Since we had never been to the Ramat Gan Stadium, we left home three and a half hours early for the forty-three minute drive to the concert that was to start on June 20th at 8:30 PM, armed with directions from GoogleMap. The roads were clear; the map was good and by 6:15 we arrived at a parking lot which may have been the Ramat Gan Stadium’s, but cops turned us away without explanations. We took the next left into the Ayalon Mall Lot, a huge mistake, and escaped as fast as we could. Finally, we found a space near a train station, but no train, no station and no sign to the Ramat Gan Stadium. We were close, but did not know it.
I lifted my eyes to the heavens and caught a glimpse of a section of red yellow and blue seats beyond the Mall. We walked through the barriers towards the rising, thirsty and hungry. A man handed us a pamphlet Jesus Is the Savior, in which Jews for Jesus argue (to readers “over the age of eighteen”) that Jesus is the one because “he was despised and we esteemed him not.” (Isaiah 53:3)
With two hours to kill, we searched for Gate 14 so we would know where to enter the holy arena of 31,000 seats when the time came. I saw a man smoking wearing a Bob Dylan t-shirt and asked if he too had come early to wait. He said, “I came from Germany two days ago.” He said he had to order his tickets by phone because he couldn’t figure out the Hebrew web site. “Tomorrow I’m going to Milan,” he said. He turned around. On the back of his t-shirt I saw the itinerary of Bob Dylan’s 2004 tour. “What is your name?” I asked the believer. “Rainer,” he said. “As in Rilke?” I asked. “Yes,” he said, “Rainer Maria,” and blew smoke not in my face.
After that a woman handed me a pamphlet Jesus Saved Me, in which Jesus is portrayed as the lifeguard of the world who saves us from the sea of our sins. Oh, I was far from Jerusalem, where such Jews would be dragged to the Kishleh Prison and crucified without trial. But I would save these hand-outs for my great grandchildren, explain to them in 2031 the relics from the day I saw the living Bob Dylan.
To relieve our hunger we entered the Mall, climbed moving stairs to the second floor and there in the midst of the court beneath the icon of Colonel Sanders, who in another place might be mistaken for a Yiddish poet, we ran into our rabbi from Jerusalem. He had come to hear Bob Dylan with his wife and son and some of his followers. We hugged and prayed for a good concert and moved down the line of fast food joints. We passed “360 Degrees: Schwarma and Friends,” but the line there was almost as long as outside the women’s toilets, so we stopped at the end of the court at McDonalds. I had heard that McDonalds had tried to acclimatize to Israel by inventing McFelafel and McKabab, initiatives I admired, so I faithfully ordered a McChickenSteak Laffa, which is a large pita filled with grilled chicken, chopped salad and “tasty sauce,” only 398 calories. Satisfy Your Hunger. I’m lovin it said the words on the brilliantly-engineered cardboard container.
The court was full, so we sat at a table with a fifty-something woman who was taking her two twenty-something children to hear and see the legendary Bob Dylan. It was a once in a lifetime event, she explained and told me how she grew up with barely a phonograph and her children learned Dylan from the internet. “The times they are a’changin,” we sighed.
At 7 PM I joined that long line for a toilet. On my way out, twenty minutes later, a tough Israeli woman was encouraging the meek and the humble to enter the men’s bathroom. I wanted to watch that show, but the Gates to Dylan were opening and we wanted to find out place.
Outside the Mall, the crowd was as thick as moneychangers in the Temple. Most of the people looked like people I should have known from my years in Ann Arbor in the 1960’s. At 7:20 we entered the stadium, but first the V.I.P. Security guard told me to empty my water bottle. Any thirst I felt would be supplied inside the Ramat Gan Stadium. Once inside, I saw a hundred V.I.P. guards roaming around in their yellow shirts looking bored. I saw a few people in their seats talking on their cellphones. I saw people smoking and looking at the sky. These were the early arrivals, like us, who had waited for this moment if not forty minutes, then forty years. Only seventy minutes left until the living Bob Dylan would be standing before us in the flesh. For a second I glimpsed the depth and the power of mass movements with strong leaders and I too felt that urge to bow down to someone stronger than me.
The seats, with a finger’s width between them, were molded plastic screwed into cement steps. Once they were white, but now, due to years of rain and wear, they were broken gray. The molding did not fit our specific backsides, but we could suffer this for eighty minutes. What’s eighty minutes of waiting in the tale of one’s life?
Young men walked the steps shouting “Bira, bira” and their words immediately transported me to a larger seat in the Cleveland Stadium circa 1955 CE when young boys yelled Biyah hiya, which I later learned meant Beer Here, while I waited to see my idols Rocky Colavito and the Jew Al Rosen step up to the plate.
