Arts and Culture

Bob Dylan: Tangled up in (Israeli) Jews

JERUSALEM (JTA) — With the greatest Jewish rock and roller of all time,  Bob “You can call me Zimmy” Dylan, making his return to Israel after nearly two decades, the question arises: Will the crowd be bored?

Dylan, whose lyrics have been soaked in biblical and religious imagery for decades, is coming here in June for the first time since 1993 as part of his “Never-Ending Tour,” which has taken him recently to China, Taiwan and Vietnam. That has brought criticism from groups such as Human Rights Watch, who say that Dylan should be ashamed of himself for allowing his set lists to be pre-approved. The New York Times’ Maureen Dowd threw a fit over his shows in China.

In Israel, the excitement about his show at the country’s largest venue, the Ramat Gan soccer stadium, has been tempered here by concern that the gravel-voiced septuagenarian — Dylan will turn 70 shortly before arriving here — will turn off his audience with obscure songs, lack of showmanship and indifference to them, unlike Leonard Cohen, who offered the priestly blessing to 45,000 at Ramat Gan in 2009, Paul McCartney and Elton John, all of whom offered crowd-pleasing renditions of their classics.

Plus, Dylan will be competing for the shekels of fans of other aging rockers, including Bryan Ferry, Megadeath and two surviving members of The Doors, as well as those who were forced to shepherd their kids to Justin Bieber on April 14.

With that hanging over him, Bobby D. will need to go the extra kilometer he rarely does to succeed in the Holy Land. Here is my pre-approved set list of songs that Dylan should perform in Israel to win over the many groups that make up Israeli society.

Secular, leftist Israelis

“A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall”: This song’s anti-nuke message has even more prophetic impact now in the wake of Japan’s crisis. As a bonus, Dylan should bring up to the stage Israeli rocker Aviv Gefen, who has done a popular Hebrew version. Chances Dylan will do the song? Very good. It’s on the current set list in Asia.

For fans of the ‘classics’

“Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” “Mr. Tambourine Man,” “Rainy Day Women No. 12 & 35,” “Positively 4th Street,” “Stuck Inside Of Mobile With The Memphis Blues Again,” “Tangled Up In Blue,” “Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right,” “Like a Rolling Stone.” As a bonus, Dylan should invite “Like a Rolling Stone” original bassist Harvey Brooks, who made aliyah in 2009, to join in on that one. Expect some, but he won’t play all.

Religious fans (open-minded)

“Highway 61 Revisited”: (“Oh God said to Abraham, ‘Kill me a son’ / Abe says, ‘Man, you must be puttin’ me on.’ ”) Chances? Excellent. It’s on the current set list.

Religious fans (yeshiva/haredi)

“A Satisfied Mind”: This obscure ditty paraphrases the Talmudic epigram about who truly is a rich man (“It’s so hard to find / One rich man in ten with a satisfied mind.”) Chances? Slim to none. The song has been performed exactly once in Dylan’s 50-year career.

How about “Man in the Long Black Coat”? Just kidding.

Religious fans (knitted kipah)

“Forever Young”: Dylan’s reworking of the priestly/parental prayers includes a reference to Jacob’s ladder thrown in for good measure. Chances? Very good. It’s on the current set list.

Religious fans (settlers)

“Neighborhood Bully”: Dylan’s 1983 Likudnik paean to Israel and the Jewish people. Chances? None. He has never performed it.

Religious fans (Carlebachian stoners)

“Talkin’ Hava Negiliah Blues”: This 1961 song would be a great sing-along: “Here’s a foreign song I learned in Utah / Ha-va-ne-gi-liah/O-de-ley-e-e-oo.” Chances: None. Never performed.

Christians and women who venture to Ramat Gan looking for something especially for them, such as his born again-era tunes “In The Garden,” “Saved” and “Man Gave Names To All The Animals,” or surprisingly moving love songs such as “If You See Her, Say Hello,” “Just Like a Woman” and “Lay, Lady, Lay” are likely to be disappointed. Dylan just doesn’t do those songs anymore.

Even if he follows these recommendations, almost everyone who sees the concert will spend the evening swinging wildly from ecstasy to boredom, which at least should make the lines for beer and bathrooms manageable.