Half-century markers seem to be the big milestones in rock and roll as the once-teen-age genre pushes into middle-age. The 1950s was when the form began to coalesce, after all, and it is the 50th birthday that we celebrate for such heroes as Paul McCartney, Jerry Garcia, and, posthumously, John Lennon and Elvis Presley.
Columbia Records dropped the ball when Bob Dylan, one of the most influential figures of the 20th century, not just rock history, turned 50 last year while continuing to tour incessantly.
Suddenly the label has put together a huge concert in New York City Friday to mark the 30th anniversary of his first record there -- a benchmark that's no big deal even to his fans, a second-hand way of saying "we forgot to mark the silver anniversary" five years ago (a phenomenon seen in the overpriced packaging of the Beatles EPs this fall to honor the 30th anniversary of their first release).
Nonetheless, a head-spinning number of rock luminaries has agreed to participate in the event, which, not surprisingly, sold out in 70 minutes and spun into a huge international pay-per-view event (check your local cable carrier for time and price information).
There's George Harrison, in his first U.S. concert appearance in 16 years; there's top touring attraction Eric Clapton; there's Tom Petty, with whom Mr. Dylan toured in '86; Neil Young; John Mellencamp; probably Bruce Springsteen -- and Mr. Dylan himself.
At one time that revelation would have been the most appetizing to fans -- a live show by the man, the myth! But after a career as a recluse and mystery man, Mr. Dylan has been constantly touring with only small breaks for something like five years straight. Anybody who has had the smallest notion to see him has certainly had an opportunity.
The Madison Square Garden date not only convenes in a concert for the first time most of the Traveling Wilburys (Mr. Dylan's only commercial success of the past decade or two), it also brings to mind that most of the major players also performed together in the same building at the Bangladesh concert, probably the first of the huge benefit concerts that have become a staple of rock.
The tickets that sold out so quickly earlier this month were priced at $150, $80 and $50. Despite the huge ticket prices for an audience that will serve as a studio audience for a live pay-per-view show -- "Columbia Records Celebrates the Music of Bob Dylan," as it is called -- this concert is not a benefit for anything. Except for Columbia Records itself, an arm of multinational giant Sony.
As Mr. Dylan approached his half-century mark, he began to enjoy the recognition that he is finally being given. He was on hand to hear Mr. Springsteen induct him into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988. He was happy to receive the highest cultural honor to be bestowed on a foreigner from the French Ministry of Culture in 1990. He gladly accepted a Lifetime Achievement Award at the 1991 Grammy Awards.
And he is no doubt grateful to see the loads of stars singing his songs on stage just as he stood to honor Woody Guthrie in a similar concert a quarter-century ago.