Bob Dylan: We Like Him Like That

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The review of Bob Dylan's performance in Frederick ["Dylan: Wheezin' in the Wind," Style, Aug. 21] spoke of disappointment. Imagine the disappointment of Post readers who expect knowledgeable commentary and instead were greeted with ill-informed snideness and recycled cliches.

For more than 40 years, Dylan's voice has been an acquired taste. The complaint that his phrasing and enunciation of the lyrics (unusually strong in Frederick, by the way) and his always-evolving song arrangements don't meet the reviewer's expectations is merely a lazy rehash of the stock criticism by people who don't get the point of Dylan's performance art.

Dylan's chosen role as a live performer has always been to challenge listeners and himself through constant reinvention. Some of the reinventions may indeed fall flat, but those that succeed provide transcendent moments. To complain that Bob Dylan doesn't meet conventional expectations misses the point entirely; it's like complaining that a Woody Allen movie is disappointing because it doesn't contain car chases.

As for Dylan's "lack of engagement" with the audience, it is well known even to casual fans that Dylan rarely speaks except to introduce the band. He lets his music do the talking, and he does so in a voice that may indeed be raspy but nonetheless engages the audience in a way few artists can, with intensity and passion that age has not diminished. Much of the audience seemed to get that, and the crowd response was far more enthusiastic than the reviewer implied.

One wonders about The Post's criteria for reviewers. Would your paper entrust a review of a Charles Mingus recording to someone whose knowledge of jazz is limited to Kenny G?

-- Dalton Fleming


So, Bob Dylan has a raspy voice. This is not a startlingly original observation, although Chris Richards chose to make it the centerpiece of his criticism of Dylan's concert in Frederick. Dylan has never pretended to be Tony Bennett, and the passage of time has neither softened his vocal cords nor tempered his authentic delivery.

Yes, it took a couple of songs for his voice to loosen up. But once he and his band hit their stride, his singing had the same rough and edgy poignancy that has always grated on his critics and resonated with the rest of us.

Perhaps Richards was too distracted by the "drunk dudes" singing behind him to pay full attention to the concert. I certainly had a hard time tuning out the one in front of me who was singing along into his cell phone and the one behind me who couldn't stop shouting "Bob Dylan!" as if he had to make sure everyone in the audience knew just who that was onstage.

Nor were my children "confused" as to why they were there -- probably because, at 14 and 20, they are old enough to grasp the depth and breadth of Dylan's contributions to 20th-century culture and his secure place in American music. No one has to explain to them why he is "a legend" and why he deserved more thoughtful and serious consideration than the flippant brush-off he received from Chris Richards.

-- Mary Jean Hughes

Sharpsburg, Md.

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