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Regular readers will know James Adams from his previous guest newsletters, exploring the ghost of Tennessee Williams on Dylan’s ‘86 tour and the very first show of the Never Ending Tour two years later. Twitter uses will know him as the essential Dylan resource @bob_notes. And Aquarium Drunkard fans will know him as the host of Bob-bootlegs radio show “Pretty Good Stuff.”
But today he’s our correspondent out east, reporting in from Bob’s last three shows in Charleston, Moon Township, and Hershey just last night. More than just show reviews, though, he created little travelogues, a window into life on the road as a Bob fan in 2021. I’ll turn it over to James to explain his inspiration…
If you don’t know already, John Bauldie was a Bob Dylan fan. Maybe he was the Bob Dylan fan, but there’s no need to debate and answer that question here. He helped spread Dylan tapes across England, and the rest of the world, beginning in the early 1970s, wrote the liner notes for the first Bootleg Series release, met Bob once after a show and had a chat with him, even had the opportunity to ask Bob a question at the Hearts of Fire press conference.
Bauldie’s greatest accomplishment in the Bob world was gathering Dylan fans together, into a loose, lively, and very opinionated tribe, and helping to legitimize the study of Bob Dylan and his art. We take it for granted nowadays that Dylan’s work is worthy of serious attention and scholarship, but that wasn’t always the case. Bauldie helped solidify the perception, the idea that Dylan is worthy of having his own university courses, public archives, museums, and even the Nobel Prize for Literature. Bauldie’s vehicle for doing this was a fanzine called The Telegraph. It ran for 55 issues with Bauldie at the helm, from 1981 to 1996.
Some people hear the word “fanzine” and turn up their nose. Those people don’t know The Telegraph. As a point of comparison, I’d say the ‘zine was closer to a scholarly journal, but that doesn’t leave enough room for the liveliness of the thing, the humor and boastfulness, the honesty and debate, the deep research and insight on its pages.
For example, a single issue might have an interview with Kinky Friedman about his time on Rolling Thunder ’76, a short memoir by Al Aronowitz, a review of a recent Dylan television appearance, an examination of the links between Dylan and Smokey Robinson, an analysis of the various vinyl versions of Blonde on Blonde, rare color photographs of Dylan by Elliott Landy, a deep piece unpacking William Zantzinger’s murder of Hattie Carroll, an interview with Steve Wickham of The Waterboys about his time playing with Dylan in 1984, an interview with Martin Carthy about Bob’s various trips to England in the 1960s, and personal anecdotes about Bob from Joe Cocker, Frankie Valli, and Wim Wenders (Bob and Wim talked about Fassbinder!).
To be clear, that is not a hypothetical issue of The Telegraph. Those are the actual contents of issue 42, from the summer of 1992. (I’ll steal a little bit of Bauldie’s humor and point out that yes, Bob Dylan was on the cover).
One of my favorite reoccurring pieces in The Telegraph was Bauldie’s Bob Dylan tour diary, usually published under the name “Diary of a Bobcat.” I know of four different installments, each with multiple entries, covering Bauldie’s stints on tour following Bob in 1988, 1989, 1992, and 1993. They’re astute and engrossing, equal parts meditation and travelogue, rumor and fact. Of course, Bauldie also includes a little bit about the individual Dylan shows he attends—maybe not as much as you would expect—enough to get a sense of how well Dylan performed, the atmospherics around the show, and the mood of the crowd and local press. Read the diary for yourself and you’ll find it is almost impossible to put down.
The larger value of the diary is that it provides a deep and unflinching view of life as a Dylan fan on the road during those opening campaigns of the Never Ending Tour. It’s an immersive tale. It’s not crazy to think of the diary as a piece of ethnographic fieldwork, with Bauldie living among the most dedicated Dylan freaks, studying their habits, and reporting his findings. Except that metaphor ignores Bauldie’s role as a leader of this pack of dedicated Dylanomaniacs. Bauldie called them Bobcats though. He coined that name. It started as a joke and even included a disproportionate (and unserious) list of rules required to attain membership. Reading The Telegraph, you get the sense that the angrier readers got about the name, and the rules, the more Bauldie liked them. His humor overlaps with mine.
