Cheap flights make playboys of us all. To Geneva (for less than 100 euros return, for two) to meet up with an old friend who foolishly suggested a few weeks ago that we go see Bob Dylan play Zurich. Of course I soon discovered that Bob would be playing Bologna on Thursday and Milan on Saturday. But I know nobody in either place, and the point was not merely to see Bob but to do so with friends and generally Have A Good Time.
Which we duly did.
Utterly effortless travel. The biggest single difficulty was parking at Ciampino, where all the onsite carparks were full, and the free parking resembled a breaker’s yard, so packed in were all the cars. Actually, the carparks were not full. But their oh-so-sophisticated control machinery thought that they were. Each carpark has a nominal capacity. And that number of cars was safely ensconced behind the barrier. Therefor the carpark was full. QED. But it wasn’t. Thanks to the I’m alright Giacomo drivers, a good many cars were parked in spaces that didn’t officially exist. And an equal number of legit spaces were empty. But could one get in to occupy a legit space? Could one indeed. So I dumped the car in a staff-only space plastered with dire-sounding warnings. Time was too short to be a good citizen, and all through the weekend the certain knowledge that the car would have been towed and impounded and a huge fine levied gnawed at my guts like a beaver at an aspen.
So we met the friends and escaped Switzerland ASAP to shop for food in France. Although Italy has a fine market culture, the very fact of being in a foreign land made even that simple pleasure more intense. And of course nowhere in Italy can one grab a proper butter croissant and jam it down quick as winking. Nor have I ever seen salsify on a market stall in Italy.
The rest of that day, and most of the next, was as it should be. Catching up, meeting unmet spouses, and swanning over to an even older friend who was a staging post on the drive from England to Italy and who I don’t think I’ve seen since. None of us has changed a bit, except that we’re all that much older, and that barely counts.
Train to Zurich. Yet more effortless travel. Quiet, comfortable, smooth: who cares about that old cuckoo clock nonsense? Excellent hotel that was clean, well designed and classy. Tram to the stadium, then file neatly in and find our numbered seats, and at a couple of minutes after 8, a disembodied movie-trailer style voice gave us the 30 second potted biog “sixties icon, religious insight, substance abuse, back on top” and there he was. Of course, I couldn’t see that for myself, because all the cretins in front stood up to get a better look over the heads of the cretins standing in front of them. But eventually, with the help of my little binoculars, I could make out the man, in black, playing keyboard. And a very tight band, wearing tan suits and black shirts, three of the five sporting groovester hats like the man himself.
Slowly some of the cretins way down front realized they didn’t need to stand to see, and a Mexican wave rolled languorously back towards us affording a much clearer view. All except for the cretin just in front of me, a skinny woman with a Ziggy Stardust haircut and basically, only one all purpose rock ’n’ roll jive move, which was not so much a booty shake as a spasmodic shoulder roll. Even her own daughter was embarrassed. (I was going to come home and write her a rant on Craigslist Zurich, but she’d probably take it as a compliment.) Anyway, she too was eventually persuaded to sit her skinny arse down, mostly.
You want to know about the music? Well, as with the Bill Frisell, there was a great deal of reworking going on. Many of the songs I recognized not by the tunes but by the words. And some I didn’t recognize at all, but that’s no surprise: I am not a Dylan obsessive. Bob’s developed an interesting vocal tic -- probably to allow him to sing at all -- which is to start every phrase down low in the gravel beds and then swoop up an octave or something equally technical on the last word. Oddly disconcerting, and easy as heck to copy, though not to render in writing. But it didn’t much matter because the band was so fabulous. Two lead guitars, taking turns. A fine slide player from East Tennessee, or so Bob assured us right at the end. More than solid bass and inconspicuous but unmissable drums. Of course, I’d love to give names and stuff, but like I said, I’m no obsessive. I can say, with assurance, that this was one of the finest rock and roll bands I’ve ever heard. And the fact that Bob didn’t touch a guitar all evening did not matter one bit.
I can’t actually remember all the songs he did, and what’s the point of trying? I do know that Highway 61 Revisited was perhaps the least reworked of all, and that it barreled through the Hallenstadion like an 18-wheeler bound for glory. I remember wondering, during The Times They Are A-Changin’, what it meant to have written a song if the song one was hearing bore almost no resemblance to the song one had heard. And I do not remember one dull moment in over two hours of superb entertainment.
The cretin left before the encore -- Like A Rolling Stone and All Along The Watchtower. Which was nice.
I could do more about Zurich, and how pleasant it was to wander through the deserted town on a raw Monday morning, before catching the train back to Geneva. About how it would be good to go back and see some of the city’s fabled art collections. About how damn fine, pleasant, fun, relaxed, stress-free and just downright enjoyable the whole weekend was.
And the car was where we left it too; untouched, unmoved, unfined.
Like I said, perfect.
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