New album by Bob Dylan
Posted Mar. 1, 2015 at 2:01 AM
By Jim Raftus
Two songs into Bob Dylan’s new CD “Shadows In the Night,” I decided it was the worst album I’d ever purchased. The premise, Dylan channeling Sinatra, had seemed beyond risky and by the end of the second cut my fears were confirmed. I turned it off and began randomly reminiscing previous Dylan moments in my life.
Because I was a squad leader I had been assigned a room with a view of the Alyeska mountain range on Fort Richardson in Anchorage, Alaska. Often guys would stop by my room to smoke, swear and listen to music. One day after listening to my collection of Dylan, Tom Paxton, Buffy St. Marie and Phil Ochs albums a thoroughly Southern boy, Private First Class E.Q. Smith from Little Rock, drawled, “ Ya’ll know what you are, Raftus? Ya’ll a short-haired hippie.” A precise, concise observation. I doubt many other barracks walls echoed with the sound of Dylan’s “Masters of War” during that horrific summer.
The old Rhode Island Auditorium was infamous for the low hanging, suffocating cigarette smoke that would engulf the crowds at Boston Celtic and Providence Reds games. The smoke had a different density, and distinct aroma, when Dylan played the North Main Street venue just a couple of months after “going electric” in Newport. I had forgiven Bob by then, even embracing his new sound. My girlfriend was less than enamored. She convinced me to leave early to beat the crowds, but as we started up the stairs toward the exit the first few chords, the organ riff from “Like a Rolling Stone,” tore through the pungent air and stopped me in my tracks.
“We’re not going anywhere.” I announced to my companion.
It was the beginning of the end of that relationship.
As a youth I had a passion for sports and a cursory interest in music. My son, Steve, now 29, was the exact opposite. From the age of 8 he dedicated himself to learning guitar. As a youngster he probably spent as many hours working on chords as I had perfecting my mid-range jump shot. Oddly this mix of aspirations helped form our bond as we traded tidbits from our separate passions. However, early on in Steve’s musical journey he was not into folk. He was a hard rocking young lad so, when I invited him to join my wife and me at a Dylan concert at the TD North Garden in Boston he was hesitant. I’d played a great deal of early acoustic folk Dylan in our home. Steve felt he’d be bored. Dylan, 57 in 1998, rocked at the Garden.As we left the concert my young son exclaimed, “That was awesome! Thanks, Dad.”
So, the other day, as I sat in my car in the Emerald Square Mall parking lot, having turned off “Shadows In the Night,” I felt abandoned, as if some connective tissue in my life had snapped. It’s not as if I had been a life long Dylan acolyte. He’d lost me for some stretches before; his Christian conversion and deep country phases left me cold. But since the mid-1990s, I’d regained my enthusiasm. “Shadows In the Night” seemed like a divorce-worthy misstep.
No one, not even the most ardent Dylan fans, would have ever said they listened to him for the purity of his voice. At its core it was the words, the searing, prophetic lyrics and the painted pictures in musical verse, that captured us. How could a CD of Dylan’s voice, more ruptured than ever, singing someone else’s words possibly work? Out of obligation I pushed “play” as I started the ride home. The third track, “Stay With Me” had a little bounce to it. It was palatable. By the end of the final song, “That Lucky Old Sun,” I was unnerved.
“I can’t be liking this!” I thought.
Later that evening I found myself slow dancing with my wonderful wife of 40 years in the living room of our suburban home to Dylan’s interpretation of Sinatra’s “What’ll I Do?”
Now the question remains: Who has changed more in the past five decades — Dylan or me?
Jim Raftus (firstname.lastname@example.org), an occasional contributor, is a retired marketing executive who lives in Cumberland.