It was a different time then, before the internet, with the dust of rumor passed by letter, or phone call, or face-to-face in a pub after the show. It wasn’t uncommon to run into a band member or crew guy at the hotel bar or swimming pool and swap intelligence about the next cycle of tour dates, or what Bob was thinking, what he was wearing. It might not even be Bob’s band to give you the scoop, as Bauldie’s diary include a wonderful run-in with half of the Grateful Dead. You even had a decent shot of seeing the man himself, riding a bicycle before the show, or doing the shuffle from hotel to bus to venue to bus to hotel, in a loop that continues today.
Bauldie died tragically in a helicopter crash on October 22, 1996. That’s twenty-five years gone.
Soon after we got word that Bob Dylan would indeed tour this year, I thought of John Bauldie and The Telegraph, and how the band of Bobcats he helped unite might be stronger than ever. We still share facts and rumors, meet up at shows, pass rare recordings that deserve immediate attention. Sure, the technology has changed, but the work is basically the same. Fanzine or blog, podcast or Twitter, chat room or forum, we’re brought together by our love for Bob Dylan and his art, and the need to share that love with someone else.
So, with all due respect to John Bauldie, and against my better judgement, please accept this latest entry into the “Diary of a Bobcat”:
Saturday, November 13, 2021 – Charleston, WV
I’m rolling out of Charlottesville, Virginia. The route is easy. I take the highway pointed west and stay on it until I arrive at my destination, about four hours away, not counting that stop for a hot dog and one more cup of coffee. I’m traveling alone to just a couple of shows, with plans to meet up with as many friends as I can along the way. My wife doesn’t come to Bob shows anymore. Five or six years ago she said, “You know, I think I’ve seen enough Bob Dylan.” That’s ironclad logic. She’s perfect in every other way.
I’ve seen Dylan in Charleston before. Charlestons plural, really - West Virginia and South Carolina! The West Virginia show was in February 2002. It was a weird one. The general admission crowd was rough and rowdy (very drunk) and Bob came alive in that energy. A couple of dudes up front (in my hazy memory they aren’t wearing shirts) unfurled an enormous American flag and stood there shaking it during “Rainy Day Woman #12 & 35.” (This was five months after September 11, 2001). Three pretty ladies wearing homemade t-shirts reading “B-O-B” were brought out of the crowd and allowed to dance just offstage for the entire encore. They did a vibrating snake dance, with their arms above their head, during “Love Sick.” When the show ended and the lights came up, the girls just stood there awkwardly, wondering what to do next, looking a little lost. It was bizarre. Charleston 2002 was the only time I heard Bob perform “Most Likely You Go Your Way (And I’ll Go Mine).” Until, well, tonight. That’s a personal gap of 19 years. Incredible.
In Charleston, I link up with Dan, my best and oldest personal friend. He’s also my best and oldest Bob-fan friend. That alone is remarkable, isn’t it? We’ve been at this for a while. He was at that 2002 show in Charleston with me, and we’ve been to dozens of other Bob shows together since then.
Dan is breathless with details about last night’s shows in Louisville - both of them. “Sebastian Bach was in town! It’s the 30th anniversary of Slave to the Grind!” Uh-oh. “Bach went to see Dylan. After Dylan’s show, he walked down the street to his own show. So did I! We got Dylan and the best part of Skid Row in one night. Can you imagine?” I can’t. “Bach said: ‘Bob Dylan is 120 years old and still out on the road doing this job.’” I’m briefly distracted by the thought of following Dylan on tour in 2061.
“Thanks for that update from 1989,” I tell Dan. “What about Bob!?”
“The crowd was awful,” he says. “People were yelling back and forth about the fans standing up front by the stage. I saw somebody throw a beer.” Yikes. “There were a bunch of college-aged people in line to get in, almost none leaving the venue. One guy said, ‘I’m not sure that was better than nothing.’ I heard a lot of British accents.”
