Enormous applause, and Dylan muttered “Thank you,” his only spoken words in the two concerts. He changed harps, conferred with Leon and George, and sang “Mr. Tambourine Man.” This was his only variation from the afternoon session, when he had done “Love Minus Zero/No Limit” instead. It’s axiomatic that one measure of an artist is his ability to pull together a large group of people; by this point the Garden seemed like a snug recital hall, and the air was heavy with the emotional baggage summoned up by Dylan’s songs. Dylan played a confident break on the harp, pivoting around two notes in a beautiful, dying warble that brought a gasp of appreciation. He played with phrasing: “Just to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand wav-in’ free, silhouetted by the sea, circled by the circus sands…”
After the applause another conference with Leon, a minute of tuning with George, and then Dylan launched into a little Mexican guitar riff high up on the neck, abandoned it, blew a few notes on the harp, dropped that too, and strummed into “Just Like a Woman.” The flanking microphones were off, so George and Leon leaned in over Bob’s shoulders to sing country harmony on the refrain. For the first time that night Bob had trouble sorting out the words — take, make, break, bake? — but he grinned and seemed to be having fun. It came out a stronger and much slower version than the one in Blonde on Blonde. Bob came down heavy on the beat, sidling the guitar onto one hip, seemed about to break into a full rock tempo, with George, on electric, doing a hint of rock vamp, and slid back into the next verse.
The song ended and the lights came on. Dylan looked around hesitantly, held up both fists like a strongman, grinned, and then strode off stage.
The applause went on for two minutes, but it was clear that Dylan wasn’t coming back on stage. Any man who has Ringo Starr playing tambourine in his pick-up band does not take encores.
The applause died. The score of musicians returned to their places on stage and George spoke into the mike: “It’s really hard to follow Bob.” He then introduced all the members of the band, a well placed pause for the audience still overwhelmed by the little man with just an acoustic guitar.
And then George hit the opening lick of “Something” and the show was off to yet another peak, another performance that seemed to defy history. It closed the show.
The audience was not going to move, and even after the encore stood in their places for five minutes without any movement to the exits as if staying still would mean that it would never end again. After “Something” the applause went on for minutes and minutes though the stage was empty.
But the band came back on — this time, for the only time in the concert, met with the high-pitched scream of 20,000 people, like the scream with which Shea Stadium once heaved — and you knew then that concerts like this can happen again.
For his encore, George chose his new single, “Bangla Desh”:
My friend came to me with sadness in his eyes
Told me that he wanted help
Before his country dies;
Although I couldn’t feel the pain
I knew I had to try.
Now I’m asking all of you
To help us save some lives
Bangla Desh, Bangla Desh
Bangla Desh means Bengal Nation — the name taken by secessionists in East Pakistan. In recent months, East Pakistan has become a lightning rod for misery; the very fact that it took something like the Harrison concert to awaken many in America to the suffering in East Pakistan is an indication of how compassion dwindles with distance.
A cyclone struck Bangla Desh last November and killed 500,000 persons — a figure impossible to understand at all. Then, as if to conspire with nature, the Pakistani army launched against the people of the East one of the most brutal military slaughters in modern history, machine-gunning crowds of civilians, destroying whole villages and putting the torch to the dense slums of Dacca, East Pakistan’s largest city. In the four months since that campaign began, by the most conservative estimates, a quarter million persons have been killed, possibly another half-million.
(East and West Pakistan are divided by 1,000 miles of India and by animosity — it is impossible to name any single cause for the conflict. It is partly a religious war between a Moslem government against a Hindu minority; Hindus comprise only ten percent of East Pakistan’s population, but the majority of those killed by West Pakistan’s soldiers have been Hindus. It is partly a cultural conflict; the result of an attempt to graft the Bengalis of East Pakistan with the Punjabis of the West 24 years ago. But the immediate cause is political. Although East Pakistan contains the majority of the nation’s population, the West has dominated the government, and last December when in the nation’s first free elections the East won a majority in the new National Assembly behind a leader — Shiekh Mujibur Rahman — committed to autonomy from the West, Pakistan’s military dictator, General Agha Mohammed Yahya Khan, reacted by simply postponing convention of the Assembly indefinitely. Then he unleashed an army on the East.
(So refugees have poured over the border into India to escape the horror of Yahya’s soldiers. Over seven million now are in India, living in drainage pipes or no shelter at all, and thousands have died from cholera and other diseases. Even this less than basic human care is taking roughly three million dollars a day from India’s anemic economy, and the threat of a famine or cholera epidemic is immediate.)