Sorry to interrupt.
In the line for tickets to my first Bob Dylan concert (1989) people had this exact same argument. AJ Weberman used to go through Dylan's garbage looking for clues as to why he had "betrayed" his art. Possibly the worst I've seen online was in 2003/2004 with the "wolfman" voice, now a very well-regarded time it should be noted. It's like an eternal noise in Dylan-land, incidentally a place few others have ever given a rat's ass about. Time will put it all in perspective...maybe.
I will add a few thoughts for whatever they're worth.
I find it offensive to see it argued that people shouldn't criticize Bob Dylan because it's like telling kids there isn't any Santa. Although I understand the point that it's kind of pissing in someone else's meal just for the fun of it, I also get the concept that excessive praise of something NOT good or special appears to diminish the appreciation for those things that are. The fact is that Bob Dylan needs not apologize for his performances and those performances don't require a sliding scale to be appreciated...and if they do we should be willing to talk about it.
I wish Al had chosen a different performance to turn his gaze towards, as I wasn't too thrilled with that one either. I would, however, respectfully posit that Al and others are indeed "missing it". What are they missing? Two things stand out:
Rhythmic vitality - much more applicable to a better performance, of course, but given the limitations of his range this is one of the primary areas in which Dylan is free to roam and experiment, which he certainly does. Is he sometimes either lazy or self-indulgent or both in this regard? Yes, no question, but his idiosyncrasies are a big part of what makes him such an interesting performer to watch, for better or worse. They can seem to be almost randomly simple or deviously complex and sophisticated distillations of an artistic intelligence quite unlike any other. Much of Dylan's art has this same quality, and what in one person's eyes is gibberish can inspire others to write books. It's a strange world, and Dylan seems to have been very, very lucky in his career if it was all as accidental as it seemed. The sheer and sometimes twisted joy Dylan seems to take in his phrasing may jar you right out of any area where enjoyment is possible, but accept that others find it exhilarating, at least on a good night. Dylan remains the sound of surprise.
"The comparison fallacy" - Dylan's songs are unbelievably rich, just piles and piles of words and images and feelings. There is so much room to recreate them and he does so often, if not every night out of the gate. A phase sparkles, a new layer of emotion is revealed, a single syllable can take center-stage and steal the damn show, shooting like a cannon and hovering above the crowd and listener turning their heads, and a song is made new. That doesn't mean it's the best ever...and listening to these things and enjoying them is no cause for belittlement. You can buy the better regarded albums and maybe see a concert or two in your lifetime and call yourself a Bob Dylan fan, there's no need to take it to the level of bootlegs and following tours and so on. There are just some people who simply enjoy the improvisation enough to put in the time. Other artists have these types of fans (the Grateful Dead are legendary for it, and jazz figures had bootlegs on them probably from wax cylinder days onward), and to those who get pleasure from it charges that they don't know music or don't understand what makes the artist in question valuable are bound to be offensive.
Having a conversation about these things is very difficult.
Someone mentioned that Dylan is a completely unique artist and there is no precedence for appreciating him and I do believe there is value in exploring this. He certainly asks more of his audience in a live setting than any performer EVER has, at least in the pop end of the music spectrum, yet he continues to thrive by resonating
with enough people to pull it off. This resonating seems unrelated to standard definitions of good or bad musicality, and happens instinctively far from the reaches of conscious thought (which has plenty to do with those lyrics) so analyzing it is a tricky business to say the least and unfortunately it is the very heart of our disagreement. It's a hopeless task, and will continue long after he's dead.
Carry on, though