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You Just Kinda Wasted My Precious Time: Dylan's Cold Apperance on Letterman a Let-Down

05/26/2015 05:04 pm ET | Updated May 26, 2016

If my dad or mom calls me after 11 p.m., my first thought is not emergency, but that one of them just found either Bob Dylan or Neil Young on TV.

We Daleys are a proud Dylan-and-Young-loving people.

We saw Neil Young's "Greendale." Multiple times.

We've sat through Dylan concerts so mumbled we couldn't make out one word, and we have loved every minute of it.

It's your birthday? We'll send you a card or e-mail or Facebook message with a Dylan quote. Probably something from "Forever Young."

Got married? Got born? Kept on? Hired? Fired? Canary died? There's a Dylan quote for that.
And if Mr. Dylan doesn't have anything to suit your needs on this particular occasion, may I suggest for you something from Mr. Young's catalog?

So the second I read online that Dylan was going to play David Letterman's second-to-last last show, I called my computer-less dad to mark his calendar. We both marked our calendars.

"Dylan... on... Letterman," he said, slowly and deliberately, as he penciled the words on his wall calendar. "Call me that day to remind me."

On the days leading up to May 19, I showed my dad YouTube clips on my phone: Dylan on Letterman in '84, jamming, jimmying, jumping like a wild cat through "Don't Start Me Talkin'." And when Letterman said Dylan would come back and play more, Dylan seemed caught off-guard and unsure -- but he did it. Not one, but two rousing tracks off Infidels.

We watched Dylan on Letterman's 10th Anniversary show, a concert-hall All-Star show where he pulled out "Like a Rolling Stone" and a stageful of musicians rocked out like mad men. Unreal.

"Geez, I don't know how I missed these!" my dad said, cupping my phone reverently in his hands.

As promised, around 10 p.m. on May 19, I called my dad and we eagerly wondered together:
What'll he play?

"It's Dylan, so he'll probably just do his own thing and do Sinatra," I said.

I don't care how garbled Dylan sounds nowadays, it's his words I love. But take those away, and eh. "Shadows in the Night" does nothing for me. Sorry, Frank.

"But it's Letterman's second-to-last show, so he might do one of his own," my dad said, maybe a bit hopefully. "He could do 'Not Dark Yet.' Or 'It's All Over Now, Baby Blue.'"

Tom Waits had just done an awesome version of "Take One Last Look" -- growling "This one's for you, Dave" -- before Tom-Waitsing into a gravely, moving, tribute.

Educated in the School of Neil Young, Eddie Vedder broke a guitar string on an epic version of Pearl Jam's "Better Man" that had the Late Show audience on its feet.

But Dylan's not Eddie Vedder. And Dylan's not Tom Waits. Dylan's Dylan.

That means he doesn't care, won't care, can't care what we, you, me, his best friends, or a retiring cultural icon thinks. Ever. Period.

"You never know," I said. "Dylan's Dylan."

"Yeah, I know," resigned my dad. "I just hope he doesn't play Sinatra."

At 12:30 a.m., I ran to turn on the TV.

Before Dylan played, Letterman introduced him by saying he's tried to impart two life lessons to his son Harry:

"One, you have to be nice to other people. (And two,) the greatest songwriter of modern times is Bob Dylan. That's all you need to know in life."

And then Dylan sang Sinatra.

As he launched into "The Night We Called it a Day," my face fell. Right up until the end, I was holding out hope.

I know, I know; it's technically an apt song. But still.

And the song choice isn't even what disappointed me most.

What disappointed me most was Dylan's spooked-horse vibe.

His usual Chaplin-esque bobble, his odd marionette-on-strings shuffle that he's want to do in recent years, even that had morphed into something even weirder, more abstract, more distant -- and not in a good way.

He had eyes like the cat that nobody trusts-- either slit-eyed glaring down the camera or staring, with a gaze you can't quite follow, out into space.

He pawed at the microphone, cagily slunk back and forth on stage, a boxer in a ring, a trapped feral thing.

You didn't know what he was thinking, not because you never know what he's thinking, but because he seemed to be thinking of nothing at all.

It was, at best, a phone-in; at worst, an another-day-another-honor laissez-faire type attitude that you want badly to believe is beneath him.

To top it off, when he was done circling aimlessly, he barely acknowledged Letterman at all. Barely lifted his hand to shake Letterman's outstretched hand, or thank him for the kids words; barely said goodbye, never mind hello.

He was beyond cold. He seemed repulsed he was even there.

Now, you might call me idealistic, dreaming of another Dylan, but I know as well as you that he's not the Dylan of the' 64 or '84 or 2014.

Those Dylans are dead. I know that.

I'm 33 years old, but it still stings when your heroes let you down.

Flinch and blink. Bite your lip. Just a splinter. Close your eyes.

Too old to be this upset, this disappointed in another human, especially one as mercurial as Zimmy.

He is who is he is on any given day, and that is a different Bob from yesterday and a different Bob from tomorrow.

But darn it if I want desperately to love them all.

A wise man once said: "Don't trust me to show you the truth, When the truth may only be ashes and dust."

But you know what? I keep on trusting him anyway. Always have.

Even though, at times, and more frequently than not nowadays, the ashes and dust slip softly through my ever-waiting fingers.

Lauren Daley is a music columnist, freelance writer and poet.