Save that part about beer-throwing, Dan’s description of the show isn’t terribly different from plenty of other Bob shows we’ve seen. That gives me hope that maybe things won’t be entirely different this time around. I’m excited about the new setlist, the new band, but part of me also craves the normality of just being back on the road, seeing Bob, overhearing people who pay for their ticket and still complain.
Tonight’s venue is the Charleston Municipal Auditorium. That’s where Hank Williams was headed on the night he died, in those dark and lonely hours between 1952 and 1953. Waiting in the hallway before the show, I’m finally able to link up with Adam J. He denies that he has special ticket ninja talents, no matter what Jon Wurster might report in Flagging Down the Double E’s. This is my first time meeting Adam in person, and I like him immediately. Adam attended a few shows on this tour already, and chimes in on the crowds: “For the most part the audiences have been quiet and respectful. That’s great because Bob is hitting notes you’ve never heard him hit before. Not only that, he’s holding them!”
Adam links me up with Sue, who is indeed a certified ticket ninja and genuine Bob tour legend. She has similar praise for Bob’s voice. My excitement for this show, already unreasonable, gains a few more pounds. Sue is seeing all of the shows on this tour. All that travel would take a toll on meager mortals, but Sue is superhuman, incredibly friendly, and immune to bad vibes. She shakes off criticism of the crowd in Louisville with praise for Bob’s performance there. Her personality is contagious. I’m reminded that seeing and making friends at Bob shows is a good part of the fun of going to see Bob shows.
Tonight, Dan and I are sitting audience right, about ten rows back. Our sightlines are just okay, but we do have a good view of Bob behind the piano, even when the lights are down between songs and he’s adjusting his bench (which Bob inexplicably keeps perpendicular to the piano, not parallel) or reaching for a drink. Our view is less great when Bob is at center stage, especially when he ducks back into a gaggle with his bandmates.
The show is slow to get going, even though the opening tunes have a decent tempo. It’s like a big truck climbing a hill, looking to catch the right gear. Bob and the band find it by the third number, “I Contain Multitudes.” Everyone in the band is synched up and cruising by then, headed in the same direction. It’s a fantastic performance. Dylan’s care with the vocal, his enunciation, and punctuated delivery is a joy.
Halfway through the show it occurs to me that Dylan is acting like a true frontman. He’s positioned at the head of a sloppy triangle of musicians, with the rest of his band aligned behind or holding up the sides. Dylan’s vocals are high and centered in the mix. Dylan even takes all of the instrumental solos. His piano breaks—sometimes subtle, sometimes surreal, with a lot of dynamic range—are a major part of the sound of this band. Save the beautiful guitar opening and closing of “Melancholy Mood,” (played by Doug Lancio, under Dylan’s scrutinous eye) I have a hard time remembering any other band member taking a solo during the entire show. Seriously, Dylan’s keeping them all for himself.
To my ears, the highlights are clearly the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs. Dylan’s investment in the delivery of those tunes is higher and thereby more rewarding. “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You,” is delicate and precise and very moving. “My Own Version of You,” is sinister, maybe half-evil. Even “Mother of Muses,” probably my least favorite song on the album, demands and deserves admiration, namely for Dylan’s vocal performance.
But hey, everybody departs that first show in a glow. Everybody except the guy in the bathroom loudly complaining that Bob didn’t play “Lay Lady Lay.” Admittedly, this is my first time tasting any of the new songs in a live setting. I’m not prepared to dissect them. All I can do right now is be thankful that I got to sit in the same room with them.
“Hey, I wonder if those ‘B-O-B’ dancing girls were here tonight?” Dan asks as we file out of the venue.
“Yeah, maybe with their teenage kids,” I reply.
Sunday, November 14, 2021 – On the Road
Maybe it’s strange, but one of my favorite things about following Bob Dylan is the time I get to spend alone between shows, traveling from place to place. That’s doubly true after the weirdness of the last year and a half, when everything seemed so loud and still. I also have a couple of rules to help me respect the rare gift of traveling peace and quiet:
Limit the amount of time spent on social media. I mean, that’s just good advice for any day, but especially when you’re out and about. Usually, I delete the apps off my phone before leaving on tour, to remove the temptation. But I need them this tour to link up IRL with my Bob friends who live in cyberspace. It’s a balancing act.
