Dylan Gives the People What He Wants

Dylan is certainly master of his own domain, as it were. When I saw a show recently, about 1/3 of the lyrics were delivered in a gruff, unrecognizable diction. Oh well, at least Dylan still respects his muse.

Dylan Gives the People What He Wants:
The longer he stays on the road, the weirder his show gets....
Mr. Dylan may be in the final phase of his long and iconoclastic life as a star, and for it he has chosen a very long and very iconoclastic tour: 1,700 shows and counting, beginning in 1988. Caught in an artistic crisis then, he decided to defibrillate his career and go back on the road. Accompanied by a small combo, he reintroduced himself to fans, sporting a lean energy and a commitment to exploring his nonpareil song catalog. He shows no signs of slowing down, though he has lately replaced the guitar he has played for more than 45 years with a keyboard, causing speculation that back problems might be responsible for the switch. (Through Mr. Dylan's publicist at Columbia Records, his management said playing keyboards was “just his musical preference” and declined to comment otherwise for this article.) Mr. Dylan has turned his act into one of the weirdest road shows in rock. He rarely speaks to the crowd, and when he does, his remarks are often gnomic throwaways. (“I had a big brass bed, but I sold it!”) He plays some of his best-known songs, but often in contrarian, almost unrecognizable versions, as if to dampen their anthemic qualities. He highlights recent compositions more than most of his 60's coevals, but these, too, are delivered as highly stylized, singsongy chants. He strives to play as many kinds of places as possible, even playing successive nights in different theaters and clubs in large cities.

In other words, Mr. Dylan seems to have developed an unparalleled commitment to sharing his art, but only on his own very specific terms.

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... UNLIKE some of his peers, Mr. Dylan doesn't seem to be motivated primarily by money. His ticket prices average a bit over $40, according to Gary Bongiovanni, editor of the concert industry magazine Pollstar; that's significantly below the industry average. “Bob is one guy who's realized it's not all about the money,” said Jerry Mickleson, of Jam Productions in Chicago. “It's about making music and making people happy. It's not about charging $100 a ticket.”

For the Bob and Willie tour, in 2004, he added, tickets were $45. This year, they were $49.50.

Still, finances may play a part in Mr. Dylan's touring strategy. Casino shows are highly remunerative; the Soaring Eagle had an uncharacteristically high $150 top ticket price, reflecting a high upfront fee for the artist. He will never starve, but Mr. Dylan did not come out of the 1960's and 70's with what could be called McCartney money. Howard Sounes, in his Dylan biography, “Down the Highway,” writes that Mr. Dylan has had four generations of Zimmermans and Dylans to house at various times, besides two wives and, it seems, the odd mistress. If Mr. Dylan plays 100 shows a year before 4,000 fans at an average price of $40 a ticket, he may walk away with more than $5 million profit. And of course, that's on top of the million or so albums he sells a year.
Yet money doesn't fully explain the restless nature of the touring, and it certainly doesn't explain Mr. Dylan's refusal to give the audience what it wants to hear, his casual approach to publicity, the small clubs or the costs involved in playing at different sites in the same city. For some of his 1960's peers, whose tours can gross in the nine figures, it's hardly worth leaving the Hamptons for $5 million.

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This page contains a single entry by Seth A. published on June 13, 2005 1:01 PM.

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