Bob Dylan, Cheap Trick, and a Beatles Shabbat: Lessons for Contemporary Jewish Communities
August 31, 2016
A few years ago, I saw Bob Dylan yet again in concert. He was at the Mann Amphitheater in Philadelphia, and it was a great show. Bob was energetic on the keys and intelligible at the mic, the band was tight, and the sound and sight lines were perfect. It was in this nearly perfectly controlled stage environment that Bob shocked me to my core. He cut two full stanzas out of Tangled Up in Blue.
You have to know that TUIB is one of my favorite Dylan songs from one of my favorite albums ever. Blood on the Tracks was released in 1975, and it was around that time I saw my first Dylan show. I was with my mother (of blessed memory) and one of my sisters; the venue was the Jacksonville Civic Arena. That was where the Symphony played, and the real “significant” and “artistic” performers graced the marquis there, while the more “common” acts were down the street at the Colosseum.
I was amazed at the sheer audacity of Dylan’s decision to revise TUIB that night. One of my most immediate reactions focused on the art, its ownership. “Well, it’s his song and he owns it. He can do with it what he wants.” But soon afterwards I realized there were much deeper dynamics at play. It might have been an adaptation for content no longer appropriate. It could have been a concern for the length of the song, or just the tightness of the storyline. It might have been just to say to all of us that none of our received traditions—not even the sacred ones, and especially not the ones we’ve created—are beyond adaptation and change. New needs dictate new responses; old story lines might sometimes retain vitality with change.
This lesson about change was reinforced recently while watching yet another music-related show. Those of a certain age will remember how the release of Cheap Trick’s Live at Budokan ushered in a new era of late 1970’s rock and roll. In 2013 they gigged a 35th anniversary show at the El Ray Theatre in Los Angeles. Watching the show I could help but notice some of the major technical differences onstage compared to what was available in 1978. Certainly there were a number of huge Orange amplifiers that didn’t exist back then. The mics were all wireless, which was not the case in 1978. Similarly the guitars fed small rf transmitters that went into the amps. There was not a single cable in sight on the stage; Rick Neilsen walked his checkerboard guitar (and others) up, down, and all around that stage. In this case, the band adapted to changed technical conditions in order to create the best possible show. Changed environment and new capacity also generates the opportunity, if not the need, for new approaches to doing common and familiar activities.
Change is a sign of vitality. New conditions empower us to generate new practices. These are lessons that a vital, dynamic, and thriving congregation takes to heart. If you’re interested to see what that could mean, then you want to hear the Yiddles preview a teaser to a Beatles themed Friday night Shabbat service during our Back to School Back to Shul picnic on Labor Day Monday (Sep. 5) from 11-2. I look forward to seeing you there!