Absolutely no Bob music in the car. I know, this is a weird one, but when I’m on tour the only Bob music I want to have inside my head is the music from last night, circling around until the next night, the next show. I’ve found the memories hold their shape and last a little bit longer that way.
For this trip I have a short stack of live Miles Davis CDs burned from the wonderful Heat Warps blog. Also some New Lost City Ramblers and Ali Akbar Khan. You know, driving music.
No rushing down the road, and stop to look at anything remotely interesting. This includes prioritizing backroads over the interstate highways, whenever that’s not an insane difference in time. You never know if and when you’ll be back in <checks the map> Point Pleasant, West Virginia, again. Why not stop and take it in?
That’s how I found myself spending Sunday morning, as everyone else in town was filing out of church, gawking at a tall silver statue of the Mothman:
Do you know the Mothman? He’s a regional folk horror creature native to the town of Point Pleasant. Witnesses describe Mothman as a “large flying man with ten foot wings” and glowing red eyes. Mothman maybe had something to do with the collapse of a bridge that spanned the Ohio (one of them rebel rivers) and claimed the lives of 46 people. All of this happened around 1967. You know, Basement Tapes-era Bob.
Do you ever do that? Hear a date and immediately think: “Oh, that’s about the time Bob converted to Christianity.” Or: “Hmm, I think Bob was touring with the Grateful Dead that summer.” I do it all the time. Bob Dylan is a calendar.
Monday, November 15, 2021 – Moon Township, PA
Moon Township is a suburb northwest of Pittsburgh, out by the airport. There’s not much going on out that way, so I spent all afternoon at the Andy Warhol Museum downtown. It’s my favorite art museum, among those I’ve visited. It’s welcoming and immersive. My favorite part of the museum is a bank of personal viewing stations, where you can call up any number of Warhol’s films or videos or television shows and watch. Someone in the back of the room was watching Warhol’s eight-hour film of the Empire State Building. I selected a Bob Dylan screen test. Either way, it’s avant-garde on demand.
Most Dylan fans are broadly familiar with the basic links between Bob and Andy. Yes, it’s true, Dylan sat for two Warhol screen tests (shot on the same day) and traded a Triple Elvis to Albert Grossman for a couch. What I find more fascinating is Andy’s 1960s preoccupation with Dylan’s status as a rising star in popular music, and Warhol’s appropriation of Dylan’s music and image.
Dylan songs pop up in Andy’s films, sometimes with the sound manipulated (“A Hard Rain’s A‐Gonna Fall” plays at the wrong speed during the opening of Warhol’s 1967 film Imitation of Christ) or to punctuate an emotional point (“It Ain’t Me Babe” plays behind Edie Sedgwick as she models various dinner outfits in footage shot for 1965’s Poor Little Rich Girl). Paul Caruso plays a harmonica-blowing character who looks just like Bob Dylan in Andy’s 1965 film More Milk Yvette. Warhol and Caruso removed the ambiguity around that character a year later, in a film called The Bob Dylan Story.
The relationship between Warhol and Dylan picked up again in the mid-‘80s. Their social circles occasionally overlapped, often through intermediaries like Bianca Jagger and Yoko Ono and Ric Ocasek. Warhol’s own diaries have multiple entries about Dylan from this time, including a chance encounter on January 14, 1987 at Nell’s in Manhattan. Dylan spent that morning taking in an exhibition of Warhol’s photography at the Miller Gallery and coincidently ran into Andy later that day. In a month and week, Warhol would be gone.
In my own bit of artistry and artistic license, I made up a small batch of bootleg buttons that commemorate Dylan’s return to the road. Handing them out is a joy, despite the shoddy design and whiff of suspicious parking lot merch. But these buttons aren’t for sale, oh no. You need to be among the true believers to get your hands on one of these precious jewels. You need to earn one, with exceptional merit and esteemed accomplishment in the service of Bob. Or you could just be a stranger who said: “Nice button! Where’d you get it?” I gave a lot of them out that way.
