By the time I was born, in 1966, Bob Dylan had already recorded most of the songs that have made him a legend. When I went to see him in concert in 2008, it was the day before his 67th birthday, a remarkable age for a sixties musician. Two other great musicians from the sixties, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, both succumbed to the excesses of the era. In the case of Bob Dylan all that living has been etched onto his vocal chords. Never the most melodious of singers, he has developed a way of getting through the lyrics – in much the same way as an amputee pirate hobbles around on a wooden leg.
Also 63 when I saw him perform in 2008 was Rod Stewart. Ever the charmer, his performance was full of showmanship and razzmatazz. He kicked footballs into the crowd, had his daughter Ruby on stage to sing with him, and slightly limited vocal range aside, delivered a good show.
Dylan could not be accused of maintaining an oversized stage presence. Dressed all in black – the rock musician’s version of a golf shirt and chinos – his face was largely hidden by the flat brim of his Zorro-type hat. Throughout the concert he stood side-on to the audience playing keyboards, motionless except for songs where the tempo got up a bit, in which case his right leg would make a little nervous-twitch-type move to the right.
All of this is, of course, extremely unfair. If I were a musician of equal standing I could have some right to criticise, but I’m not (my singing isn’t dramatically worse, though). The entire performance was very polished, helped along by a truly fantastic band. That, I suppose, is the mark of a professional as durable as Bob Dylan.
During the course of 2008 I also went to a performance by a slightly less scratchy sounding Joe Cocker. A veteran of Woodstock, Cocker was then 63 years old. His vocal range was less limited than Dylan’s, but like Dylan he was backed by a dream-team of a band, the highlight of which was a leggy female sax player that had every straight man in the audience drooling. Lust aside, it was an energy-filled, dynamic performance with the transcendent quality that only live music can deliver.
So, other than a few hours of entertainment, what do I take away from the experiences?
Firstly, from a marketing point of view, having a big-name front man (or woman) is good. In each of the three cases the bands were excellent, but without the living legend they’re unlikely to have sold out.
Secondly, especially if you’re not at the top of your game, you need a good team around you. In the case of concerts, it’s not only the quality of the band; it’s the stage, lighting and sound.
One needs to respect that level of professionalism. In the case of musical relics of the sixties an element of awe for the extent of their life experience (both highs and lows) is not inappropriate. In some cases, just having lived to tell the tale is an amazing thing.
Finally, it could be said that 60 is the new 40. In her forties Annie Lennox described herself as having reached a state of “failed expectations”. It’s an emotion I can connect to; I just hope I don’t have to wait until my sixties to finally achieve what I thought I’d do in my forties!