Tuesday, May 23, 2006
Tomorrow Bob Dylan will attain an age of 65 years. O yes! Milestone and all that, for a man who is something of a milestone himself. I first heard him when I was probably ten years old. What I mean is consciously heard him. My young blood in those days wanted The Stones and The Beatles, The Swinging Blue Jeans (“Hippy, Hippy, Shake!” – anyone remember that one?), little knowing what the slightly boring voiced singer of the wind blown anthem meant to those guys! And then one day in my life, Bob Dylan hit me a musical blow I’ve never really recovered from.
That’s almost the same thing that happened to Lou Majaw of Shillong. For the last ten years or more he has been instrumental in planning and organising a BD birthday tribute in the Meghalaya capital. It has also extended itself to a performance by Lou and the Ace of Spades in Calcutta’s Someplace Else. Not exactly an ideal venue (is there any?) but it does till a better one comes up.
Let me also tell you that other than Lou, musicians I respect as much as I do Dylan make up the Ace of Spades. There is of course Nondon on drums, Hiltu-da – Lew Hilt on bass. And the inimitable AJ – Arjun Sen on lead guitar. I also have a slight edge. I know them all at a very personal level and spend a lot of time with them when this show, and similar shows happen. With AJ and Lew living in Delhi, these are great times to get together. So we hung out before the show, rapping and exchanging notes, listening to music, partaking of The Park’s generosity, and waiting for 10 pm when it would be time to go down to SPE.
Nondon arrived punctually as he always does, and some laughs and repartee later, guitars on shoulders, remembering to take their room entry swipe card, we lifted downstairs. SPE was crowded, but it’s such a small space that 10 people can make it look like a full house. Majaw changed the opening song onstage five minutes after they’d decided what it would be upstairs, but that was all right. They’re experienced musicians who can handle any given situation, and I really mean any.
But I will not tell you which songs they sang. If you’re a Dylan freak or fan, they will all be familiar, and if you’re not, then maybe you should have been there. What I will tell you is that they were mostly like what Dylan himself is, a constant reinvention of the known, often drifting off into unexplored places and then finding their way back home. The purists were not happy, but then BD was never a purist either.
Later, post-performance, the band was not happy with the evening. They felt a big hole had been left behind. They are some of the most intensely self-critical guys I’ve seen. It’s what makes them great musicians too. I felt that the energy which comes back from an audience was lacking too. SPE’s greatest failing is this. It is too much of a scene where alcohol intake supersedes the music one comes to listen to. It’s an altogether head banging, feet tapping session rather than a serious listening effort so the band can’t feed off audience response and give back in kind.
Nevertheless a good time was generally had by all (I love this cliché!). Reasons? For some, much money was spent on booze, so they were compelled to. For others, listening to great musicians, who themselves have grown up listening to His Bobness, is in itself a treat to be savoured. And for many of the younger generation, who have not had the opportunity to be intensely exposed to BD and others of his ilk my generation heard, they got their chance at extremely good second-hand lessons.
His Bobness has inspired personal and creative reinvention as much as he did to himself and his art. That’s why the world will always pay tribute to Bob Dylan.