Dylan shows don’t have much of a parking lot scene these days, especially during fall tour, when it can be too cold to hang outside. The official merch station is a busy hive, but not really my scene. The tour poster is updated for this run, now showing that creepy “False Prophet,” skeleton about to inject an unsuspecting dancing couple with an unknown glowing drug. They should take a new picture of Bob and put that on the poster. That’s who we are there to see.
Tonight’s show is at the UPMC Events Center, the basketball and volleyball arena for Robert Morris University. Sue introduces me to her friend Jayne, another hero on the road attending all of the shows. I listen to their stories with awe and jealousy. Adam R. is down from Buffalo and I’m thrilled to finally meet him in the flesh. “Cleveland was so good I just had to see one more show on this tour,” he tells me. Are a disproportionate number of Dylan fans named Adam(s)?
I’m sitting audience left tonight and that opens up entirely new views of Bob and his band. Unlike Charleston, I can see what the guitar players are doing tonight. Mostly they’re serving the song. That’s a cliché, but too true to ignore. Bob Britt has found his place in this band and occupies it fully. He adds sweet acoustic fills between lines in “When I Paint My Masterpiece,” then switches to a malicious black Gibson Flying V for “Black Rider.” His vibrato on that tune is so dense you wonder if the whole band might puddle up and pour off the stage.
I’m most impressed by Charley Drayton. His versatility is exactly what this band needs, as the sound and genre shift substantively between numbers. Drayton’s always there, contributing, building whatever atmosphere the song requires. His playing is subtle, never distracting. It’s hard to imagine these songs sounding this good without him.
Tonight in Moon is objectively better than Saturday in Charleston. From the first salvo that opens “Watching the River Flow,” the band is at full tilt and going for it.
Ironically, it’s also a sloppier show. “Early Roman Kings,” damn near collapses under its own weight. Yes, “Early Roman Kings,” a song Bob has played more than 500 times in the last decade. After it stumbles to a stop, Tony Garnier whispers something to Bob. Whatever he says causes Bob to laugh, hard, and say: “Oh yeah, I know.” I don’t know what Tony said to Bob, but I’d bet money it was something like: “Of all the songs to screw up …”.
“Key West,” is my highlight tonight. Bob’s delivery is clear and impassioned. Donnie Herron’s accordion circles the song like a curious bird. Britt’s guitar fills up some of the holes in the sound, but leaves enough space for the story. It’s hypnotic. Sometimes Bob and Britt trade little three note phrases back and forth, between piano and guitar. It’s a beautiful conversation.
Tuesday, November 16, 2021 – Hershey, PA
I drove partway to Hershey last night, the guitar riff from “Goodbye Jimmy Reed” echo-marching in my ears. It’s hard to sleep after a Bob show anyway. You pick up an energy that vibrates for at least a couple of hours after the lights come up. It’s a fine time to drive through the night, playing back the setlist in your head, and comparing it to everything that came before.
During that drive across Pennsylvania in the dark, I was thinking again about the “where was Bob on such and such date?” memory device, because I have an equidistant Bob date coming soon in my personal life. My friend Ariel did the math for me and learned that Bob Dylan was 14,700 days old on the day I was born. I will turn 14,700 days old on November 19th. That’s this Friday, the beginning of Dylan’s run at the Beacon. I can’t make it to the Beacon, but I know some of you will be there. Celebrate for Bob and me! On that day I’ll be exactly half as old as Bob Dylan and he’ll be exactly twice my age. Ah, but both of us were so much older then.
The town of Hershey was formed to house workers at the nearby chocolate factory. The town’s theater is the smallest venue on this tour, seating 1900. It’s a beautiful venue, the kind of place with carved wooden lions hidden around the audience. I’m sitting dead center of the room, about 15 rows back. That’s just high enough to see the amazing under-floor lighting on Bob’s stage. It’s understated, but suggestive of some liminal space between top and bottom or dark and light. When the lights are white, it looks like Bob and his band are standing on the world’s biggest diamond. The red looks like a paused river of lava.
The effect is particularly pronounced tonight because this is a dark venue. I keep a tiny notebook in my pocket to jot down the setlist, and tonight it was impossible to see what, or where, I was writing on the page. Half of the entries are written on top of each other.
