“Songs of Experience: Bob Dylan at the Egyptian Room” by David Hoppe – selection #41 of Deal Me “IN” 2016

The Card: ♠K♠ of Spades

The Suit: For this year’s Deal Me IN, Spades is my suit for “Short, non-fiction works by Indiana authors”

The Selection: “Songs of Experience: Bob Dylan at the Egyptian Room” from Personal Indianapolis, a collection of short essays covering “thirteen years of observing, exhorting, and satirizing the Hoosier capital.”

The Author: David Hoppe – his third appearance in this year’s DMI.  An Indianapolis writer who has labored for Indy’s “Alternative Weekly” Nuvo Magazine since 1998.

What is Deal Me “IN” 2016? I’m glad you asked! Before the start of each year, I come up with a list of 52 stories to read and assign each of them to a playing card in a standard deck. Each week, I draw a card, and that is the story I read. By the end of the year (52 weeks), I’m done, and ready to start a fresh deck. (For a more detailed explanation of the Deal Me In challenge, see the sign up post. For a look at my deck of cards/story roster click here.) Since 2016 is my home state’s bicentennial, in this year’s edition of my annual Deal Me In challenge, I’m reading only stories that have an Indiana “connection” of some kind. Deal Me “IN” is also now officially endorsed as a “Legacy Project” by The Indiana Bicentennial Commission.

“Songs of Experience: Bob Dylan at the Egyptian Room”

“As it happened, Bob Dylan played the Egyptian Room on election night.  What occult calculus was employed to position our country’s living Shakespeare on an upstairs stage in the heart of the heart of the country at this of all times we might know but never fully understand.”

I found this short essay to be a very interesting examination of Dylan the artist, juxtaposed with the coincidence of his playing Indianapolis on the night of the 2002 Election. Hoppe  mentions how “like at most concerts” the ‘pre-game’ time before the act included taped music, in this case the music of Aaron Copland, including Fanfare for the Common Man.  There was also a spoken introduction that:

“summarized each phase of his forty-plus career in purple National Enquirer prose – from prophet to substance abuser, to Christian convert to comeback trail. The inadequacy of all these tags is hilariously clear. All of them are shortcuts, feeble attempts to brand the work without having to try and really understand it.”

He describes Dylan’s voice as “splendidly ravaged” and “a storyteller’s dream. It seems to come from a timeless place that’s equal parts café, shack, hotel room and dirt road.”

My favorite observation was his comparison of Dylan to Sir Laurence Olivier:

“…the great English actor played Shakespeare’s tragic King Lear for the first time when he was in his thirties. People raved about Olivier’s sheer ability to inhabit the body of an old man. But when Olivier played Lear again, in his seventies, he captured the king’s soul in a way that moved audiences to tears. Olivier said the passage of time and his own aging had enabled him to truly grow into the part. Something similar seems to have taken hold of Bob Dylan. He was an old soul but still a young man when he wrote “Mr. Tambourine Man.” Hear him sing it now. You realize this is not a song of innocence but of experience – and that Dylan is at last old enough to understand the song in a way he could only intuit it when he first performed it.”

Pretty heavy stuff, and it makes you think it’s almost better to hear the singer in his ‘old age’ than to hear him in his prime. I suspect the true answer, though, is that it’s best to hear him throughout his career…

♫Personal Notes: I was shamefully late to the party in admiration for Bob Dylan. I am too young to have been swept up by his first wave, and by the time I became musically self-aware, he was almost a cliché amongst my musical friends, with his “mumbling” incomprehensible lyrics and all.  Then came the Tom Petty and the Travelling Wilburys.  Tom Petty is an artist I swore allegiance to long ago.  I often joke that his album Damn the Torpedoes “got me through high school.” Not exactly true, but I wore that cassette tape out back in the day. Petty’s unrestrained respect for Dylan and his participation in the True Confessions tour, where he and the Heartbreakers opened for Dylan, then stayed on stage to be his band (God, I would’ve loved to have seen that show) were good enough to me to look further into the artist.

It’s also interesting that Dylan was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature this year.  The same year this piece was a part of Deal Me In Challenge.  Coincidence?  I don’t think so! J

DMI Bonus song Lyrics! – Mr. Tambourine Man

Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you
Though I know that evenings empire has returned into sand
Vanished from my hand
Left me blindly here to stand but still not sleeping
My weariness amazes me, I’m branded on my feet
I have no one to meet
And the ancient empty street’s too dead for dreaming
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
I’m not sleepy and there is no place I’m going to
Hey, Mr. Tambourine man, play a song for me
In the jingle jangle morning I’ll come following you
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
May hands can’t feel to grip
My toes

2 Comments

  1. Dale said,

    November 21, 2016 at 9:50 pm

    I’ve been waiting to hear about this essay. I came to appreciate Dylan later, too. But I’m not sure I would have been able to appreciate him at any other time. Kind of like George Eliot. I saw Dylan at the Taft Theater here in Cincinnati soon after I moved here. Yes, it would have been cool to see him in his younger days, but I didn’t really think much about that. It was a great concert. And this essay sounds like it captured the concert experience well. Describing his voice as “splendidly ravaged” – spot on description.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      November 22, 2016 at 9:34 am

      I kinda wish the essay had been longer, but I think he still made some great points and observations in just four pages. I enjoyed watching a mini-documentary a while back about the formation of the Traveling Wilburys and Tom Petty was describing how the others knew Bob Dylan had a studio at his house and were hoping to use it so Petty called him and Dylan “picked right up and said ‘sure,'” with Petty adding that “sometimes you can’t get a hold of him for years” haha.

      Liked by 1 person


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