Dylan's devotees: 'That music just spoke to me'
|By Eric Gallippo|
For some Lansing fans, the singer-songwriter never goes out of style
The first time Chris Faulkner heard The Byrds’ version of “Mr. Tambourine Man,” it needed to be louder.
“Still to this day, I clearly see my hand reaching out to that old radio dial and cranking it up to hear it,” Faulkner says. “I was just electrified.”
It was the mid-‘60s, Faulkner was 10 and riding shotgun, and the Bob Dylan-penned chart-topper was blaring from the speakers of his mother’s 1950 Plymouth. “I kind of knew right then I actually loved, you know, rock music.”
A week later, he heard the song as played by its author — a winding mindfuck of a stoned poem very unlike the ringing, sing-along that made Roger McGuinn & Co. famous. Confused at first, he eventually learned it was Dylan’s tune, and he kept his ears open for more.
“Even though I was very young, that music just spoke to me in a way that hardly anything else had,” he said.
A few years later, Dylan released “John Wesley Harding,” his first album after self-imposed exile. It featured a new kind of country-based sound for Dylan, who came up in the folk scene and blew up in rock ‘n’ roll, and it sealed the deal for Faulkner.
“I just played that record over and over trying to figure out what the hell he was talking about,” he said. “At that point I was totally hooked.”
Since then Faulkner, a former longtime Lansing record store manager, bought about every Dylan LP, CD and MP3 he could get his hands on. He also caught Dylan live a half-dozen times.
Like many diehard fans who will take their seats in the Michigan State University Auditorium on Tuesday, Faulkner has learned to sit and enjoy the ride when Dylan’s Never Ending Tour (a tag picked up in the late ‘80s for his non-stop show schedule) rolls through town.
After nearly 50 years of performing, Dylan, 69, has more than earned the right to play his songs any way he chooses, and he often does. As long as he does it with conviction, that’s all that matters.
“It’s kind of like Van Gogh trotting out ‘Starry Night’ every night,” Faulkner said. “Are you going to paint the exact same thing?”
Like Faulkner, former Lansing City Councilman Tim Kaltenbach first started listening to Dylan in the ‘60s. The singer’s stream-of-consciousness style and social criticism first intrigued the high school senior. He followed “Blowin’ in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a Changin’” through to electric records like “Highway ’61 Revisted” and “Blonde on Blonde,” but he lost interest during the “Born Again” days of the ‘80s. “I just kind of vacated at that time; I just didn’t like the music,” Kaltenbach said.
He picked Dylan back up in the ‘90s with the release of the “MTV Unplugged” CD. Then in the early Aughts came what many critics hailed as (yet another) reemergence with “Love and Theft,” which along with “Unplugged” is probably what’s playing on Kaltenbach’s iPod if you happen to catch him at the gym.
So, did he ever find resource or comfort in Dylan’s words during his public service?
“You could say that,” Kaltenbach said, as he tried to remember a poignant phrase from “The Time They are a Changin.” “‘Don’t criticize want you can’t understand:’ I thought of that often as people got up and spoke at the City Council.”
Like most people, local theater actor Jeff Magnuson was familiar with Dylan’s ‘60s hits, but his gateway album to “stark raving fandom” was a path less taken: 1989’s “Oh Mercy.”
“He was going through a period of reinvention,” Magnuson said. “He always explores and tries different things. For me, as someone in the theater, I consider that real artistry, to take the risks and try to push boundaries further.”
Then came 1997’s “Time Out of Mind” and 2001’s “Love and Theft,” with its vivid imagery and startlingly fresh take on blues-based music (far from the retread of folks like, say Eric Clapton).
“It’s like he’s creating a new thread, creating these songs that represent the genre and keep it going and growing,” Magnuson said. “It’s not like a tribute act; it’s very authentic and very modern.”
Any good obsession can only grow deeper when you have a friend to share it with, and for Magnuson that friend was Len Kluge, his friend, director, mentor and fellow actor at Spotlight Theater.
After the two attended a captivating Dylan set in Grand Rapids, they went in together on an iTunes special offer and downloaded his entire discography. The two set to examing his work back to front, sometimes to the annoyance of their spouses, who had more appreciation for Dylan’s words and melodies than his nasal singing voice.
Kluge passed away from cancer in July 2009. He would have been 65 this month.
“I think about him often when I hear (Dylan’s) music,” Magnuson said.
Magnuson and his wife, Amy, are attending the show with Kluge’s widow, Heather.
“There will be a poignancy, I’m sure, to the night to go back and be there with those of us who are still among the living, including Bob Dylan, but also be here in the now.”
Bob Dylan & His Band