Dylan in the White House
The Blind Boys of Alabama (now old but still feisty men) singing “Free At Last,” the Freedom Singers testifying “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me ’Round,” Natalie Cole putting a surprisingly spirited cover on “What’s Goin’ On,” the very sight—shivering, for someone like me who remembers those times—of watching these people singing these songs a few hundred yards from where some of them sang in protest not quite a half-century ago, now inside the White House, as the official painting of George Washington looked on.
But the highlight, by far, was Bob Dylan, croaking out “The Times They Are A-Changin’” in stately waltz time, on acoustic guitar, backed only by piano and bass. Yes, his voice is shot, but he knows how to turn its limits into glory, and he sang his lyrics with ringing clarity (no mumbling at this White House).
A lot of those lyrics are as true as they were in 1962. Were some in that audience shivering when he sang “Come, writers and critics / who prophesize with your pen / Keep your eyes wide / The chance won’t come again” or, still more, “Come, senators and congressmen / Please heed the call / Don’t block at the doorway / Don’t block up the hall”? And when he followed that with warnings that “the battle outside” will “soon shake your windows / and rattle your walls,” did they feel the vibrations?
Watch the footage: He seems like a prophet on the mount. Certainly he’s the poet of our age. And, in that sense, I’ve never heard him sing any better.