Hi, I'm Bob. I wrote this song 50 years ago, but I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now.
Bob Dylan didn't actually say these words - he didn't say much at all - at his concert with his band in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's A&B Amphitheater Saturday night, but the sentiments were definitely there for audience members of a certain age.
Just being in proximity to this music maker for whom the words "living legend" are woefully inadequate made the evening historic. Not quite decipherable (being able to understand the words to the songs might have helped), but historic nonetheless.
Enigmatic could have been Dylan's middle name, from the moment Robert Zimmerman made up the name in the first place. That was a half-century ago. Being the voice of his times, he segued from folk conscience to rock consciousness back in the '60s. Now at 72, in his Renaldo and Clara hat and a brocade band uniform like a gringo mariachi, he's our poet laureate disguised as a roadhouse boogeyman.
"Now" being the key word in that sentence. Dylan has always been in the now - he just gets there ahead of everyone else, leaving the rest of us wondering in the shadow of his Gemini shape-shifting.
His Saturday concert was no exception. On the way in I caught glimpses of friends in the crowd: David Johnston, Sally Sefton, Cynthia Conrad, Katie McMillan, Doug Rice, Christine Andrews.
We want to own our icons. We want to think we're part of their lives the same way they're so essential to ours. Dylan isn't buying it. Never has.
"People are crazy and times are strange," he sang in the opening song. "I'm locked in tight, I'm out of range. I used to care, but things have changed."
Unlike Willie Nelson, with whom he toured minor league baseball stadiums across the heartland a few summers ago, Dylan doesn't do greatest hits. Standards like "She Belongs to Me," "Tangled Up in Blue" or "All Along the Watchtower" get new tunes. His sound mix makes the trademark voice even less comprehensible.
Even for someone who loves his new albums almost as much as his classics, his lyrics Saturday floated in and out of consciousness in fragments of phrases - "Sometimes the silence can be like the thunder/Sometimes I feel like I'm being plowed under/ Could you ever be true? I think of you/ And I wonder/ I'm sick of love; I wish I'd never met you/I'm sick of love; I'm trying to forget you/ Just don't know what to do/I'd give anything to be with you."
More faces in the crowd: Debbie Turner, Larry Schildmeyer, Eric Gilliom, Maya Rivers, Dan and Wendy Sayles, Colleen Cochlin, Rick and Cindy Knox, Yvonne Biegel, Mike Crall, Jon Woodhouse . . .
You heard the voice, if not the words. Beginning with the name, the entity called Bob Dylan has, more than any other artist of our times, been both product and victim of his own genius and prodigious imaginings. For its raspy edge there's something soothing in the voice. It makes irony strangely comforting. The voice is just another mask that he wears, one on top of the other.
He had played a month of gigs in Japan before the Maui show. His schedule is called the never-ending tour, with almost 200 dates last year. Why? He could be richer than Midas on royalties alone. It reminds you of the legend of delta bluesman Robert Johnson, who supposedly traded his soul to the devil at the crossroads in exchange for his mighty talents - except Dylan is almost three times older than Johnson was when he died at 27.
Now, Dylan's lyrics, which still hold the power to summarize or pulverize a relationship, or puncture his own mystique with a handful of words like arrows, ponder one man's loneliness and mortality with the same laser vision he once focused on wayward America in its totality.
"The Cuckoo is a pretty bird, she warbles as she flies," he sang. "I'm preachin' the Word of God/I'm puttin' out your eyes/I asked Fat Nancy for somethin' to eat, she said, 'Take it off the shelf/As great as you are a man/You'll never be greater than yourself'/ I told her I didn't really care/ High water everywhere."
He concluded the show where he once began, with his mournful harmonica on "Blowin' in the Wind." In the '60s, the song asked how many years would it take . . . now it's more like, how many years has it been?
It's always been about time for him. Even when you don't catch all the words.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-9535.