Bob Dylan, resplendent in gold shirt, spats, and ascot, sang "Maggie's Farm" on the Grammys telecast last night. Here's one place you can watch it. You have to wade through the good-natured but forgettable performances of some hip young whippersnappers to get to Bob, but then he takes the stage with members of his regular band, and the whippersnappers are relegated to strumming along and looking giddy.
The thing about Dylan that makes him so hard to get a handle on - perpetually, forever - is that underneath it all, he's a born entertainer. At this point, he's an elder statesman, an institution, a carved-in-granite icon, and all he had to do was show up and sing it like the record. But he's never once just sung anything like the record - instead he showed up and growled his way through the song, sounding like seventy miles of gravel road being raked over a barbed-wire fence. He looked like the ghost of Douglas Fairbanks and sounded like the ghost of Howlin' Wolf: swashbucklers both.
If you get Dylan, it was one of his better televised performances: all wry humor and Chaplin movements, gutbucket enunciations and bag-o'-nails intonations. He rose to the occasion, as much as he still can at age 69.
If you don't get Dylan, you were probably staring at the screen in disbelief, with the same look Jennifer Lopez had on her face when the camera cut to her. Like, huh?