Bob Dylan Night 50th Anniversary Concert
Somewhere around 1965, Bob Dylan morphed from folk pop star to perpetually contrarian artist. Born Robert Zimmerman in Minnesota in 1941, by the early '60s, the middle-class Zimmerman had reinvented himself as Bob Dylan, a hokie folk singer channelling the radical spirit of Woody Guthrie. By 1965 Dylan, tired of the inherent limitations of traditional folk music, had teamed up with a crack team of predominantly Canadian musicians and embraced rock’n’roll. In the late '70s Dylan cast aside his Jewish upbringing in favour of Christianity, with his music following suit. Even today, Dylan’s greatest hits concerts are an exercise in radical reinvention of timeless classics. For Bob Dylan, predictability is the enemy of subjective success.
“It’s almost like he’d run out of things to get angry at, so he decided to get angry at his fans,” says Eskimo Joe singer and guitarist Kav Temperley, when I ask him about Dylan’s original about turn in 1965. In early July Temperley will join Josh Pyke, Jebediah’s Kevin Mitchell (aka Bob Evans), Holly Throsby and The Grates’ Patience Hodgson for concerts in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane that celebrate Dylan’s artistic legacy, 50 years after the release of Dylan’s debut album.
Temperley’s earliest memories of Dylan derive from his parents’ vinyl music collection. “My parents were hippies,” Temperley says. “I remember hearing Mr Tambourine Man on vinyl – though it was probably The Byrds’ version.”
Later on, as his own musical career began to evolve, Temperley started taking a keen interest in the trio of classic Dylan records – Blonde On Blonde, Blood On The Tracks and The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan – albums that Temperley says remain his favourite Dylan releases. “Everyone gave shit to Dylan at the time for having a shit voice, but when you go back to those records, it’s great to hear his voice – and you can hear it getting more raggedy as the recording sessions go on,” Temperly laughs. “The great thing about getting into Dylan now, especially for this show, is that you get the opportunity to really immerse yourself in his music, and try and get an idea of where he’s coming from.”
In fact, the mere notion of the ‘essential’ Dylan is, arguably a misnomer: Dylan may have made his name as a folk singer, but has spent the greater part of his musical career confounding critics and fans alike, constructing his own personal mythology (it’s even rumoured that alleged Dylan’s motorcycle crash in 1966 was part of a contrived plan to further that mythology). Temperley agrees that Dylan long ago – with the help of infamous manager Albert Grossman – managed to take control of his own identity. “I think that contrarian thing has maybe become part of who he is,” Temperley says. “In the early days people had an idea of who he was, but then he changed all of that. There’s definitely something appears about that old school rock’n’roll thing and sticking up your middle finger against categorisation. These days we expect artists to reinvent themselves, but it was different back then.”
For Temperley, the critical Bob Dylan legacy goes to his grass-roots attraction. Dylan conceived his musical career in an era when pop stars were created, buffed and shined by record labels, managers and other pillars of the entertainment industry. “Dylan was one of the first musicians to pick up a guitar who wasn’t a virtuoso,” Temperley says. “I think that’s the really important thing about Dylan – that he showed that you don’t have to be part of the musical elite to pick up a guitar and write some of the greatest songs ever.”
For the upcoming shows, each performer was given the opportunity to choose their favourite Dylan tracks, with other songs then being ascribed for both solo and collaborative performance. Backing the singers will be a crack backing band led by the indomitable Ash Naylor (who, it can be reasonably assured, will cherish the opportunity to pull out some filthy Robbie Robertson licks during Like A Rolling Stone). In addition to his own song choices, Temperley was also given the eight-minute political opus Hurricane to perform. It’s a challenge that has literally kept Temperley awake at night. “I’m really honoured to be doing Hurricane, but I’m shitting my pants,” Kemperley laughs. “I’ve had a lot of people saying how great it is that I’m doing it, but then I ask them if they know the words, and no-one really does! With Dylan, it’s such a wordy thing, and people will want to hear the words.”
While in recent years Dylan himself has managed in his live shows to reinvent his familiar greatest hits catalogue into an almost unrecognisable canon of music, Temperley says the upcoming show will be faithful to the original recorded versions. “Mr Tambourine Man might be a little more like The Byrds, but the least of it will be done by the book – although none of us really sound like Dylan,” Temperley laughs.
BY PATRICK EMERY
The BOB DYLAN NIGHT 50th Anniversary Concert featuring Josh Pyke, Kav Temperley, Kevin Mitchell, Holly Throsby and Patience Hodgson plays the Palais Theatre on Friday July 6.