Dylan Plays Philly - Chapter 2

I was fortunate to hear Bob Dylan live, early in his career; this was May of 1963, in Philadelphia. I was 16. Back then, American folk music had sub-camps of blues, bluegrass, international, old timey, ragtime, folksingers, traditional balladeers, and political music fans. These groups had one thing in common: the majority of their members were not focused on writing and singing their own material.

Dylan changed that. He pioneered the singer/songwriter era. After Dylan, when you went on stage, regardless of your music roots, you sang your own song.

And on stage, his performances were riveting. No one dove into a song with Bob’s unflagging commitment. No jokes, no introductions, no b.s. He finished one song and charged into the next.

The story in my book, “Dylan Plays Philly,” focuses on how I found him backstage at his first Philadelphia concert where we had a brief exchange, and how he changed modern America folk music as it was known.

I am grateful for Dylan’s creativity, for his being around and productive for so long, to have lived in his era, to have heard him live. Almost everyone dances beneath the diamond sky of a favorite Dylan lyric, song, or quotation. One of mine was what he said after he was released from the hospital in June of 1997, following a near fatal heart infection. He quipped, “I almost saw Elvis.”

Besides ushering in the singer/songwriter era, Dylan also focused, at least early in his career, on political songs. I miss that in today’s acoustic music field. So much songwriting is what singer Maria Muldaur calls “diary songs.” “Me, me, me,” they sing relentlessly, “I, I, I.”

We sing, it has been said, when the emotions we’re feeling cannot be expressed by speech alone; then we must raise our voices in song to fully convey the feelings we carry. There is so much going on today that many of us feel deeply about, feelings that are fodder for political songs. But few singer/songwriters are protesting climate change lethargy, the unstoppable American war machine, the oligarchic state the U.S.A. has become, the government’s Hoovering of our e­­–goings‑on and phone calls, the selling out of both political parties to big oil, big banks, big dollars. As Dylan sang, “Money doesn’t talk, it swears.”

Now is the time, young people. There must be something wrong in this crazy world that you feel passionately about. Sing out for what is right. Take a part in the good fight.

Dylan did.