Memories of Dylan

Seona Smiles’ recollections of her interview in the ’60s of recent Nobel prizewinner, Bob Dylan was interesting. Getting the enigmatic musician to answer questions is like extracting teeth. When asked by the young reporter how old he was, she copped a classic response from Dylan, “As old as my grandmother’s teeth”.

On April Fool’s day of 1978 a group of 6th Form boarders from Waverley College huddled together in the stand of the Sydney Showground at the sell-out Bob Dylan outdoor concert. It was an awfully cold day with driving rain and howling winds. There was only warm beer which we shared from a little plastic cup to keep the chill from our bones.

Thousands gathered in the mud and slush in front of the stage with no umbrellas or raincoats for protection. In a short time the moshpit became a quagmire of writhing bodies reminiscent of Woodstock less than 10 years earlier. It was my first experience of a live rock concert since coming from Fiji a year earlier.

In the distance was the lit up stage, where I could barely make out the performer in his black leather jacket, his bright red Fender Stratocaster flashing as the spotlights honed in on him. The wind and the rain drowned the sound coming from the speakers on the stage and what we got over the PA system in the stands were muffled vocals with loud electric backing. It was bizarre, yet everyone seemed to be in the zone in spite of the inclement weather and terrible sound.

The whole stadium erupted in unison to the chorus of Like a Rolling Stone screaming out “How does it feel?” The electric version of the song sounded strange, not what I was used to. In fact the whole concert was not what I had expected. There were no acoustic versions of the songs that I had grown up listening to in Bob Miles music appreciation classes at MBHS or singing along to Blowing in the Wind during school assembly at Lambert Hall. The unwashed troubadour, the voice of a generation had done the unthinkable — he had abandoned his acoustic guitar and turned electric.

At the end of the concert we walked away rather disappointed. We felt betrayed in a way. For some the mystique and essence of Dylan died that day when he gravitated towards mainstream rock and embraced a whole new sound.

Today Dylan remains the irritable chameleon. The silence from him following his Nobel Prize is deafening.

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