Medical Tuesday Blog
A Review Of Local And Regional Medical Journals Sonoma Medicine MEDICAL ARTS
The magazine of the Sonoma County Medical Association
Roll on, Bob
By Rick Flinders, MD
I first saw Willie Mays in 1958, when I was 12 years old. I watched him play for 14 years as a San Francisco Giant, through the prime of his career, the greatest baseball player I ever saw. Maybe Roberto Clemente had a better arm. Maybe Barry Bonds was a better hitter. But no one has ever played the game of baseball better than Willie Mays. He was magnificent.
In 1972, Willie was traded to the New York Mets. I watched him flail at the plate, no longer able to catch up with major league fastballs. In center field he was no longer graceful, even once dropping a ball while attempting his signature basket catch. It was painful to watch. He retired in 1973.
I first saw Bob Dylan in 1965, when I was 19 years old. I’d been struck between the eyes with songs like “Masters of War,” “Chimes of Freedom,” and “With God on Our Side.” On stage at the Berkeley Community Theater in December 1965, he stood alone with only an acoustic guitar and harmonica, and he mesmerized us. After intermission, he returned with an electric Stratocaster and four musician friends he called “The Band.” He concluded the show with a song he’d just released, “Like a Rolling Stone.” He was magnificent.
In the past half-century, few artists have had more impact on our language and culture than Dylan. He changed popular music the way Einstein changed modern physics: he changed everything that followed. Dylan took the lyrics of popular music away from the hacks of Tin Pan Alley and placed them in the hands of poets. As Bruce Springsteen said of the influence of Dylan’s music on his generation: “Elvis freed our bodies. Dylan freed our minds.” A recent concordance of legal decisions in U.S courtrooms showed Dylan’s words the most frequently cited lyrics in judicial opinions, from local magistrates to the Supreme Court.
In the years since that first show in Berkeley, I’ve seen Dylan in concert 15 times, each performance as unpredictable as the performer himself, but always worth seeing.
This October, at the Greek Theater in Berkeley, it was hard to watch Dylan on stage. Listening was even more painful. His band, still composed of world-class musicians, was only loud and lifeless. His voice, over-amplified to compensate for 50 years of vocal cord injury, echoed only harsh syllables from his former eloquence.
His most recent album had promised more. Called Tempest, the same title as Shakespeare’s final play, it was rumored to be perhaps his final work. Two songs in particular provided proof that Dylan can still bring the poetry. The title track is a poetic vision of the night the Titanic sank, with lyrics sufficiently vivid to bring you to tears. Another song, “Roll on, John,” is a touching tribute to his old friend John Lennon:
Shine your light, move it on
You burned so bright, roll on, John
Though the poet still lives, the voice is gone.
Bob Dylan has earned the right to sing forever. It’s what he does. But, for the first and only time in 50 years, I walked out early from a Dylan concert, the last one I’ll ever attend. How does it feel? Like watching Willie Mays about to drop a routine fly ball from a basket catch. And while it breaks my heart to say it, Bob, I say this with nothing but love and with gratitude for all you’ve given us. May you live long and continue to know and speak the truth as few others have. May your heart always be joyful and your song always be sung. But from that stage where you burned so bright and delivered a lifetime of magnificent lines and transcendent songs, it is time to roll on.
Dr. Flinders, who serves on the SCMA Editorial Board, is a lifelong fan of Bob Dylan.
VOM Is an Insider’s View of What Doctors are Thinking, Saying and Writing about