LP: Royal Albert Hall 1966 by Bob Dylan
1978 The Amazing Kornyfone Record Label TAKRL 900
Favorite Track: Like a Rollin’ Stone
Jake and Lester stood outside the Free Trade Hall staring at the crowd forming in front of the nine-bay facade. They were a colorful mob of dirty long hair, red eyes, and patched pea-coats. An electrifying current of giddy chatter and marijuana clouds cloaked them with a sense of unpredictable mysteriousness. Lester hung back while Jake went to discover the source of the excitement. He rubbed his hands together and brushed the hairs poking at his eyes. Jake was more spontaneous than him, usually resulting in some kind of altercation they would have to flee.
An audible grasp came from the far side of Peter Street when a black vehicle turned onto the road. The crowd dispersed toward the car, wildly waving their limbs and shouting their voices. Jake came back with a bemused look on his face.
“These beards are here to see some chap named Dylan. Ever hear of him?”
Lester shook his head. He heard a lot of this rock’n’roll that had invaded the radios and tellies of his homeland England, but he never had actually paid attention to who was making it. What were clumsy, soft acoustic guitars compared to the subtlety of a woodwind section? Could a drum kit really fill the air with resonance the way the tuba did in An American in Paris? “Come on. Let’s get back to the university. Nothing important is happening here but the birds gawking at their feeders.”
“This guy is some American. He upset a lot of people by plugging in his guitar.”
“Plugging in his guitar? Whatever do you mean?”
Jake put his hands in his pocket. The doors of the Trade Hall had opened and a line had quickly formed. “Let’s check it out just for a second.”
He added when Lester began to grouse, “I’ll pay. Consider it an early birthday gift.”
They entered the hall through an arcade and marveled at the interior. Even the upper floor was filled with these strange people carrying on in full celebratory mode. They passed an elderly couple stretching in a Yoga variant, their long cream colored robes flowing down to their taunt calves. They murmured what sounded to Lester as the names of their Gods: “Guthrie, Seeger, Mary and Ochs.” A man in a scuffed up sailor uniform replied, “Les Paul forever.” Jake led Lester along the left wall toward a set of giant amplifiers and enough wires to carpet the stage like a pit of black snakes. Some of Lester’s apprehension left when he saw a man wearing a white T-shirt that read: THERE IS NO ENEMY ANYWHERE. From the front row of seats, two blond girls of equal height and equally absurd tie-dyed peasant blouses (braless) approached them waving something colorful in their hands. The colors ended up being flyers for other rock’n’roll shows and a free dinner at Queen’s Park printed on a curiously golden hue paper.
“Can you believe what is going to happen tonight?” one of the ladies asked. Her eyes were as strong and magnificent as an iceberg, but were set in her pale heart-shaped face like a pair of precious sapphires. Both Jake and Lester looked at their feet and clenched their hands.
“What is happening tonight?” Lester managed. His throat felt dry.
She laughed, “You mean you just happened to come here? What synchronicity. The Golden Apple of Discord is going to roll into the room and we will discover who is the Kallisti of them all.”
“You know it’s Dylan.” Someone shouted from behind the ladies. One of them turned around and struck up a conversation while passing out more flyers.
“I’m afraid I don’t understand what you are talking about,” Lester said.
“I think she is telling us we are about to have an experience. Mystical perhaps?” Jake’s face was all teeth and dimples. “How did you know tonight was the night?”
“Time is merely one perspective in the collective whole. I have looked into many of them. Enjoy the experience. Hail Eris, All Hail Discordia.”
She rejoined her friend conscious of their eyes following her. Lester couldn’t shake the image of her icy eyes–the way they so unnerved him. But Jake was laughing when the lights dimmed and some people began tuning the instruments. After the stagehands cleared, there was a silent minute where it seemed in the darkness that all of time laid in front of them and the audible grasps were more than just the sounds of surprise and expected anticipation. A thin man with what appeared to be a bird’s nest stood under the spotlight against the backdrop of a red velvet curtain. Lester assumed the man holding the acoustic guitar was Dylan and took in his features. He wasn’t wearing a bird’s nest on his head, it was his hair. He wore a dark green double-breasted suit, slim trousers, and Beatle boots. He had a lot of nervous energy that kept him twitching except for his small eyes that remained half-closed. As he sang, he would glance up at the ceiling as if searching for the lyrics in the blinding light. He did not look like a prophet.
