June 16 marked a special day on our family calendar this year, since Dan would be celebrating his 75th birthday. But he wasn't alone. In May, Bob Dylan would also turn 75, so what better way to commemorate the two milestones than to attend a Dylan concert? And while we were at it, why not turn the event into a trip? That's exactly what happened when we bought tickets to hear the 60s bard at the Berkeley Greek Theater. It was the start of a summer of memorable music.
First stop, an AirBnB place in Santa Cruz, that island of 60s nostalgia along the Pacific shore an hour south of San Francisco where you're likely to spot a VW van painted in colorful psychedelic designs. Our sunny room opened onto a spacious deck that overlooked an outdoor aviary, rambling gardens bursting with exotic plants, and a circular paved labyrinth embedded with artistic tiles. After checking in, we meandered to downtown Santa Cruz where a Bernie Sanders group marched along a leafy commercial avenue, and street musicians sang and performed with steel guitars, a washboard, and additional instruments. A gallery opening beckoned us to admire beautifully crafted pottery, glass, and paintings while a more modest shop displayed healthy gourmet products and crafts produced by homeless people. Lillian's Italian Kitchen, in a converted warehouse with a modern vibe, served generous portions of fine dining cuisine, the nightcap to a perfect day.
The next morning, we flew from Oakland to Portland for a visit with Dan's brother, Tom, and his wife, Nickie. In June, their delightful home in the small town of Forest Grove features a double lot ripe with delicious summer harvest -- berries, veggies, and greens, which we were delighted to sample at every meal. Day two we visited Nickie's downtown condo, in the Portland walking neighborhood called ABC. The summer weather enticed us to wander and explore thrift stores in the quaint urban setting. The warm breezy night led us to a sidewalk cafe for a tasty dinner before we returned to Oakland the next morning.
Before the concert, Carlsbad neighbors Lynne and Paul picked us up from our AirBnB room at a lovely home in a tree-lined neighborhood of Berkeley to chauffeur us to the downtown Shattuck Hotel for a birthday toast and appetizers. The art deco landmark features arched, paned windows, rich wood carvings, and a black-and-white tiled floor. At concert time, we Ubered our way up the hill to the classical outdoor amphitheater where the harmonica/guitar/piano-playing legend took center stage.
I first heard Bob Dylan during college days in Louisville, when he performed with the harmonica hung on his neck and the criticism, escapism, and politics of the 60s woven through his lyrics, i.e. The Times They Are A Changing and Mr. Tambourine Man. About ten years ago, he caught my attention again with a Grammy-winning album, "Modern Times," which we loved to play on the road, during cross-country and Canada RV travel. The more current selections reveal a maturity and spirituality that was unexpected, given the fate of so many 60s performers who've faded in and out of the popular music scene. The CD revitalized Dylan's career as a master storyteller and musician, this time with a wistful yearning and appreciation for all that life has given and taken. In a 2015 AARP article he offered as an exclusive, Bob Dylan: The Uncut Interview, he says passion is for the young; wisdom for the old.
That night in Berkeley, the old sage entertained with American songbook standards, What'll I Do?, Autumn Leaves, Love Sick; few old tunes, i.e. Blowin' in the Wind; and one of my favorites, Spirit on the Water, from "Modern Times." The raspy voice adds to the legitimacy of a man who's traveled the long and winding road to share the regrets and riches of a life lived fully. The stance is firm, legs stiff and feet far apart, to sink into the words of a song. You never get the feeling that Dylan is anywhere except in the heart of the music. At the piano, he seemed to relish countless numbers, giving an impression that he could go on forever. Who knew he could play so well and for so long, with a small band for backup? I'd been a casual observer, not a devoted fan, so this was a treat, especially on the slower Sinatra tunes, to whom and to which he pays homage in the AARP interview.
And who would've guessed he stowed away so much from a six-decade career, to document the arc of the artist? In March, before concert tickets were purchased, the New York Times ran a feature story and half-page photo about Bob Dylan's Archive. A very private person, he not only acquired a mountain of memorabilia, but he chose the University of Tulsa as its final resting place, alongside Woody Guthrie's archive. What better way to display the voice of the 60s generation than to couple it with the voice of the Dust Bowl era?
Dylan continues to draw flocks of pilgrims, old and young, to what has been called "the never-ending tour." How lucky were we, under the starry starry night of a Greek amphitheater in Northern California, to revisit our own history through Bob Dylan's music? A night to celebrate a special birthday, a seasoned artist, and a walk down memory lane, complete with the people and places of our own past that the music evokes.
February/March 2015 AARP Magazine