Review of Bob Dylan in Saigon

(These are always biased coming from me)

Bob Dylan played in Saigon last Sunday. The international media went nuts with ridiculous catchphrases, saying that he had come “full circle” now that he was playing in the country that he had written protest songs about during the war. What a load of baloney.

All of Bob Dylan’s “protest” songs were written in the early 60s and were on the topic of the Cold War and civil rights in America. If anyone cares to use the internet, they’ll find that this is true within a minute or two.

Then I saw local expats writing “reviews” of the show but they couldn’t even name the albums that some of the songs on his set list were from (try the internet folks, it helps). More complaints were along the lines that it was just an old guy playing the blues. Well, if you’d taken the time to listen to the last couple of albums, you’d have known that’s the musical direction that Dylan is taking presently.

Dismissing with all of the clueless international “media” reports and the equally befuddled local expat “reviews” of the show, I’ll add my opinion: It was great.

This was the fifth time that I’ve seen Bob Dylan live. The previous time I saw him, in Indiana, I swore I’d never see him again. In 2004, the last time I saw him, his voice was weak and monotone and he didn’t budge from his electric organ stuck on one side of the stage. I never thought he’d come to Vietnam, but I took this as a once in a lifetime opportunity and I simply had to go.

He rocked. On Sunday, April 10th, in Saigon, Bob Dylan played a hell of a show. His voice was still weak, but there was a huge range of emotions flowing from it and it gave me chills to hear his expressive turns in “A Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall” and “Ballad of a Thin Man.”

I turned to Tyler Watts, who I attended the show with, and said that the tropical air must’ve done wonders for his voice.

I was also impressed with his harmonica playing at the show and the way he switched things up on stage. My friend Minh said that he acted like he wasn’t even performing. Isn’t that how all singers should be?

And his backup band? They’re always rock solid.

In short, it was a great evening of good music. The event should not be distorted through reporters writing from thousands of miles away or from local “reviewers” that have little or no idea of what true art really is.

P.S.:

(He doesn’t care what you think)

“Well, I try my best / To be just like I am
But everybody wants you / To be just like them”
-Bob Dylan, “Maggie’s Farm”

What Bob Dylan Means To Me

(or “All my powers of expression, I thought so sublime, could never do [him] justice…”)

The articles have been flying around the internet and everyone is hyped about Bob Dylan making his first appearances in China and Vietnam. In years past, I had fleeting thoughts of Bob Dylan playing anywhere in Southeast Asia and going to see him perform. To have him actually perform in Saigon is like some surreal fantasy for me; I think I’m still in shock and have not fully come to grips with this fact. But I am extremely excited.

Everyone knows he is incredibly talented with words and music. He has influenced millions of people, from professional singers and performers (think Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, etc.) to average Joes, like me. I have an acoustic guitar, harmonica rack and a C harmonica that I like to play, and that’s mainly because of Bob Dylan’s early work. His imagery in songs made their way into my poems and short stories that I wrote in college and his poetry continues to move me.

After reading all of the articles in the domestic and international press recently, I realized there’s not much more to say about him, generally speaking, so I wanted to delve into my personal history with Bob Dylan.

My parents, my dad especially, are huge Bob Dylan fans. I have early memories of my dad playing guitar and harmonica and singing old folk songs—he too was inspired by Bob Dylan. My first name is Robert (or Bob) and my younger brother’s first name is Dylan (how ‘bout them apples?).

However, I was not really into Bob Dylan until I was at least 15 years old. Before that, when I was just getting into music, I was a Beatles and Bruce Springsteen fan. My turning point, I distinctly remember, was when I was 15. My family had just moved back to Ohio after living on the Great Plains for 12 years. One afternoon, I put on “Freewheelin’” and lay down to read a Christian teen magazine that my adopted grandmother had subscribed me to. I was reading an article on abortion while “Freewheelin’” was playing. By the time I had finished reading, the CD was on “Talkin’ World War Three Blues.” I stood up, turned up the volume and listened more carefully; eventually smiling and then guffawing at the witty lyrics.

That’s what turned me. I have loved Bob Dylan’s music ever since.

My dad only had a few Bob Dylan CDs, so after I’d listed to them, I dug through musty attics and moldy barns to find his old LPs to play on our busted up turntable purchased before I was born. This old turntable exposed me to “Blood on the Tracks,” “Desire,” and many other greats.

Even several of my relationships go hand-in-hand with Bob Dylan’s music. I went to see Bob Dylan perform in Columbus, Ohio for the first time with my first girlfriend, when I was 16. When I was in college, a passionate yet turbulent relationship was practically defined by Bob Dylan’s album “Planet Waves” where the songs run the gamut from unbridled passion to extreme loathing.

When I met the girl who later became my wife, very early on I gave her some of my favorite Bob Dylan songs so she knew exactly what she was getting into.

In short, I feel like I can relate nearly any time of my life since I was 15 to the music of Bob Dylan. He is truly a legend and the nation of Vietnam should be honored by his presence here.