before the Beatles, getting his professional career going in 1959, a full 60 years ago. So he’s probably a bit old to be jumping all over the stage. He’s an artist who practices his craft, not the leader of a sing along so he’s here to do his thing and we can watch or leave.
Other artists are totally focused on feeding the fans’ demands and keeping the money and cheers pouring in. Fans (at a typical concert) become almost unpaid subcontractor promoters: taking pictures and video and pushing it all out on social media to generate buzz and more ticket sales. Bob Dylan seems more interested in his calling, his mission.
Dylan’s spirituality was something that fed my desire to see him live. Bishop Robert Barron has done numerous talks on the spiritual depth of Bob Dylan. Dylan, like St. John Paul the Great, is more of a poet than a performer.
And that’s probably why his concerts are more like going to a symphony or a poetry reading (respectful silence) than a rock concert.
We don’t need to listen to music while simultaneously looking at a tiny screen. We don’t need to see a live concert through our phones — we can actually turn them off. We can let go and focus on one thing, the art, artistry and spiritual poetry of the people we paid to see.