Bob Dylan just turned 70 and there isn’t really an artist who has been examined, scrutinized, and guessed about who still retains a confounding mystique.
Dylan is as visible as ever, even now he tours six months of every year.
But here is a rare unearthing of a crucial link: Dylan in metamorphosis before he transformed into Bon Dylan. He was never really Robert Zimmerman, but here he is right before the big time, on an accidentally discovered tape found in a long-dead music critic’s private collection.
The critic, Ralph J. Gleason, a pioneering supporter of many revolutionary emerging acts, was involved in this live recording done on May 10, 1963.
Two weeks before The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan was released, Dylan gigged at a college outside of Boston, Brandeis University, low on the slot of a folk festival.
Although Blowin’ in the Wind was featured on his upcoming album, he doesn’t do it here – an early indicator of his mercurial integrity. Instead, Dylan goes with the evening’s flow.
Dylan’s young, but his voice is old and the ambiance recorded in the college’s gym brings out the time capsule quality captured here: It’s Dylan, acoustic guitar, and mouth harp. All three are sharp and clear and Talkin’ John Birch Paranoid Blues brings the confidence and humour in Dylan’s commentary into focus.
The antediluvian character is best appreciated when hearing the tight, polite applause of the audience. One can see them sitting, restrained in rows, politely clapping.
Dylan’s early Woody Guthrie obsessions are delivered over into his chilling human travelogue of misfortune and hard times in The Ballad of Hollis Brown, a hypnotic report of frontier tragedy intoned like a hollow-eyed prophet of the woods.
This stark simplicity is brought further along that ledge with a bitter, confident Masters of War with Dylan sounding like a politically disillusioned Son House, not long before Vietnam –– a bleary wake-up call.
Dylan’s transitional state is preserved on two word fests, Talking World War III Blues and Talkin’ Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues (notable for Dylan’s relaxed, sharp banter.)
These mouthfuls are Dylan in his Guthrie guise; an homage to his hero that was soon to fade. What emerged were songs like Bob Dylan’s Dream, a bittersweet musing on nostalgia and friendship, clothed in longing with Dylan sounding raw and vulnerable.
This image-laden song is enhanced by the natural reverb of the room, making it the most evocative track of the seven-song set.
Brandeis University 1963 narrowly escaped oblivion and casually caught Dylan hitting his stride toward destiny –– a historic period piece rendered with detail.
–– Dean Gordon-Smith is the lead guitarist of local band Redfish, His column, Street Sounds, appears in The Morning Star every Friday.