Live from Guantanamo, it’s Bob and Joan
The great thing about digital music is the ability to select shuffle and rediscover songs from your own collection. Or that’s the theory. Recently my system spat out Bob Dylan’s “With God On Our Side,” the excruciating Bootleg Series duet version with Joan Baez.
Not that I came close to hearing the whole thing, early in the song I slammed my shins reaching for the mute button.
Even those of us who like his singing must admit that Dylan’s voice is neither bright nor clear, and is an acquired taste. Baez, on the other hand, is perceived as a gifted vocalist with a magnificent range. You might differ with her politics or choice of material, but her instrument is astounding. Together they bring out the worst in each other, resulting in a painful, continuous screech of mythical proportions.
And unlike some interpretations of longer Dylan songs they don’t skip any of the verses.
But wait, you say. How do I know that no verses were skipped, as I listened only to the first minute? And didn’t I see the pair perform twice in 1975 and rave about it later?
I was so much less particular then. I’m fussier than that, now.
Dylan and Baez sang together quite a bit in the old days. She introduced him to American audiences on one of her early tours, and they led the Rolling Thunder venture a decade later. Their recorded legacy includes the concert CD, as well as a large slice of “The Other Side of the Mirror” documentary DVD. To make a blanket statement about this whole era without doing all the research is irresponsible, and unfair.
So take away my critic’s license. I’m fifty-fucking-seven-years old, and I’m not going to spend hours studying something when the answer is immediately clear.If the government had assembled an hour or two of this caterwauling and played it to the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Bin Ladin would have been brought to justice five years ago. They would have played him the whole concert, at which time he would have renounced terrorism, checked his own self into prison and kissed Bush’s ring–as long as they promised to never play it again.
Today you could not imagine Dylan and Baez on the same stage, or even the same table. Dylan, in fact, doesn’t share the vocal mike with anyone. He may sing badly sometimes, but at least he’s the one taking the heat.
Some old records will sustain forever and sound great even when we are deaf. Other times we need to look in the mirror and ask ourselves just what we were thinking.