Bob Dylan at the White House last night

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Well, all I know is that if I had Bob Dylan over to my house, I’d want him to do at least three songs. I guess there will be plenty of speculation regarding why things went down as they did at the White House last night, for the event titled “A Celebration of Music from the Civil Rights Movement.”

Bob Dylan performed one song, The Times They Are A-Changin’, a gentle acoustic version with his guitar, Tony Garnier’s stand-up bass, and with someone who has not been positively identified on piano. What do I think of it? I think that the adjective “elegiac” has never been more apt. I think it was an absolutely tremendous, epic, genuinely haunting and beautiful performance. And it gets better for me every time I replay it.

Yours Truly didn’t see it on the webcast, but I’ve obviously heard the audio, and so can everyone else via YouTube. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the video get up there today, or maybe we’ll have to wait for the PBS broadcast.

Thanks very much to the field correspondents who watched and have described the event in emails. The main funny thing is that Bob did just that one song, and then apparently stayed put as if to do another, before looking at someone off stage, shrugging his shoulders, and leaving. Was it a sudden change of plan on someone’s part, or just a raggedly organized event? Or both?

So, no song with Joan Baez, obviously. She herself performed We Shall Overcome. You would have to assume that the idea came up of her and Bob doing Blowin’ in the Wind, to memorialize 1963 and all. Who said no? There may have been little or no time to rehearse, but how much do Bob Dylan and Joan Baez need to rehearse Blowin’ in the Wind? Did Bob just not want to do it?

In the event, what Dylan actually did was very far from nostalgia or an attempt to recreate a moment, and that’s entirely like Dylan. Instead, with a performance of The Times They Are A-Changin’ so unlike any other that we’ve ever heard, he created a new moment. And it’s his ability and determination to do that that makes him what he is, after all.

There seems to be a little disagreement as to whether Bob was present at the end of the show for a grand singalong led by President Obama. I guess perhaps we’ll have to wait for the video from PBS and do a “Where’s Waldo?” thing.

And other than Bob’s tune, people have spoken especially well of the performance by the Blind Boys of Alabama, so that’s another highlight to catch when the show airs.

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By RWB on Wednesday, February 10, 2010 · Posted in Bob Dylan music