And the tour continues! Bob Dylan has a new record coming out in the next few days, on September 11, 2012, which is an anniversary of sorts on more than one front. He released his celebrated latter-day gem Love & Theft on that same date eleven years ago. And on that day, North America and the world changed forever, although not because of Dylan’s record.

And since then, Dylan has continued the tour that began in the late 1980s, a string of dates that has often sent the grizzled troubadour into some off-the-rock-promotor’s-map locations. Our roving reporter Geoff Moore was at one of those shows recently in the other L.A, Lethbridge Alberta.

And what did Geoff find there? Would it be possible to catch Dylan in the hotel bar after the  show, rubbing elbows with the salt of the earth, and thereby with our Geoff, too?

Well, read on, dear readers …

***

The sidebar paragraph in the arts section of the Calgary Herald gave head-scratching pause. Bob Dylan and his band booked in Lethbridge, Alberta Saturday, August 11th.

Dylan, still a towering cultural icon and who over the course of the past 20 years seems to have evolved into a living, breathing Library of Congress. He’s become the self-appointed curator of American music in toto, live in Lethbridge, Alberta’s fourth largest city, isolated and remote from the province’s congested Calgary-Edmonton corridor. This is a place you might pass through en route to somewhere else and perhaps, like Sherwood Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio, a place you must leave if you were born there.

Once you’re more than halfway past the statistical length of the average Canadian male’s life, road trips aren’t so automatic. There are responsibilities and obligations aggravated by the nagging sense that money is meant to be spent more wisely or better yet saved for rainy days #12 and #35. But capers aren’t just for wafers.

The scheme was simple. In retrospect, perhaps a little too optimistic and predicated on one too many ifs and overly dependent on a requisite simple twist of fate.

There might be one bend in the highway from Calgary south to Lethbridge. On either side clumsy, flimsy mechanical irrigation contraptions rest on miniature tractor tires in fields of shimmering shades of green and gold, the foothills almost purple along the western horizon.You pass an exit for a National Historic Site, a ranch, another one for a UNESCO World Heritage Site, an ancient buffalo jump, and you speed by lonely hamlets and you to wonder why they’re there.

After more than two hypnotic hours suddenly there’s a great ragged gouge in the prairie. You descend into a small city seemingly nestled in a coulee, there’s a flour mill up ahead and then an immense century-old steelrailway viaduct spanning the Oldman River over there on the right.

High Level Bridge Lethbridge Alberta
It takes a train to cry in Lethbridge Alberta, on the High Level Bridge (photo: Keith Hekker)

Bob Dylan :: Lethbridge.

Head shake: incongruous.

Maybe the scheme was just crazy enough to work. After all, Bob Dylan likes baseball.

The Neverending Tour must be fed its fill of road atlas dots, squares and stars in circles, their points like spokes; wheels rolling on secondary highways, cat’s eyes and broken stripes of yellow paint. Dylan has become a travelling minstrel and performing in Canada is no longer confined to the once holy trinity of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal; tour revenue (and ticket surcharges) from secondary and previously snubbed markets boasts the same cachet on a bank deposit slip. It’s all good.

A new album, Tempest is due on September 11, 2012. Rolling Stone has already declared it a masterpiece which means everything and nothing. Other grizzled old men with scarred voices, Leonard Cohen, Tom Waits and Neil Young, have all recently released fine records. For fans who still keep up, our modest epiphany is that these artists continue to be slaves to their muses; they have yet to succumb to hits-by-rote at Casino-Rama.

In these strange and peculiar times in which society’s leaders and those who would protest against them have consigned the catechism of civilized human discourse into the bonfire of mutual contempt (It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there), there is the rare grace of goose flesh in a major-junior hockey arena: That’s Bob Dylan! No matter how many times you’ve seen an artist worthy of respect and admiration, it never goes away.

On this night he was decked out like Gatsby or Thurston Howell III in baggy pale slacks, a yachting blazer and a serious riverboat gambler lid Mark Twain would’ve sported up on deck whilst smoking a cheroot. The way Dylan moved his hands when he wasn’t playing the keyboards, grand piano, harp or guitar – palms forward, fingers splayed – well, all you could think was that a pair of snow white, puffy cartoon Bugs Bunny gloves must lay forgotten in his wardrobe trunk. Dylan came across as… jaunty… even as he growled and barked his lyrics.

The scheme called for bumping into Dylan in a hotel lounge after the show and watching the day’s baseball highlights together and trying not to come across as a gushing half-wit. Those Prevost tour buses are reputedly pretty tricked-out, but goodness, people must tire of blue chemical toilets and they’d probably appreciate a shower. How many hotels convenient to the venue could there be in Lethbridge, a city of less than 100,000 souls? Sunday’s show in Cranbrook, B.C. was just four hours away through the Crowsnest Pass. Surely the tour party would leave in the morning?

In the wee wee hours in front of yet another jug of brown ale in yet another place, snug in a booth upholstered with Route 66-themed fabric and staring at a not overly horrid mural of Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Dino (And what is it about Lethbridge and incongruity?), it became apparent that despite a relationship (albeit one-sided) of nearly forty years, Dylan was to remain as elusive as ever.

He will return to these parts in October. Tickets for a Calgary gig with Mark Knopfler are on sale. The World Series will be on TV. Perhaps a midnight beer at the Hyatt or the Palliser will be in order if it’s not a school night.

***

Geoff Moore is a writer who lives in Calgary, quite close to Lethbridge. Sometimes, he hangs out in the Desolation Row hotel bar, to see if His Bobness will return to the scene of the crime, and to catch the game.

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