Bob Dylan vs. the Swedish Chef

By Dave Fox
Stavern, Norway

“Bob Dylan will be there!” Marius said to me on the first day of our sailing trip.

Bob Dylan in Stockholm, 1996. (Photo by Henryk Kotowski / Creative Commons / Wikipedia)

Bob Dylan in Stockholm, 1996. (Photo by Henryk Kotowski / Creative Commons / Wikipedia)

I was impressed. Not because I’m a fan of Bob Dylan. Actually, I don’t really like Bob Dylan. But for a small-town music festival, in a place few non-Norwegians have ever heard of, to score him as their headlining act was big.

“I don’t know if we’ll go or not,” Marius added. “It’s kind of expensive.”

Marius is my Norwegian host-brother, from my foreign exchange student days many years ago. Music is something he and I have bonded over, ever since the day we met in the summer of  1986. So now, 28 years later, on a multi-day sailing trip around Norway’s south coast, I found myself thinking, “Hmmm, I don’t like Bob Dylan, but he is a rock-and-roll icon, so perhaps I should shell out a ridiculous amount of cash to see him.”

A late summer night in Kragerø, Norway.

A late summer night in Kragerø, Norway.

Then, however, on the second day of our trip, as we stopped for provisions in a port town called Kragerø, I saw a poster that was touting a band called “Bob Dylan Revisited.”

“It’s not really Bob Dylan,” I said to Marius.

“It’s not?” he said.

“No. It’s a cover band with a guy who tries to sing like Bob Dylan.”

Now, perhaps I’m being horrifically unfair to one of the hugest names in the history of music, but Bob Dylan has always sounded a little out of tune to me. So trying to sing like Bob Dylan hardly seemed impressive. It seemed like something I do very well, in the sense that every third note I sing sounds off-key.

[If you are a Bob Dylan fan yourself and are feeling insulted by the preceding paragraph, I suggest you stop reading this article immediately. It’s only going to get worse.]
A narrow squeeze through the fjords.

A narrow squeeze through the fjords.

“No!” said Marius’s girlfriend, Synnøve. “I’m sure it’s the real Bob Dylan!”

“But why,” I asked Synnøve, “would Bob Dylan call himself ‘Bob Dylan Revisited?’ Why wouldn’t he just call himself, ‘Bob Dylan?’”

Synnøve didn’t have an answer for that.

“But it’s him!” she insisted. “He comes to Norway every summer!”

That afternoon, we sailed into the harbor at Stavern, where the festival was happening, and found a place to moor our boat for the night. I was down below deck when I heard Synnøve calling my name.

“Dave! Dave! Dave!” she was shouting from above. (Because that is my name.) “It is the real Bob Dylan!”

I poked my head up from the cabin. “How do you know?”

“These people told me!” She pointed to a Dutch couple in the sailboat next to us.

“Yes!” the Dutch woman confirmed. “It’s the real Bob Dylan! He comes to Norway every summer!”

“Okay,” I said. “That’s nice and all. But the posters said ‘Bob Dylan Revisited.’ Why wouldn’t Bob Dylan just call himself ‘Bob Dylan?’”

Our new Dutch friends had no answer to that question, other than that perhaps I was right.

“It’s not really Bob Dylan,” I whispered to Marius.

Twenty minutes later, we were sitting at an outdoor restaurant, innocently munching some fish and chips, when we were accosted by a middle-aged British man selling Bob Dylan T-shirts. Then, Marius procured a festival program, and I was forced to concede that, okay, “Bob Dylan Revisited” was probably actually Bob Dylan.

At this point, a spirited discussion ensued, in which Synnøve told me she was right and I was wrong. Marius said he would like to see Bob Dylan. Marius’s friend Christopher reluctantly agreed he would go too. Kattina and I were forced to consider whether we would like to pay 950 kroner (154 US dollars) each to go see a musician we don’t really like.

We might have said yes, to partake in the camaraderie, were it not for a couple of issues:

1)   Beers in Norway are running around 85 kroner (14 US dollars) a pint these days. If I was going to have to sit through 90 minutes of Bob Dylan, it would require an amount of intoxicating beverages that would significantly increase the price of our evening.

2)   In three days, we were going to fly to Svalbard, an archipelago that is about as close as you can easily get to the North Pole. Accommodations in the High Arctic are astronomically expensive, which became convenient in this moment because it allowed us to explain to our friends that our budget was forcing us to choose between seeing Bob Dylan or sleeping outside on a frigid island that has polar bears.

So our friends went to the concert. Kattina and I went for a hike and sat on a rock overlooking a fjord, where we could hear seagulls squawking, and children shrieking with glee in the water below us. Then we heard some loud music, which, it dawned on us, was probably one of the warm-up bands for Bob Dylan.

“Well, this could be cool,” I said to Kattina. “He does have some iconic songs, after all.”

And Kattina agreed, it could be fun, in a surreal sort of way, to gaze out over a fjord in rural Norway and hear Bob Dylan play “Blowin’ in the Wind.”

Bork! Bork! Bork! (© Disney. Fair use / Wikipedia)

Bork! Bork! Bork! (© Disney. Fair use / Wikipedia)

While we waited for him to start, I started to wonder why Bob Dylan plays in Norway so much. Once he came on stage, the answer became clear: When he sings, he tends to mumble in ways reminiscent of the Swedish Chef from the Muppet Show. Maybe they’re cousins.

Granted, that would not explain why Bob plays so many shows in Norway, as opposed to Sweden. A family feud, perhaps?

Anyway, we sat on the rocks, on a warm summer evening, listening to Bob Dylan and waiting for an iconic song or two that we would recognize. We did not hear any songs that were familiar to us, though I read the next day, he did play “A Hard Rain’s a-Gonna Fall.” One reviewer wrote, “[He] forgot some of the lyrics, different version in a bad way, bad vocal.”

That must have been the song where Kattina and I are pretty sure we heard him sing, “Hördy blördy skjördy! Bork bork bork!”

Midnight in Stavern. Mediocre and expensive concert. Priceless and free view.

Midnight in Stavern. Mediocre and expensive concert. Priceless and free view.

He also did play “All Along the Watchtower,” though it didn’t sound to me very much like “All Along the Watchtower.” He never did play “Blowin’ in the Wind,” or “Like a Rolling Stone.”

So in conclusion, Synnøve was right, and I was wrong, but Kattina and I were happy we avoided paying for a concert we would not have liked very much. We were also happy because when we arrive on Svalbard tonight, we will have a significantly improved chance of not freezing to death or getting eaten by polar bears.

Published on Wednesday, July 16, 2014

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