This is BettySoo.
This is BettySoo performing a Bob Dylan song on opening night at Lyric Hall. This is BettySoo singing like BettySoo. Playing guitar like BettySoo. Not like Bob Dylan.
Praise the lord—and pass the microphone.
The Austin-based folksinger performed “Blowing In The Wind” as part of a musical revue that opened a three-week run Thursday night at the refurbished circa 1913 Vaudeville stage in Westville Village.
Two parts music, one part spoken word, all parts Zimmerman, the show is called “Long Time Gone: Words & Music By Bob Dylan.”
It took guts for BettySoo to perform “Blowin’ In The Wind.” Some 437,285 other musicians have recorded or performed that song live since Bob Dylan wrote it in 1962. As with almost all of Dylan’s distinctive, personal compositions, Dylan himself performed that song better than all those 437,285 other singers did. The others either homogenized and rareified it (a Peter, Paul and Mary specialty), pompified and anthemized it, drowned and orchestrated it, or else nasalized and twanged it in order to sound like a cartoon of Bob Dylan. Only once in recorded time has another musician been known to perform a Dylan song better than Dylan did: When Jimi Hendrix turned “All Along The Watchtower” into an ominous classic rock track and Dylan himself started playing it that way. At least until Thursday in Westville.
On Thursday night, BettySoo served up “Blowin’ In The Wind” straight—no portentous bellowing, no hanging onto syllables, no fancy fingerpicking. The way it was she felt it. And she may have pulled a Jimi Hendrix. (Click on the play arrow to see if you agree.)
If you’re someone for whom Bob Dylan’s recorded music has provided a lifetime soundtrack, someone who can’t picture having survived adolescence or early adulthood without “Blood on The Tracks” and “Blonde on Blonde” and most of all “New Morning,” someone who wasted school years studying Dylan’s music and life story the way smarter and more successful kids studied Shakespeare or Beethoven or Chaucer, someone who remembers scenes from the 1974 Madison Square Garden show with the Band or the 1990 8 p.m. to 2 a.m. Toad’s sets with G.E. Smith the way other people mind-cache Humphrey Bogart looking at Ingrid Bergman kid or Laurence Olivier deciding whether to be or not to be, someone who actually enjoyed sitting through the entire “Renaldo & Clara” the week it opened in Greenwich Village, someone who believes Beat poets or recording artists (unlike non-fiction or quasi-fiction journalists) should be allowed to travel through life without an editor, someone who after almost 40 years can still crack up at the Binding-of-Isaac midrash on “Highway 61 Revisited” or shudder in a darkened room at the abrupt crashing of the final piano chord of “Father of Night” or the soaring final scene conjured up in “Three Angels”—if you’re someone like that, I can make you a guarantee: You will still be having a good time when the three performers in Long Time Gone take their final bow on the Lyric Hall stage after two acts of nothing but Dylan. You won’t feel like it’s been almost two hours.
If you’re not someone like that, I can’t offer you any guidance. You’ll have to go see for yourself.
You’ll see BetySoo and two other performers take turns performing Dylan songs on guitar with some mandolin back-up and occasional piano.
You’ll see Peter Landecker (pictured), who created the show, dress like and imitate Bob Dylan, in spoken excerpts from Dylan’s stream of consciousness interviews over the years that meander into chunks of self-absorbed non-linear verbiage like the one three paragraphs above this paragraph; and sing some Dylan songs the way people who imitate Dylan sing Dylan songs. (Click here to read Christopher Arnott’s Advocate interview with Landecker about how the show evolved over 25 years and about his hopes of moving it from Lyric Hall to Off-Broadway.)
You’ll see a Bronx blues singer named Guy Davis reconfigure some Dylan songs by extracting the country blues roots that have always shaped Dylan’s music. Click on the play arrow to watch Davis strip down Dylan’s Christian-period “Gotta Serve Somebody” and anchor it with a progression borrowed from Hubert Sumlin‘s version of “Little Red Rooster.” Davis, too, may have pulled off a Hendrix. See if you agree.
The spoken-word interludes add an entertaining bridge to the show’s core: the music. Davis and BettySoo’s performances tell portions of the Dylan story well. Because the songs themselves—performed honestly, originally, not derivatively—have always been the real Dylan story, the revolutionary and soulful and mind-breaking story, the true art. Written on pages? The mundane Dylan biography? His yawn-worthy political or religious philosophizing? All of that is just noise and marketing.
The show runs at Lyric Hall through Feb. 10 on Thursday through Sunday nights starting at 8. Tickets cost $35 ($25 for seniors and students). Click here for ticket info.
Near the end of the show Thursday night, BettySoo stepped back to the piano for a rendition of “Ring Them Bells.” No, she didn’t pull a Hendrix this time. No one can extract the humor from that song the way Dylan did in the original. No one can syncopate the gospel-tinged piano playing on that song, or any recording of his own piano music. But there was no reason for her to try. To stage a Bob Dylan theatrical revue worthy of the story, it wouldn’t have made sense to summon his ghost or hire a cover band. It made sense to hand the material to a BettySoo, who has her own tale to tell.