Friday, July 11, 2008

Communicating

I am fascinated by Bob Dylan videos from the past, like the 70's version of Maggie's Farm that I posted, because of the way he communicated, to the band and to the audience. While he entertained the crowds and putting his all into self expression, he always had his ear out to what's was going on with his band at the same time. He'd pull away from the mic, look around and direct non- verbally what was supposed to happen next. His posture and his demeanor told the musicians what emphasis, what tempo and what volume level he needed. His success depended on not only the songs he wrote but also his ability to get the execution of the songs he wanted on the stage.

The concerts I've attended these last few years, I've noticed the nuances of how each time he played the same songs, it was a different experience. The set lists are pretty predictable. His band these days knows exactly what to do next, and Dylan hardly has to say anything to them. He's getting older, he doesn't want to have to work that hard anymore, he is enjoying routine now instead of the chaos of his younger years. The players are well rehearsed but within the song they are expressing themselves to each other. And that musical dialogue during a live performance is what makes the same song unique every time it is played.

There are two videos I posted previously of Dylan being a surprise guest in someone else's band during two different concerts. Dylan is reacting two completely different ways with two songs that are both from the 60's and with two different men he knows well--Eric Clapton and Roger McGuinn. In both of them, Dylan communicates non verbally, but it wasn't always perceived.

In the Clapton show, Dylan is introduced before the song "Don't Think Twice" starts and seems completely in control of the situation. He is older, well into his sixties in this recent performance. He exudes confidence as he strolls on the stage, acknowledges the audience, makes eye contact with the band, says a few words with Clapton and begins the song on his terms. Clapton is humble and follows the lead of the senior musician. Dylan is obviously enjoying the connection musically with Clapton. It goes beautifully, and there is something almost spiritual about it.

The Byrd's starts "Tambourine Man" without him, and introduces him half way into the song as a surprise. Dylan is sort of lost looking, and doesn't know exactly where in the song he was supposed to be singing. This was in the '90's when he was in his fifties. David Crosby is sharing a mic with him and points to him to let him know he can take over the song. Dylan clearly does not like this. Because of phrasing in the song, Dylan has to look at who he's singing with, but his partner in the duet, Roger, is out of his line of sight. Roger, a sensitive friend of Dylan's, is aware of his discomfort on the stage and comes over to sing with him on the same mic and helps him regain a feeling of control, while Crosby is oblivious to Dylan's state of mind and laughing his head off. After the song is over, Bob gives an appreciative pat on the back of his friend Roger, and then turns to make a brief remark to Crosby. You can't hear it, but from the body language I wouldn't be surprised if it was something sarcastic.

So, it captivates me how Dylan is not only a master of written communication, but also non- verbal as well as verbal. It is extremely rare to find an individual who is excellent at all three.

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