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07/05/07 12:00AM By Jay Parini
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(HOST) Last weekend, Bob Dylan gave a concert at the Champlain Valley Expo in Essex Junction. Yesterday we heard an appreciation from Jay Parini as a promoter as well as a fan. Today commentator Jay Parini reflects on the concert as both a fan and a poet.

(PARINI) Last weekend, Bob Dylan sang at the Champlain Valley Expo, one more installment in what he calls his "Never-Ending Tour." And I knew from the opening song that he was, for him, in good form. Sometimes that familiar twang is nowhere to be found, but last weekend it was almost like old times, with Dylan showing off quite a tonal range, from high notes to low. Of course he remains a wild improvisor, rarely content to sing the melody. Instead, he snakes around it, hitting some downright strange notes now and then, often snarling and growling.

I confess that I love Dylan, no matter what he does. When I first played him for my parents, in high school - over forty years ago - my father asked me if something was wrong with the record player. But Dylan spoke to my generation, with lyrics like: "Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command" or "But I was so much older then, I'm younger than that now." Dylan attacked the masters of war in the song by that title. He looked for answers in "Blowin' in the Wind." He could point out the ironies of injustice, as in "The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll." He could do astonishing love ballads, as in "Love Minus Zero / No Limit." He could plead and carp, could rebuff, or invite the listener into deep ranges of poetic thought. And the songs have never stopped coming, over six hundred of them, invariably sung with uncompromising wit and passion in that unique style one might call Dylanesque.

And so my wife and I went to the Expo, binoculars in hand. The crowd was much as expected. There were the usual aging hippies, with white pony tails, bangles and beads. Many, like me, were just - well - um - older if not hipper. But the kids were there, too: college and high school kids, and younger children, even some babies. In my family, our three boys were introduced to Dylan early, and they still appreciate him. He's "Bob" to my youngest son, although I think"Uncle Bob" might be more respectful.

It was a pleasant summer night, a little cool, and the crowd was into the songs. Dylan was, too. He sang old chestnuts like "The Times Are A'Changin'" - songs that still challenge the status quo, but mixed in quite a number of recent numbers, from "Modern Times," which is a splendid album. One of those songs begins: "You think I'm over the hill / You think I'm past my prime."

Well, Bob, if you're past your prime, I am too, and we don't want that, do we? When you sang "All Along the Watchtower" as your final encore, it was evident that you're not going away. You may not stand up in front of us in your broad-brimmed hat and snappy coat, wailing at your guitar or hunched over a keyboard, but you will always be there.

Jay Parini is a poet, novelist and biographer who teaches at Middlebury College.

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