I got to see him in concert last week. It was my third time and we had seats on the main floor, ten rows back from the stage. It felt like a mile, because Dylan likes to park himself on the right, several yards from the stage edge.
When he came out for his first song "Rainy Day Women", I didn't get to enjoy it that much because I was climbing over people trying to get back to my seat. (You can read other reviews about this here). I swear, the next song he sang started out "Please sit down", and almost everyone sat down. Talk about subliminal messages.
The last two shows I attended last year, I was busy analyzing every song and every gesture. This time, I just wanted to relax and enjoy the show but he made it very hard for me to be a passive listener, like I wanted to be. Even when he sang "When The Deal Goes Down" it sounded to me like an angry, edgey attack instead of the flowing ballad I was used to hearing on my CD. Dylan wasn't interested in a boringly pretty song, and his nonverbal language gave a whole new meaning to the lyrics. It was memorable. He reminded me that he owned the song and he will sing it any number of ways that he feels like. If the lyrics mattered to him, he sang them. If they didn't matter to him, he didn't sing them but conveyed them without words. I don't think he forgot them. He's the boss over them. I had the job, as an audience member, to listen actively and think about what was sung and what wasn't, and think about why. He's the leader, the audience is the responder. He's not playing the music. He's playing us.
And that, I think, sets him apart from the most of the musicians of the world.
And what did I come up with, after not hearing coherent singing during some of my favorite songs by my favorite artist? Who, for all I could see, was stone cold sober? Dylan once said it, and it is quoted on the top of http://www.dylangospel.blogspot.com/, that singing is a form of prayer. And there is some prayer that only the Spirit can interpret for us, with "groanings too deep for words." (Romans 8:26) Dylan might be speaking in tongues. He had spiritual roots in a Pentacostal church, after all. Just a hunch.
You never know.