Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues

by Niels J. Dinnesen

  At the phenomenal Dylan concert at the Forum in Copenhagen on June 11, 1998, I had the pleasure of being so close to the stage that I could almost read the cue sheets taped to the floor at the feet of the musicians--and clearly see the joyful and ironic twinkle in the master’s eye when the crowd joined in on many of the classical songs. ”You’re the reason I’m travelling on”, we were all yelling to ourselves at the top of our lungs, ”But don’t think twice, it’s all right!”
  I was in the second row less than five yards from the edge of the stage, and in the seat next to me I noticed to my surprise a very old gentleman who was leaning on his wooden walking stick every time we all got out of our seats to show our excitement and enthusiasm.
  ”My two daughters got me the ticket for my birthday”, the old man explained as the applause settled after the opening number, a straight forward and gentle country version of ”All Along The Watchtower”. ”I turned eighty, you know, a couple of months ago”.
  ”In fact, I know Bob Dylan very well”, he continued. ”I met him in person one time, at a hotel in Manchester in 1966. I have been following his career ever since, and I have most of the albums”. I glanced at the old man, trying to picture him with a young curly haired Dylan wearing dark sun glasses. ”Really?”, I said. ”Did you actually talk to him?”--”No, I thought it would be too intrusive”, he answered and looked up at the stage. ”But I could have. I was standing right next to him, you know.”
  As the intensity of the concert grew and Dylan was dancing through songs like ”Tonight I’ll Be Staying Here With You”, ”Cold Irons Bound”, ”Shooting Star” and ”Silvio”, I looked again at the old man and asked. ”But did you see the concert?” ”No, unfortunately not”, he said. ”I was in Manchester on a business trip, you know, so I just didn’t have time.”. ”Tonight is the first time I see him live”. ”How do you like it then?”, I asked--after a breath-taking version of ”Masters Of War” during the acoustic set. ”It’s great”, he said, ”but very loud, don’t you think?” ”I was hoping he would play a few songs alone, without the band. But I guess he won’t”.
  Personally, I think the acoustic set has improved tremendously with the band still on the stage--and on this particular evening the sublime and subtle backing gave Dylan the platform for jumping into long and magnificent acoustic guitar and harmonica solos during ”Love Minus Zero” and ”Tangled Up In Blue”. The Forum was rocking and the ceiling slowly began to cave in.
  After the stage rush, even us oldies in the second row had to stand up to be able to still see Dylan doing his ironic lead guitar poses, bending down in his knees like Elvis and sometimes kicking a wild boot into the air, on shaky legs--and always with a tongue-in-cheek grin saying ”You didn’t think I could do this, did you?” The crowd went wild during my favourite of the evening ”Blind Willie McTell”, followed by a great ”Highway 61”--and halfway through the encores I noticed that the old man next to me had taken to his seat and given up trying to fight the rushing crowd.
  ”I have to rest a bit”, he explained with a smile. ”I often call myself the oldest surviving Dylan fan. Right now I feel even older”. But after three encores, including ”Love Sick” and the classic closing act of ”Rainy Day Women”, and when Dylan for the last time of the evening grabbed his acoustic guitar and struck the opening chords of ”Blowing In The Wind”, the old man had to get on his feet. ”I’ve been waiting for this all evening”, he said--and joined in on the chorus with the entire crowd of five thousand, all of us singing loud and clear to ourselves and each other and to the rolling ceiling and the man on the stage, ”The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind / The answer is blowing in the wind”.
  Eighty years old”, I thought to myself as I was leaving the Forum after the concert. That means he was forty-eight or forty-nine, exactly my age today, when he met Dylan at the hotel in Manchester in 1966. ”Hmmm”. I tried to imagine myself at eighty--going to a rock concert, and at first I thought, ”Well. If I am still healthy, why not?” But who would I see? Dylan will be almost ninety by then--and frankly I can’t think of a single musician much younger than myself that I would pay to see at a live concert. A bunch of middle aged spice girls? No way.

I guess I’ll have to stay in my room at the old people’s home and listen to the old records, maybe even Dylan and The Band blasting it away in Manchester in 1966--by then, some sixty-three years ago! ”How does it feel?” I got to turn up the sound. ”To be on your own” I join in on the chorus. ”With no direction home” I turn it up louder. ”Like a complete unknown”. Nobody plays that guitar like Robbie Robbertson. ”Like a rolling stone?” Ah, man--blues wrapped around my head...

  Niels J. Dinnesen is 49 years old and lives in Aarhus, Denmark.

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