Jake had managed to sit next to the blue-eyed girl, his feet on the back of the seat in front of him. His hand was caressing her shoulder length hair from her long neck. Her fingertips brushed his. Dylan sang, “Now, little boy lost, he takes himself so seriously / He brags of his misery, he likes to live dangerously / And when bringing her name up / He speaks of a farewell kiss to me / He’s sure got a lotta gall to be so useless and all / Muttering small talk at the wall while I’m in the hall / How can I explain? / Oh, it’s so hard to get on / And these visions of Johanna, they kept me up past the dawn.” Lester watched as Jake and the girl released their lips. Her eyes were beaming with burgeoning romance.
Lester barley heard the altercation behind him. Someone complaining Dylan to plug in and a volley of hushes that threw Dylan’s rhythm off. He continued to stare up toward the vaulted ceiling and began a new song. Lester confronted himself about the mixed feelings he was experiencing. On one hand, with each song, Dylan seemed to be using keys to unlock doors never opened in his brain. He hated to admit it, especially because Jake would rub it in his face all week, but he was glad to be here in the audience. Something was happening and he was wrong to dismiss it as trivial. However, he was positive that Jake was courting merely because he could and that he, Lester, had real feelings for this mysterious woman.
The sound of clapping brought Lester back to reality. Dylan had finished his first set and had exited the stage to shrill whistles, clapping, and a couple of hissing boos. The calm atmosphere in the concert hall was starting to broil and Lester noticed that several of the colorful strangers were aggressively gesturing toward each other. Sides were being drawn, but Lester had no idea what were the teams. Jake and the lady approached hand in hand, whom Jake introduced as Hallie.
“That Dylan guy just re-arranged my mind,” Jake took a puff of what was obviously a marijuana cigarette.
“Yes, me too.”
“Are you alright? You look overwrought.”
Hallie took Lester’s hand and said, “Let me talk to him for a while.”
“Sure,” Jake nodded, “I am going to buy all this guy’s records. I never knew folk music was the sign of our times. Catch up with you in a bit, Lester.” Then he kissed Hallie and Lester trembled.
Hallie led him to the other side of the concert hall where unkempt kids with glazed eyes and forked beards sat haphazardly in their chairs. Some of them seemed to glare at Hallie in a disquieting way. Others went on and on positively about 4th street. Hallie’s personality was as bright and chipper as she was with Jake. She quietly chatted about her life in Manchester, about her hatred for her father, and her repeated assurance that tonight was going to be a night like none other. In rapture with her silky voice, Lester agreed with everything she said whether or not he understood what it mean. Only when she said, “I only hope they don’t immanentized the eschaton” that he began to question what she was going on about.
But Dylan was back on stage. And with a band. And the wide-bodied acoustic guitar was replaced with a black and white Fender Telecaster. The instrument looked in his hands like a futuristic weapon.
When he strummed those tense strings, it was as if he had strummed the tense spines of everybody inside the Lesser Trade Free Hall. Heckles and dismissive shouts outweighed the hearty cheers and foot stamping. The audience on this side of the hall who had previously sat bored through his acoustic set were getting rowdy, swinging fists and shaking their heads as if trying to break their necks. Whereas the previously contended-with-sitting-and-drinking-down-his-words crowd were becoming more and more visibly upset at Dylan hopping to the sonic noise blasting from the amps and organ. Jake was standing up with his thick arms outstretched, jaw dropped as if the man on stage had been a magician and made a submarine disappear on stage. Even to Lester, the sound was thick with reverb and his ears whined in pain, yet he found an urgency that Dylan’s previous music had lacked. This was a man no longer concerned with the current present. He had stepped beyond.
“How do you like this?” Hallie’s naturally soft voice was almost drowned out in the cascade of drum smacks.
