No one knew it, least of all the man himself, but Bob Dylan went home on Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. After leaving Minneapolis in 1961 and spending more than 50 years publicly denying having any sort of home — physical or spiritual — one might forget that Minnesota was, has been and will perhaps remain the closest thing to home he has ever had. And his choice to perform three shows in the Orpheum, the downtown theater Dylan himself resurrected from its lapsed 1920s grandeur in 1978, was perhaps the best reminder from Dylan himself that hometown ties are incorrigible.
I found myself outside the Orpheum on Wednesday, Nov. 5, 2014, cheerfully waiting in the cold. Unfortunately, Dylan disciples tend to be as tragically optimistic and as broke as me, and there were many scrappy people hoping for free or cheap day-of tickets. Having no prospects and nowhere to be seemed the perfect stage for a Dylan experience — if it materialized.
The show started, and the small crowd outside the theater made small talk and spoke of finding solace in loneliness, together — for no one comes to scalp tickets in pairs, two being too much to hope for. I kept standing outside, more and more alone, until intermission, when the audience flooded outside to smoke in their black-on-black clothes and heavy boots. I procured a ticket from an older man who was leaving the show to find love, in a manner of speaking. I told him Dylan would approve of his ends.
I will say, out of all the concerts to go to alone, Bob Dylan is the best. He seems to speak not to the lovers but to the ex-lovers, not to the people who have it but to the people who want the “it” that can’t be found — not here, anyway. His audience transcended age, but not race or socioeconomic status. What was mixed were the reviews: One lady shrugged and said of others’ protests, “You know, people should know that they’re coming to see Dylan. He was himself up there.”
This has always been true of Dylan’s performances; he has always both delighted and horrified, entertained and rebuffed. In Martin Scorsese’s 2005 documentary “No Direction Home,” one can watch clips of fans in the ’60s that make today’s snubbed concertgoers sound polite, quipping, “Bob Dylan was a bastard.”
However, Dylan on his own equivocal terms is possibly the best thing for us, generation after generation, because he challenges us to accept what we don’t expect. It’s good that we don’t always like him and that’s he’s not always easy to like. It seems that he has always functioned on the plane of the meta. “I am not a topical songwriter,” he tells an interviewer in “No Direction Home.” “I don’t even like that word.” Maddeningly apolitical, anti-establishment and wary of his own disciples, the original rolling stone refuses to be limited by definitions.
In a world where we sometimes disregard what we can’t comprehend, Dylan makes art of being difficult. He is liminal and protean — almost a beatnik, almost a pop icon, turning his back on Minnesota, folk music and the Nobel in turn. And while pop icons have their place, the trade-off to becoming an icon is the essential immutability of lionization.
This is hard to reconcile with the challenge of staying current. Taylor Swift’s latest persona has declared that her old self has died. It seems significant that to change as a pop icon, one believes one must die. Dylan has sloughed off the responsibility of being accountable to his former selves not by ego death but simply by remaining difficult to chart and impossible to predict. However, like his voice and his harmonica, his individualism makes him easy to upbraid.
It is good to be a musical nonpartisan, to reject folk, rock or pop dogma in the pursuit of something more nuanced. We should always be seeking to transcend our niche of preference, whether musical or political.
In thanks for this, his beautiful denial of our appropriation, I hope Minnesotans welcome him home whether he likes it or not in 2017.
Sarah Trautman, of Minneapolis, is a law student. Bob Dylan is scheduled to perform at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Oct. 25.