Ballads of a Thin Man

An excerpt from: Invisible Republic: Bob Dylan's Basement Tapes

The walls of the Albert Hall rise up again, the noise from the crowd stays constant, but seated at the piano Dylan starts the music. The song is a blues, no more, on some nights the biggest blues anyone has ever heard, with Garth Hudson's organ finding a mode so mocking it is sadistic, a whirlpool opening and then laughing at your fear as it closes, with Robbie Robertson's first guitar notes enormous, Godzilla notes, so big they throw the audience back, daring anyone to say the first word--but not this night.

On this night, the last night but one of these weeks in the United Kingdom, the last time but one this music would ever be played, no one is thrown back. Instead wounds are exposed, and the ugly sight quiets the crowd. "Are you sure?" Dylan asks Robbie Robertson, just three weeks past 22; Bob Dylan is an old man, 25 years and two days. The crowd can't hear the singer whispering to the man at his side as if he's never been less sure of anything, but they can feel the way he's hovering, or tottering, and the sight is a kind of violence, a terror, a negative, a nothing.

Here it is: nothing. Here you are, all of you. It will take 4,000 holes to fill the Albert Hall, and 4,000 times nothing is nothing.

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