Laurence Inman rather warms to New Jersey’s finest export.
Many would have dismissed Ken Tynan as a tiresome, posing Brummie-apostate who killed himself with the fags, but he did say a couple of things I can’t shift from the junk-room of my memory. In a review of Look Back In Anger he declared that he could never love anyone who didn’t like that play. John Osborne and all his works may now be the slime at the bottom of the twentieth-century dustbin, but that remark of Ken’s shows an authentic emotional response; it’s echt, as they say in Germany.
He also reserved his highest praise for performances he described as ‘high definition.’ This phrase now has many additional, and perhaps less dramatic, connotations then when he coined it in the fifties. What he meant was that when you saw a truly great rendition of a great work, Maria Callas singing Tosca let’s say, you were present at an occasion which couldn’t be bettered, by an artist at the top of their game. As such it was unique; there was no chance of seeing exactly the same thing done again, or done better.
I began to feel this after about an hour of watching Bruce Springsteen at the Ricoh Arena last Thursday night.
First, I’d better reveal my Springsteen-credentials. I’ve never been a fan. Not because I dislike him, but because during the years when his big albums were coming out I was spending my tiny excess disposable quids on Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, Dr Feelgood… so I knew a dozen songs or so, but that was it.
I now realise that he’s a genius. In a few weeks he’ll be sixty-four years old, but he kept over 32,000 people in a state of excitement and fan-devotion for more than three hours. Non-stop, apart from brief moments when the stage went dark (he was probably changing his shirt) and the audience called out ‘Broooooooce!’ until he started again. There were other conventions which had, I realised, been elaborated over the years. He took cardboard signs from those closest to the stage and used them to compile his set-list. He invited people on to the stage, to sing, dance with the band, play his guitar. He managed to make his relationship with his vast audience seem personal. It requires a special talent to do that. Some people can’t do it with audience of ten.
This week I had to decide whether or not to go and see Dylan in Blackpool. I said no. I saw him in his prime, when he could still belt it out to a crowd of 15,000. I saw him in 2002; he was still worth the money. But now…I’m just not sure I want to go all that way to let a 72-year-old croaking bloke mess about with one of the great memories of my life.
Dylan – he’s still Keats and it’s good to be alive at the same time as him. I’ll still look forward to his next album. But Springsteen; he’s Browning, and I’m looking forward to knowing his stuff for the first time.