“I like this better.” Lester stared directly into her unflinching eyes. He pulled her close without even realizing it. He felt her hot breath against his lower lip. He allowed a quick thought about Hell but could only think of Heaven.
She whispered into his mouth, “Even though Jake clearly prefers the other?” The question mark came out all tongue.
“He only considers beauty which makes himself seem more beautiful.” Lester regretted it the minute he said it. Ashamed, he pulled his head away from Hallie and watched Dylan shout into the microphone: “It’s all new to me / like some mystery / It could even be like a myth / Yet it’s hard to think on / That she’s the same one / That last night I was with / From darkness, dreams’re deserted / Am I still dreamin’ yet? / I wish she’d unlock / Her voice once and talk / Instead of acting like we never met.”
A fight had broken out fifty feet from center stage. A tall shouldered, bald man with intense eyes was shoving a smaller, wiry man to the ground. People were trying to pull the aggressor away, but he was too stodgy to be moved easily. His gut quaked in laughter. Dylan and the band played louder, the sound coming from the speakers in one great oscillating wave of commotion. The bald man pushed aside two more people and a real good and honest riot was about to break out inside the famed walls of the Hall. Jake was searching in a frenzy for Hallie, cupping his mouth and shouting her name with specks of saliva. He hadn’t noticed them in the corner, hands in compromising locations.
A swarm of smaller long-haired people had subdued the bald man. Lester could hear them chanting “Folk! Folk! Folk!” like some kind of Sufi mantra. Other people sought to free the bellowing behemoth and chanted their own words of wisdom: “Electric! Electric! Electric!” Lester made sense of none of it. He had Hallie in his arms and dared to dream that the moment could last forever. But what did she say about time? That it was only one perspective? What were the other perspectives of time tonight?
Then he saw Jake staring at them.
A piano made chaotic chords into sonorous music. Everybody stopped moving. The intro was like the entrance of a deity although of what kind Lester knew not. The spotlights lit Dylan’s face like pale fire as beads of sweat rolled off his endless sea of curls. He sang. He shouted. He accented syllables that didn’t exist. Even the bald giant had been tamed by the power of song. That was when Lester and Jake both realized Hallie was missing.
The thunderous song ended and there were few claps. Boos were dominating. Heckles came from all sides now. Jake ran to the right. Lester stayed on the left. They looked in all the dark corners, under all the abandoned seats. They raced to find the woman who had made them feel immortal with a sweet, sweet kiss. Hallie was in the middle haloed underneath a spotlight. Her blue eyes blazed.
She screeched loud and clear. And Dylan heard.
Everybody paused with baited breath. The prophet flinched in recoil, adjusted the strap of his Telecaster. Hallie locked eyes with him. Her voice was barely heard by the masses this time, but Dylan heard it directly in his brain as if she had established a telepathic connection with him.
“I’m never going to listen to you again, ever.”
Dylan leaned into the microphone, “I don’t believe you.”
He turned back to the band with instructions. Then he rushed the mic again, “You’re a liar.”
The cries of “Folk” versus “Electric” were at a fevered pitch. Destruction seemed imminent. Dylan turned to his band and slyly said, “Play it fucking loud.”
Like a Rolling Stone blasted in the new era of rock’n’roll. The walls shook, seats were flipped, the violence was great in one wing while in another people gathered in orgies of love. For eight minutes, anarchy and order seemed like one collective piece: the destructive snap of a drumstick here, the soothing echo of a bass line there. Which would win Lester did not care to know. In his mind only Hallie remained. He imagined Jake thought likewise. Through the chaos, beyond the order, lost in the moment, Dylan finished his set and disappeared behind the velvet red curtain.
It took most of the crowd to leave before Lester found Hallie and Jake. He knew that was the case even before his eyes confirmed it. But the anger and resentment had washed away with the dying notes of Dylan’s electric performance. He greeted Jake with a shake of the hand that he hoped was understood as an apology. Jake’s face was hard to read, but Lester saw no real hostility.
To Hallie, he merely said, “That was something.”
Hallie responded, “I told you we were to discover who was Kallisti–the fairest of them all. So tell me then, who was it?”