My goal tonight is to pay closer attention to Bob’s phrasing, to figure out why he’s coming across so well, particularly during the Rough and Rowdy Ways songs. I wasn’t able to crack the code—Bob remains an enigma—but I did notice he’s best when not competing with his band for space in the mix. The slower songs especially lend themselves to this clear and open delivery, and it might explain why the instrumentation is a bit corralled during this tour. A great example comes during “My Own Version of You,” where the band drops out almost entirely and Bob, in near isolation, spits the lyric, but with precision. It elevates the song.
I’m also reminded of what Adam J. told me in Charleston, that I should listen for how Bob is holding notes. The best example comes during “I Made Up My Mind to Give Myself to You,” where Bob grabs a word in the middle of a line and holds it twice as long as the first and last halves of that same line. For instance: “A lot of people gooooooooooooooooooone, a lot of people I knew.” But that doesn’t capture it. Bob lifts the elongated word, and bends the note higher, to the point where it soars away like an echo that doesn’t know to return. It’s full throughout, no cracks, no grumble. It’s absolutely precious stuff.
Another great thing Bob is doing this tour is acknowledging, in a roundabout way, where we are. He referenced baseball bats in Louisville and Mister Rogers in Pittsburgh. Tonight, in Hershey, Bob deconstructed the bit and teased our anticipation. “Mighty sweet up here, mighty sweet. This town is famous for something, but I don’t remember what it is...”.
And you know what? Bob’s right. It is mighty sweet up there.
Wednesday, November 17, 2021 – On the Road Again
Just time enough this morning to drink some motel coffee, finish this essay, and hit the road toward home. Maybe as you’re reading this you can imagine me traveling south through middle Pennsylvania. I’m going to stop for lunch in Gettysburg. It’s almost exactly 158 years after Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. The actual anniversary is the day after tomorrow, the 19th of November. Friday. You know, when Bob’s at the Beacon.
Did you know that an acoustic shadow occurred during the Battle of Gettysburg? An acoustic shadow happens when terrain, weather, or atmospheric effects impede or block the movement of sound waves. In July 1863, the sounds of battle in Gettysburg were heard in Pittsburgh (Moon Township!), 150 miles away, but that same sound was undetected much closer to the fighting.
Excepting Shadow Kingdom, we’ve all endured an acoustic shadow that lingered over Bob Dylan, and the rest of us, that began soon after his last show of 2019, in Washington D.C. A disturbing effect in the atmosphere moved in and prevented us from hearing. We have a long way to go, but the shadow is beginning to lift, and we can hear again. It’s thrilling and rejuvenating. Judging from how much he’s smiling during these recent shows, I think Bob might be happiest of all.
Speaking of D.C., are you going? It’s the last show of the year, at the Anthem, on the banks of the Potomac. Maybe Bob will bust out “Murder Most Foul” (if he hasn’t already)! Probably not, but I’m not going to miss the chance.
You should come out, if you can. Look for me there and say hello. I’ll be the guy standing next to my best friend Dan, arguing about the merits of a hypothetical collaboration between Bob Dylan and Sebastian Bach, and wearing one of those crappy bootleg Bob buttons. I’ll give you one, if I have any left. Maybe we can talk about the next leg of the “Rough and Rowdy Ways” World Wide Tour, and how we can’t wait to do it all again.
I know I can’t.
James’s inspiration for this piece was the Dylan tour diary of John Bauldie. Download all four installments of Bauldie’s diary here, scanned directly from the individual issues of The Telegraph, where they first appeared. Thanks James!
2021-11-15, UPMC Events Center, Moon Township, PA
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Oh man, this is just fantastic. I'm getting in late after watching our son in his second-ever wrestling match - itself something to write extensively about, it's an interesting world we've entered - so I'm bookmarking this mama-jama to read tomorrow or this weekend. Fascinating stuff.
And damn, how lucky are we to have Bob playing live here in 2021, 80 freakin' years old, nothing left to prove, pandemic be damned - and on top of that, he's playing somewhere called ~ Moon Township ??!?!
Life is good.
That was great! See ya in DC.