At 8:10 PM someone starts singing on the stage, about 1/3 of a kilometer to my right. I can’t tell if it’s a man or a woman, neither from the voice nor from the blurry image on the two screens on either side of the stage. On the sound system someone thanks Hadas and suddenly there is a body in a red dress on the screen and she is leaning on a cello. Or is the cello red?
A woman in the row in front of us asks if anyone has any toilet paper. People two rows down and one row behind are smoking cigarettes and I can’t remember if the Knesset has passed that law that forbids smoking in outdoor public places. The cool spring air is turning into the damp summer air, thick as putty, for which Tel Aviv is famous. Just in time, as tonight is the eve of the first day of summer.
At 8:30 another singer comes onto the stage. She introduces herself as Ricky Lee Jones. Her music sounds like noise, or maybe I’m just so hungry for the real thing that anyone else would sound like noise. We’re all in waiting mode, not in listening mode. How long will he keep us waiting? It’s 8:50 and he’s twenty minutes late. At 9 PM there is a sign. “No smoking in the stadium,” it says on the screen and I think maybe there’s a god in this place. Meanwhile, the woman in front of me with the dark red nail polish on her long nails and the sparkling blue post in her left nostril is fondling the ear lobe of a woman two seats beyond her. I figure they’re gay until the woman with the blue post starts playing with the ear lobe of the man sitting next to her. Here is a woman who simply loves ears and she’s not fussy.
Meanwhile, the lights go on full blast and all 31,000 viewers, including Rainer, wherever he is, are subjected to the carcinogenic rays of high voltage fluorescents and halogens. But not for long. Now it is totally dark. Nobody tells the audience anything and there is no program. Something is happening here, but we don’t know what it is, Mr. Jones. People are standing in the aisles. Rumors spread. He’s left the country. He can’t find parking. I am waiting for Bob Dylan and His Band and even though he is forty minutes late and even though I know he is shitting on his audience, I am still excited. I want to see him, hear his voice, touch him or at least have him touch me. I have come from afar and am totally open and ready for this moment, as ready as I will ever be to hear the voice of the living Bob.
Suddenly, a throb of sound. Blue lights flash over the stage. At 9:15 the show begins. I hear a voice and assume it’s his, for I cannot make out anything on the mass of metal stage, nor on the fuzzy screens. (Nobody told me to bring binoculars.) But wait. Is that a white hat? I assume it’s his. Halfway through the song I realize Bob Dylan’s been singing “Its All Over Now Baby Blue.” Singing is not the right word, though, for now Dylan mainly chokes out the words in a raspy voice that sounds like walking on peanut shells on the Stadium floor. The tune is different. In fact, there is no tune. He has abandoned melody for mumbled words and the rhythmic pulse of electric rock. I close my eyes and hum the original song.
Perhaps Dylan is tired of his melodies. The essence now is the beat and the words. Was it not always about the words? Yet, I miss the old melodies. Some of them were so haunting, like “Twist of Fate,” which he is now performing, I realize, though it is almost unrecognizable, dulled by electric beats and a croaking voice.
I want to tell Bob Dylan about some pills I took before my bat mitzvah speech last summer. They’re called Clear Voice Pills by Tannenblut and I’m sure they would help his raspy voice. But then I think, he’s been rasping for fifty years. It’s his brand name, Mr. Rasp, so why would he take my pills?
I can’t make out all the words, either because of the sound system or his poor pronunciation. Perhaps this has always been part of Bob Dylan’s aura. Even when I could hear the words clearly, I was never sure what he was talking about. It didn’t matter, though. He was Bob Dylan, the babe born in St. Mary’s; the child who went to Camp Herzl in Webster, Wisconsin, the same camp where my son went thirty-five years later; the troubadour poet who could do anything he wanted; the maker of songs who defined our world.
The concert is half over but I’m still waiting for Dylan to talk to the audience. Say, “Hello Tel Aviv.” Say “Shalom Israel.” I want him to work the crowd into a frenzy of love. I want him to say “It’s good to be back” and the people to scream “Yes, Yes, You are the one. You went to Camp Herzl! You can’t deny it.”
“Yeah,” he will say. “I went to that fucking camp. Nearly drowned, but God saved me.” And we in the audience will swoon because he is talking directly to us with no intermediary. He knows our language. He had a bar mitzvah. He is one of us.
I want him to break out into a slow song accompanied only by a classical guitar and sing as if to every woman in the crowd, “Lay, lady, lay. Lay across my big brass bed.” And I will think how wonderful it is to live in Israel in the summer and to be loved by the living Bob.
Dylan says not a word. His songs are his words. He doesn’t owe us anything and besides, he never did too much talking anyway. It’s our stupid need for a savior and he’s not going there.
At 10:45 we wait for an encore that does not come.
In the car driving home I look up and see a sign. It is not Colonel Sanders, nor is it Bob Dylan. It’s that old man with the black hat smiling down on sad drivers. Under his devilish smile are the words: Long Live the Messiah.
Copyright Judy Labensohn