Bod Dylan & The Doobie Brothers
What do you want? I mean, what do you really want? Asking this question, a wise man I know once answered, “Transcendence.”
That resonates with me. And transcendence means to go beyond myself, to connect with something beyond the little world I’m familiar with. To expand, open up; experience the freshness, the newness, and the uniqueness.
So why do I settle for, and even celebrate, mediocrity? Perhaps I haven’t learned to recognize or appreciate different levels. The cultural conditions we have created for ourselves seem to teach us to prefer the louder, the more shocking, the outrage(ous) over any kind of subtle connection to something higher. And I say subtle connection because I have to be open to the new, be present, to allow the connection. It’s not familiar, if it was it wouldn’t be transcendent. And often, if it’s not a familiar impression I automatically reject it. I reject the new.
So what does this have to do with Bob Dylan and The Doobie Brothers?
This summer we saw both Bob and the Doobies at a very nice local outdoor venue. The different quality of the experiences is what made me think of transcendence.
The first concert was Bob’s. While waiting for the show to start we chatted with several of the other members of the audience. One middle-aged couple told us this was their first Dylan concert. Without thinking long, and against my general principle of not giving advice (I do give advice but know that it is mainly just my ego talking and that no one wants any advice), I told them to leave behind all expectations they may have. That Bob would not chat with the audience, at all. That they would not hear any songs played “just like on the record”. That they likely would not be able to recognize what song was being played. My wife said, “Just listen to the music, listen with your body” I chimed in again, “Pretend like it’s some old blues guy you’ve never heard of. Open to the possibilities."
The wife seemed quite concerned, “He doesn’t talk to the audience?” The husband seemed less worried; he even had an air of being more interested than before.
I took my own advice (If you don’t take your own advice, who will?) and had a great time. I was taken out of myself several times. Things Have Changed, Simple Twist Of Fate, Ballad of a Thin Man. All new creations, and really alive. The Levee's Gonna Break and Tweedle Dee & Tweedle Dum, two of the last songs I would ever request, both created a vibe that was in some ways unrecognizable; sweet, insistent, searching, in the moment, not knowing what comes next. And Desolation Row just floated me into the ether. This was transcendence, and to me it seemed that transcendence was the aim of Bob and the boys, to ‘get there’, or at least be open to that possibility during every song. I certainly didn’t experience them ‘getting there’ every song, but when they did, Wow. As one reviewer wrote, “Bob and his cowboy band proved just how good live musiccan be when the musicians are dug in and their fearless leader does not mind taking it on the chin every now and then.”[i]
Now I’m not a huge Doobie Brothers fan, never bought a record, but I appreciated their music having been in my twenties in their heyday and hearing their tunes a lot. My wife wanted to go and it sounded like it could be fun. I’m not overly familiar with their catalogue so anticipated enjoying being open to whatever was.
The audience was very enthusiastic. The Doobies were energetic, active, charming, hardworking and so on, and the crowd ate it up. But it all seemed flat. It felt as if someone had put on the records at a nice loud volume and the singers were animatedly lip-synching. There was no life, no edge, and no exploration. It struck me that it was all at the same level. Working harder, faster, but not getting beyond the known. Not taking any chances.
To me, there was a stark difference between this and the Dylan concert. The Doobies were good but they felt old and tired. It was all on the same level. Bob and the band were willing to fail, to search, to allow for unknown possibilities.
As somebody once said, "He not busy being born is busy dying."
More Dylan content here.