MADRID -- In another country, perhaps, the sight of Bob Dylan singing to thousands of blue jean-clad alumni of the turbulent '60s might seem an uncomfortable reminder of a revolution run aground.
But Dylan's recent concert appearance in Madrid, his first in this country, had a different meaning. The generation of Spaniards he helped inspire during the Franco dictatorship has now assumed the reins of power.
Another Dylan concert in Ireland last weekend provoked a riot by about 1,000 people -- a real rock-throwing bash in the sleepy village of Slane -- but in Spain it was an intellectual and cultural milestone.
This generation recognizes Dylan as the principal influence on more than a dozen Spanish political folksingers and a major contributor to their growing spirit of social protest.
'Yes, we have a young government,' said Spain's Minister of Culture, Javier Solana, after attending Dylan's concert. 'It was a pretty sight -- the people of that time are taking up the responsibility now.'
Dylan, who skipped Spain on his last European tour in 1978, played in Madrid and Barcelona this time on a tour that has included Rome, Bonn and other cities.
With his familiar nasal twang, driving acoustic guitar and wailing harmonica, Dylan sang through two hours of musical catharsis that had his still-loyal fans filling the Rayo Vallecano stadium with their voices on anthems like 'Blowin' in the Wind' and 'Like a Rolling Stone.'
Among the nearly 25,000 who waited until 1 a.m. for Dylan to appear were a large number of parliament deputies and four cabinet members of the young Socialist Party government.
They said in interviews later they came because they are still Dylan fans. And they became fans, they said, because Dylan's music meant a way to dissent.
'The first time I heard that guitar and scream, and that harmonica, I knew what it meant, even though my English wasn't good enough to understand the words,' said Luis Martinez Noval, 35, a Socialist deputy from Asturias. 'It served as a model for us.'
'We wanted change, but we were roped up,' said Francisco Gonzalez Zapico, 31, also a deputy from Asturias. 'Dylan showed us that there could be a rupture, that even in the United States there could be dissent.'
'Dylan provided us with a goal to reach for,' said Pedro Bofill, 37, a deputy from Teruel and a member of the Socialist Party's executive committee.
'He was the anti-model of the established culture. For those of us tied to the culture of the 1960s, it is a response that still plays a role,' Bofill said.
Only 10 years ago, when current Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez took over leadership of the Spanish Socialist Party, many current government officials were either keeping a low profile in Spain or were in exile in France. Only a half-dozen years before that, most were in universities.
In the restricted but struggling youth movement of those years, Dylan's music inspired 'an attitude towards life and society always associated with changing political ideas,' said Martinez.
'What was different here compared to America is that we were under a dictatorship, and it only offered old, traditional music. Dylan broke the mold, and Dylan's rain fell on very politicized people,' Martinez said.
Dylan's social and political protest was echoed by a group of young Spaniards known as the 'cantautores' who, following their American model, wrote songs often more directly political than Dylan's. They were responding to Spain's political climate of much greater tension and far greater risks.
'Dylan is at the base of all the cantautores: (Paco) Ibanez, (Luis Eduardo) Aute, (Joan Manuel) Serrat,' said Bofill.
'From 1968 or so on, there was a sort of integration of the worlds of the cantautores and university students. Now our influence is being felt because we're the ones in power,' said Gonzalez Zapico.
'Reform of human relations, disparagement of war, youth as an intellectual force: to a large extent this is owed to people like Bob Dylan,' wrote El Pais, Spain's largest daily newspaper and the one considered closest to the present government, the morning after Dylan's concert.
'Dylan is the symbol and the myth .... If only for that, we have to thank him for coming.'