Music Lessons with Bob Dylan

Dear Friends,

Dylan is doing a seven night run at the Beacon, and I was lucky enough to catch the show Tuesday night. I watched and listened like a young initiate at the feet of the master. The crowd was more subdued; the groupies and lovers who’ve followed him for more years than I’ve been alive, mystified by his unending incarnations. They come to sing the hits -- but he renders his audience mute. So transformed are the songs, even god, has no idea where he is going next. Bob Dylan is a master of song, poetry, ceremony, spirit -- so here’s my recap of the music lessons he professed Tuesday, lessons on music and life.

Wear a fine suit. Dress the band well. Grey suits on the bass, guitar, the drummer, the pedal-steel. Black hats. Burnt orange curtains lit with big vintage stage lights. The outer garment is a sign of the inner garment -- soul. Dylan in a chassidic long coat, with a splash of red.

Step out of time. Playing in four four, playing with the downbeat, it’s alright for folk music, for pop. Dylan has stepped into his twilight, part timeless mystic, part growling old bluesman. The beat, all the ways we cut up and measure time, weeks hours days appointments, they give steadiness and comfort, but they are only partial. There is another aspect of being, timeless, infinite -- masters of music and life, can step off the beat into the clouds, and drop back in, whenever they feel. He walks the stage like an angel.

Never play the same song twice. Can you imagine him having to listen to the crows sing the hits while he strums a guitar, night after night. He’d have died a lifetime ago. He morphs, he breathes, he invites inspiration, and what comes out comes out, right or wrong, it is always new. Life tempts us with the ease of repeated performance, tired and lazy, it’s easy to spout the same ideas, wisdoms, words for a lifetime. And you’ll be the walking dead. Words and songs lose their life with repeated use, but make a change, and life rushes back in.

Render your audience mystified. Be wild, be magic, be uncertain of what’s to come, that they might be uncertain too. Allow spirit to sneak in through the pulled blown reeds of a harmonica bending melodies blue. Give the angel of death a chance at the microphone, she’ll enliven the whole deal.

To a living prophet, and all he’s brought down.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Zach Fredman


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