Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Dylan Effect Panel Discussion Is Rewarding and Insightful

It's Dylan week here in Duluth, an annual celebration of all things Bob that takes place in the North Country where he was born and raised. The banner over Duluth's activities is called Dylan Fest and in Hibbing it is Dylan Days. So much is happening that by week's end we'll all be dazed.

Last night's event in Duluth was billed as The Dylan Effect. The event took place at Tycoons Alehouse and Eatery in the old City Hall Chambers, beginning at 7:00 p.m. and finishing about 8:30 p.m. Following the discussion, Jim Hall, longtime musician and featured performer of Duluth and Hibbing Dylan Festivals for the past five years, played Dylan songs and at 10 PM, Dirty Horse continued the music with its rendition of Dylan and original tunes. I had to bail after John Hall completed his first set upstairs while we dismantled the room.

Essentially, the Dylan Effect was a panel discussion moderated by Karen Sunderman, producer and host of The Playlist, a local PBS show that covers the local arts scene among other things. The panel was comprised of  • John Bushey, longtime host of Highway 61 Revisited, educator, historian and professional magician • Don Dass, poet and preservationist, and one of the people responsible for the establishment of Bob Dylan Way • Susan Phillips • Nelson French • Tim Nelson, musician, local music promoter, and business owner, producer of the three Duluth Does Dylan CDs • David Everett artist and educator • and myself, Ed Newman. Behind the scenes manifold thanks are due to Zane Bail who helped put this all together.

Sunderman began by asking each panelist to briefly identify themselves and then say something about Dylan's influence on them personally. The answers varied but I was especially touched by David Everett's experience. Most of us in the room remembered Dylan's heart infection in the late nineties in which there was a concern that he might die. At the time 19-year-old Everett nearly despaired because he might never have the chance to hear Dylan live. Dylan survived and the very next year came to Duluth to do a concert, a richly rewarding experience for the young artist.

The second question, which we dove into with more vigor now that the dicussion was flowing, had to do with Dylan's influence on the broader culture. The way she worded the question was especially interesting. In what ways to do we see Dylan's fingerprints on the culture around us, locally, nationally and globally? Nelson French noted that everything Dylan does has been newsworthy almost his entire life. "Bob has always been in the news." He also mentioned that he has created a legacy, in the full meaning of the word.

In his own initial remarks John Bushey, host of Highway 61 Revisited, mentioned how he was impressed that Dylan had the courage to not be pigeon-holed.

Musician Tim Nelson described the way Dylan, even in all his permutations, carries something of the "Duluth sound" in him. "I hear it in Dylan....ecclectic... organic."

When I have more time I will elaborate on my own thoughts on this part of the discussion but my first notion, which I shared, was that Dylan's pervasive influence is far beyond what we see and hence we don't always see his fingerprints. It's much like the fashion industry. Insiders know that what appears on the Paris "Runway" will filter down over the next year into the chic styles and hip colors of boutique fashion down to the mass-produced styles and colors that fill clothing racks all across the continent. Dylan has been a seminal creative force in this same manner.

In preparation for the panel discussion we had been asked to assemble three words that we felt summed up who Dylan was, if such things are possible. One set was Bard, Passion, and Nature. David Everett said, "Pioneer, Dynamic, Fearless." (If you are reading this you will notice my blog here resides at PioneerProductions.blogspot.com, so I inwardly smiled at this word selection.) Tim Nelson's three words were, "Individual, Philosophical, Sassy....  in a devil-may-care kind of way. John Bushey used the word Multi-Dimensional, which also was assented to by all. There were many other good sets of word to which I added my own three and then a fourth:  Catalyst (someone else said this), Reservoir, Touchstone and Justice.

The discussion included questions from the audience and insights from there as well. While on his recent trip to China there were some critics who said he should have been more vocal about the oppression of artists and done more protest songs. John Bushey forcefully pointed out that Dylan opened his concerts there with the song "Change My Way of Thinking," and he urged all of us to really listen to the lyrics of that song. It very pointedly speaks to today's situation there.

All in all, I only wish my notes could do a better job of conveying here the richness of the dialogue that was shared. It was a very special time.

All pictures and paintings on this blog are my own unless otherwise indicated. Click images to enlarge.

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