A nod to Bob in Tel Aviv

On Dylan’s 70th birthday, local artists both veteran and upstart are gathering to put their spin on some of the musical legend’s classic tunes.

Bob Dylan 311 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Bob Dylan 311
(photo credit: Courtesy)
It’s no simple twist of fate that on his 70th birthday next week, about a month before the real Bob Dylan shows up in Tel Aviv for his June 20 performance at Ramat Gan stadium, a whole slew of his local music admirers are turning out to pay tribute to the musical legend.
‘Doing Dylan,’ taking place at the Barby Club on May 24, will feature some leading singer/songwriters like Yuval Banai, Micha Sheetrit, Hemi Rodner and Tamar Eisenman, the evening’s musical director, performing their favorite Dylan songs – both in their original English and in Hebrew versions. Sweetening the pot, at the end of the evening, two tickets to Dylan’s Ramat Gan show will be raffled off.
“Every Israeli artist who claims to be a singer/songwriter has been profoundly affected by Dylan, whether they know it or not,” said musicologist and Israel Radio reporter Benny Dudkevitch last week, explaining how Dylan almost single-handedly changed the language of music through his groundbreaking work in the 1960s.
At one point, all popular Israeli music was derived from the army troupes and bands. According to Dudkevitch, Dylan’s blueprint showed everyone from Shalom Hanoch and Arik Einstein to Kaveret and Mati Caspi that there was a different way to look at and create music that went beyond mere entertainment.
That blueprint is still relevant for following generations of artists, said Maya Isacowitz, a 23- year-old singer/songwriter who released her debut album Safe and Sound last year and will be performing at the Dylan tribute next week.
“There’s something unique and special in his music that’s timeless,” said Isacowitz, the Israeli-born daughter of South African immigrants to Israel.
“The experience of looking for songs for this show and digging for material that catch me has been amazing. A song like ‘Blowing in the Wind’ has been sung so many times, it’s really kind of chewed up already. But I gave it another chance, started singing it, and was really moved by the lyrics.”
“And a song like ‘I Want You’ – I’d never really listened carefully to the lyrics, but they are so incredible and poetic. It makes you imagine and think, like good music should. The melodies too, people call them simple but they’re simple in a way that really goes deep.”
Isacowitz will be singing a “surprisingly groove-oriented” version of that classic Dylan tune from his 1966 landmark album Blonde on Blonde, along with another song she insisted remain a surprise.
Isacowitz, who performs around the country with her band, sometimes featuring her father Peter as a special guest on harmonica (she performed at the Jacob’s Ladder festival this past weekend), credits her dad with exposing her to Dylan’s music as a child.
“I heard a lot of him when I was really small, but I’m sure I didn’t know it was Dylan,” she said.
“It wasn’t until I was older and even more so, in the last few weeks that I realized that some songs that I thought were by other artists were really cover versions of Dylan songs. I’ve been looking at YouTube clips, my dad gave me a long list of songs and I really fell in love with a few of them.”
ANOTHER FEATURED performer at next week’s tribute didn’t need a tutorial on Dylan’s career to get up to speed. A decade ago, 33-year-old Ariel Kleiner was part of a band called Project Gumiya, which released a Hebrew album of Dylan songs translated by linguist and fellow band member Noam Faust called Idiot Wind.
The group will be reuniting without Faust, who now lives in France, to revisit some of the songs on the CD like “Senor,” “Queen Jane Approximately,” and of course, “Idiot Wind,” as well as perform some newer tunes recently translated by Faust like “Red River Shore” from Tell Tale Signs, the acclaimed volume eight of the ‘Bootleg Series’ which covers material Dylan recorded between 1989 and 2006.
“We released Idiot Wind for Dylan’s 60th birthday, and now we’re playing for his 70th,” said Kleiner.
“The CD went out of print the first year – and people always ask where they can get it. When Tamar [Eisenman] called me and asked if we wanted to be involved in the show, I thought that this would be a good time to re-release it,” he said, adding that the Project was planning to perform additional Dylan tribute shows in the future.
“We’re going to tackle all kinds of songs. Noam just today sent me the translation to ‘Ring Them Bells’ – what a great song!” According to Kleiner, Dylan’s appeal is still so strong due to the way he delivers his material as much as the actual songs.
“The poetry and the way he sings is just fascinating. I love the Bootleg series because you can hear different versions of songs, and how he phrases things differently which changes their meaning or their tone,” he said.
Translator Faust, in a lukewarm online review of a Dylan show in France in 2007, wrote, “I’ve never really managed to pin down the reason why, but to me his lyrics, together with his performance, are the best example of magic in popular music.”
While Isacowitz said she hoped to be able to see Dylan’s show in Ramat Gan next month, Kleiner admitted that he was satisfied listening to the master’s records and watching his clips.
“I don’t know what people are expecting, but they might be disappointed,” he said.
“I think there’s a kind of disconnect between him and his audience.”
That desired connection will probably be in full circuit at Dylan’s Tel Aviv birthday party next week. The simple twist of fate might be that the Israeli tribute to Dylan may prove to be more satisfying – and less expensive – than the upcoming concert by the legend himself.