“What are the two most important things to know in the world? One is to be nice to other people. Two, the greatest songwriter of modern times is Bob Dylan. That’s all you need to know in life.”
– David Letterman
When I first heard the news, I was leery. “Bob Dylan to appear on David Letterman’s second to last episode.” I’m a huge Bob Dylan fan (the blog is named after him, after all), but I’ve not been much of a fan of his work over the past decade. Whether it be the debacle that was his Grammy performance at the 2011 Grammy Awards or the joke of a Christmas album that he released in 2009, Dylan’s old age is showing in his most recent efforts.
A lot of people dislike old Dylan tracks because of his nasally voice which I can usually turn them on to after some convincing, but even I, an avid fan, can’t defend the gravely, mucus-laden croak that comes out of the legend’s mouth these days. I’ve seen him twice in concert over the past 10 years, and both experiences left me with a bad taste. I’m not trying to trash a genius here. The fact that he’s 74 years old and still touring relentlessly should be celebrated, no matter how grating his voice may be these days.
But when I saw he’d be on one of Letterman’s final shows, my embarrassment for my hero began to surface. Every time Bob makes a nationally televised appearance, I brace myself for the barrage of Twitter hate about to fill my newsfeed. I think that’s what bothers me most. For most of these millennials, Bob Dylan is just a name that sounds vaguely familiar. I’d hate for their first Dylan experience to be associated with the old man gracing stages these days.
With my phone hidden away for fear of seeing Dylan-hate on social media, I sat down to watch his performance, hoping he didn’t completely embarrass himself. After a gushing introduction by Dave where he says the only two things his son needs to know are to be nice to everyone and that Bob Dylan is the greatest songwriter of all time, Bob took the stage, looking a bit awkward in an ill-fitting suit, pacing back and forth as the band broke into the swoony “The Night We Called It a Day.”
Quickly, my fears were alleviated when he approached the mic and began singing lyrics that were quite fitting for one of Letterman’s final appearances. Not only did Dylan’s voice sound okay, but it had the soft baritone rasp of his early 80s work. By the end of the first verse, a huge smile grew on my face as I thought, “My boy is pulling it off!” With my nerves washed away, I sat back and enjoyed the remainder of the calming performance, relishing the chance to see the master still performing with the attitude and soul that defined his music over 50 years ago.
Dylan’s post performance interaction with Letterman may have been a bit strange (he went from a swaggering rock star to a senile, lost old man in mere seconds), but I felt a bit misty-eyed afterwards, a mixture of pride in his performance and sadness in the thought that he won’t be around forever. This Dylan nostalgia led to a post-Late Show half hour of YouTube worship, seeking out his other Letterman performances. First up, I watched the rocking rendition of “Jokerman” that Dylan did back in 1984 on the first incarnation of Letterman’s show. You’ve gotta love 80s Dylan with his white suit and skinny tie.
Dylan would return one more time in 1993 for Letterman’s 10 year anniversary. On it, Bob put on a raucous, seven-minute performance of “Like a Rolling Stone.” Once again, you can see Letterman’s adoration for Dylan and his music.
I realized after my night of Dylan worship that instead of dreading whether he’ll put on a good performance or not, I need to just appreciate the legend while we still have a chance to be in awe of his talents as both a songwriter and performer.