My Bob Dylan Dream

T he encounter could have happened anywhere. Maybe in Greenwich Village where it all began in the Sixties for the Jewish kid from the Midwest who’d come to New York City with a guitar, a folksy voice, a compulsion to write songs and a burning desire to establish himself as the next Woody Guthrie. Perhaps at Maggie’s Farm where he jokingly and lightheartedly vowed not to work for Maggie’s “ma and pa no more.” In Woodstock, where he lived in seclusion (or attempted to) for a while with his wife and children after the motorcycle accident. At Newport, where as someone said he “electrified half the crowd and electrocuted the other half” by plugging in, in defiance of tradition. In a dank and dark basement—a “Subterranean Homesick Blues” kind of place—where “Johnny is mixing up the medicine.” Out on “Highway 61.” Beneath the “Nashville Skyline” or “Under the Red Sky.” Maybe somewhere in rural Maryland after he learned about the murder of a black hotel maid at the hands of a wealthy white tobacco farmer and deplored the injustice of the punishment with “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll.” As with “Hurricane” and “Masters of War” he was the voice of the unfairly oppressed, speaking up for the mother of ten children “who got killed by a blow, lay slain by a cane”—while her William Zanzinger “got six months in jail.” Our rendezvous —so eagerly and long awaited—could have occurred at any number of locations his fertile mind conceived as being worthy of lyrics that rumbled like a freight train in his brain. “All Along The Watchtower,” maybe. Hard against the border line, bundled against a cold wind (“Girl From The North Country).” Possibly in the solitude of a café in Madrid where he might have been sitting at a table sipping wine when a fair maiden walked past wearing “Boots of Spanish Leather.” Late at night as he tells a friend who has too high expectations of him “go away from my window, leave at your own chosen speed, I am not the one you want, I am not the one you need (“It Ain’t Me, Babe”). Now that he’s seventy-five years of age it could have come at the entrance to the pearly gates, “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door.” He had his “115th Dream,” I had mine. In mine I wasn’t seeing him in performance from a seat far removed from the stage as has been the case before—under a tent on the waterfront in Boston, in an amphitheater in the woods in Mansfield, from the balcony of the Palladium in Worcester, at a memorial auditorium in Lowell. Nor did it involve the goose bumps that I could feel on my arms as the buzz approaching show time intensified and then the announcement blared over the PA system: “Ladies and Gentlemen, Columbia Recording artist…” and he was suddenly in front of me, smaller than I had imagined (almost microscopic, it seemed), in black pants with a stripe down the side, jacket, string tie and broad-brimmed hat. Standing at the keyboards or with a guitar in his hands and a harmonica dangling in front of his mouth, handpicked musicians arranged like flower pots around him. This isn’t how our meeting finally materialized. Instead I was in a smoky hall, an American Legion or VFW in the middle of nowhere. Entering, I could not believe my good fortune. There were just twelve captain’s chairs, all positioned in close proximity to a slightly elevated platform. He was by himself, no Carlos Santana, Tom Petty, Willie Nelson, Mavis Staples, Emmylou Harris or Johnny Cash joining in. I studied him as he scanned his audience with those perceptive, mischievous blue eyes. He saw me, came down, knelt next to me. “This can’t be happening,” I thought. Then, “Congratulations on your new album, ʽFallen Angels’.” Thinking fast, as my heart thumped loudly against my chest, I thought to add “Congratulations…didn’t you sing lead vocal on that song with The Traveling Willburys?” He nodded. “Perfect,” I thought. “He is not one of those guys who interacts with his fans much; besides which his wordsmithing is saved for those quiet moments when he scribbles his brilliant compositions on a scrap of paper.” But he fooled me. “Let’s take a selfie,” he said, pulling a cell phone from his hip pocket. “You can send it to your girlfriend in Wisconsin.” “I’m married,” I said. Another nod of the head. He played some acoustic numbers with the six-string, interjecting occasional bursts of the harmonica—an act that always generates an extra-loud roar of approval from his audience. He and that instrument…pure magic. There was a brief intermission. “Where did he go?” I wondered. “He has slipped away.” But he hadn’t. I saw him through a cut in the trees of a forest, practicing, tinkering, turning reason to rhyme. I didn’t get the chance to ask him all the questions that have been nagging me for years. “Are you as well-read, as conscious of everything that is going on in the world, as it appears?” for instance. “Do you know what an inspiration you are to me—to my creative instincts—every hour of the day?” “Will the so-called ʽNever-Ending Tour’ finish before your 80th birthday?” “Do you enjoy that college kids, a whole new generation, are listening to you, appreciating you?” And so on. It’s just as well. He wouldn’t have answered my queries. He is that guarded, that secretive, that protective of the spirits that move him. Bobby, you have always kept us guessing. You approach life the same way as your soulmate Joan Baez. In fact, I thought of you upon hearing Ms. Baez (also now seventy-five) on the car radio the other day, singing a Richard Thompson tune: “She Never Could Resist a Winding Road.” You couldn’t either Bobby. In your own words, “May your heart always be joyful/may your song always be sung/may you stay Forever Young.” Until we “meet” again. AUGUST 2016

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