I’m a child of the 1960s. I mean that literally. I was a year old when JFK was assassinated, five during the Summer of Love, and seven when Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. I was too young to really appreciate the music and culture of that turbulent decade, but its influence lasted through the early 70s, and I soaked up the sounds and sights of the sixties like a sponge.
I was a weird kid raised by weird parents. I was eight when my dad took my 12-year-old sister and me to see the movie Joe in 1970. I begged to see The French Connection in 1971 (my sister eventually accompanied me), and my mom and I watched The Godfather at a local theater in 1972.
As for music, FM radio in Los Angeles in the early 70s was heavily into its “album-orientated-rock” phase and played all the classic 60s songs, sometimes entire albums.
What I didn’t get from movies and the radio, I got from MAD magazine, which, at the time was going through its second gold age. Everything you needed to know about current events, politics and entertainment could be found in those well-drawn pages of parody.
Why do I bring this up? I’m glad you asked. Sunday night I saw Bob Dylan in concert at a local Indianapolis venue. Dylan was one of the most famous symbols of the 60s counterculture, and his songs had a huge impact on his fellow musicians and the youth of the day. Arguably, his best music is from that decade. His output in the 70s, 80s and beyond was uneven at best.
At 66, Dylan’s future as a touring musician is uncertain, so I figured this might be my last chance to see the man perform. I’d never seen him live, but I had watched numerous concert films over the years.
Nothing really prepared me for the Bob Dylan of 2007. He took the stage with his band at about 8:30 p.m. and launched into “Rainy Day Women #12 and 35.” Next he lurched into a strange arrangement that turned out to be “It Ain’t Me, Babe.” From there, Bob was growling through song after song: some I recognized; some I didn’t. Most were older songs, I guess, with radically different arrangements.
At no time during the concert did Dylan speak to the audience. No “hello, Indianapolis, it’s good to be here,” no “this next song is from such and such album,” no “thanks” after the applause. Nothing. Dylan careened through each odd arrangement, almost daring the crowd, “Hey! Try to recognize this one.”
As odd as the show was, the real entertainment was not onstage; it was in the audience. I had a crappy lawn ticket, and a group of women arrived shortly before the concert and sat in front of me. They were middle-aged and were consuming a shocking amount of Coors Light. Barb, dressed in a tye-dye T-shirt, Diane, a heavy woman in shorts and a tank top, and Shelly, the sober designated driver, were celebrating Karen’s 52nd birthday. I know all this because Barb told me and everyone else within a twenty-foot radius. As the show went on, Barb and Diane drank more Coors Lights, danced, chatted, and disappeared for minutes at a time.
At one point, Barb returned with a large pretzel, which she handed to me, introduced Diane as her “better half” and asked if I’d like to come with them after the show “to ‘play’ and eat acid.”
I thanked her for the offer, but politely declined. Barb and Diane careened off, apparently to ask Bob Dylan to sing “Happy Birthday” to Karen.
Karen hadn’t had quite as many beers, so she was in a little better shape. We started talking and she expressed concern over the whole “eating acid” thing. I was amazed that anyone even made acid anymore and asked Karen about this. She wasn’t sure where Barb and Diane got the acid, but was worried about its purity and made it clear that she was not going to partake.
She also told me that she thought Diane was upset with Barb for flirting with me and asking me to join their “acid party.” I always hate to come between two drunken lesbians, so I assured Karen that I only talked with Barb and took the pretzel to be polite. No home wrecker me.
As Dylan played a perfunctory two-song encore, Barb and Diane were still nowhere to be found. Shelly was dispatched to find them, while Karen stayed on the lawn.
I packed up my lawn chair, bid Karen a happy birthday, and wished her luck with her friends.
Driving home, I remembered Barb telling me she was as a nurse at a geriatric center. God help those old people when she stumbles into work, hungover from beer and acid.