Wednesday, September 2, 2009
But the truth is I just like to keep track of who's alive and who's dead. Case in point: today the newsgroup came to my informational rescue by providing elusive dates of death for Homer & Jethro. You may remember them as "the thinking man's hillbillies", having produced a passel of country parodies of pop standards through the 50s and 60s. Also prominently they were spokesjokesmen for Kellogg's Corn Flakes in a long-running series of spots.
Specifically, I was curious as to Jethro's death, because I once had a memorable brush with him during the spring of 1979, in conjunction with Dylan compadre Steve Goodman. As a reader of Radioactive Dylan, you're probably well aware that Dylan famously played on and sang backup for Goodman's album Somebody Else's Troubles under the name Robert Milkwood Thomas, a pseudonym that was a variation on one of Dylan Thomas's noms de plume.
It so happens that in the late 70s Goodman lured Jethro—real name, Kenneth Burns—out of the semi-retirement he had been in following Homer's death in 1971. Makes sense, since many of Goodman's wry songs are sort of a 70s and 80s extension of the satirical country music that brought fame to Homer & Jethro, and Jethro's expert mandolin work meshed well with Goodman's folk-rock act.
Goodman was on tour with Jethro in his backing band in Houston when I crossed their paths. I had used my Zimmerman Blues pull to hang backstage after the show, which also happened to feature Dylan acquaintance Leon Redbone as an opening act. In tow with me was an attractive young lady whom I'd met during the concert, and who not surprisingly was anxious to accompany me backstage after the gig.
I wish I could nobly claim I had no designs on her, and wish even more I could say neither did anyone else backstage. For while I was chatting with Redbone about his sole encounter with Dylan—from whence those photographs of the pair at Toronto's Mariposa Folk Festival five years prior—and also telling Jethro how much I had enjoyed his work over the years with Homer, the lady used that as an opportunity to get to know Goodman on the other side of the large room. The diminutive recording artist, maybe three inches shorter even than Dylan, had to look up a bit at her, but they seemed like they were getting along.
I don't suppose I must finish this story for you to know how it ended up. I remember the expression on Jethro's face when he, and I, realized why she was next walking with Goodman back to the station wagon he was touring in. (Can't recall if Redbone had a similar realization, or reaction.)
Never saw her again, but the late Goodman—who would die of leukemia at 36 on September 20, 1984 here in a Seattle cancer ward—I did see one more time. That was in 1982, at the shoreline in Seal Beach, California, where improbably enough, he and his wife were hawking Goodman CDs—including Somebody Else's Troubles—off the tailgate of another station wagon. I talked again to Goodman that day, but given who was accompanying him at the beach, I decided to not inquire if he recalled walking off with somebody else's woman.
Monday, August 31, 2009
Dylan's festival-finishing, problem-plagued and cornpone-chucking Isle of Wight performance took place precisely 40 years ago tonight. In that momentous summer of 1969, August 31st fell on a Sunday, as you'd expect since Dylan's appearance climaxed a weekend of major acts that attracted 200,000 onlookers, including some musically-prominent names such as three of the Fab Four.
I based this supposition on the fact that Woodstock's final day was but 14 days before the Isle of Wight. I mean, does even the protean Dylan change so much in a single fortnight? (The actual answer to that question is: Yes, of course he does. But that's a separate discussion.)
Or is it? For my picking the Isle of Wight a couple weeks after Woodstock could be an almost arbitrary choice. For I could just as easily supposed that Dylan's would-be Woodstock set would have resembled a reportedly spirited one delivered just before the fabled festival, one which, as it happened, was part of another festival, this one stateside. I'm talking about that rarest of all Dylan surprise appearances, his sit-in during the encore of The Band's appearance at the summer-long Mississippi River Festival on July 14th.
It was on a Monday night just two days before Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin would blast off for the moon that Dylan popped up onstage in suburban St. Louis. Now, the audience never did hear his name—Band leader Robbie Robertson introduced Dylan as "Elmer Johnson", a local they'd met that afternoon. But much of the crowd—and all of posterity—was not fooled.
This all went down in that very corner of the planet where I grew up. I was 30 miles to the southwest that night, a 14-year-old cluelessly whiling away another St. Louis summer Monday night in anticipation of the Apollo program's greatest feat. Dylan and the Band weren't in Missouri, however, for the Festival tent shrouding the stage of the outdoor venue was pitched over on the Illinois side of the river in Edwardsville, on the southern edge of the campus of Southern Illinois University about 14 miles northeast of The Gateway Arch.
Only his third public stage appearance anywhere since his 1966 accident and just eleven weeks after his Johnny Cash Show TV appearance, Dylan performed four cover tunes that night. Included were Leadbelly's "In the Pines" and Little Richard's "Slippin' and Slidin'", and also "I Ain't Got No Home", which Dylan had performed twice in New York at the Woody Guthrie tribute 18 months prior.
I know a fellow—and fellow Dylanologist—who actually witnessed the Edwardsville spectacle, being such a Dylan fan that he'd attend the concert of any Dylan-associated group, even without expectation of a surprise Dylan appearance. My magazine Zimmerman Blues proudly placed on its back cover a dramatic shot of Dylan fronting The Band and adjusting his microphones that evening 48 nights before the Isle of Wight. He appeared somewhat fairer than usual while attired in a work-shirt, but was typically bearded and shaded, behind wire-rim sunglasses.
As for what kind of sound Dylan had for that 12 or 15 minutes, my acquaintance reports Dylan's lead singing was terrific—but he would think that. In fact, this guy is one of those few people who think Dylan actually soared at the Isle of Wight.
There remains faint hope we'll sometime be able to hear for ourselves what the elusive 1969 St. Louis appearance sounded like. That's due to the fact that the sound engineer on duty that night, whom Zimmerman Blues interviewed eight years after the concert, insists that right after his final song, Dylan swung by to request—and claim—the master tape the crew had been rolling on the encore.
I don't normally tell Dylan no, but I know I would have responded, "Uh...I'll make you a copy, Bob".
Sunday, August 30, 2009
And much of the discussion about the Bethel, New York rock festival concerned various theories as to why Dylan didn't appear there, especially since he was living in those days nearby in the town of Woodstock, New York. That of course was the original intended site of the festival which would eventually end up being staged on Max Yasgur's dairy farm spread an hour away to the southwest.
But for a specific reason, I've always been glad Dylan didn't make the three-day affair. For had Dylan done a set and been thusly memorialized in the film, his performance would likely have resembled what was on display just two weeks hence in the south of England. To put it politely, you have to search far and wide for anyone who considers the Isle of Wight a solid Dylan performance. As one critic put it, Dylan sang his tunes as if he were one of that generation of bad Dylan imitators who when covering his work always put the emphasis in all the wrong places.
So just a fortnight earlier at Woodstock, the result likely would have been similar to the Isle of Wight performance disaster. And thus that peculiar variation of Dylan's endless changes would be the one cemented in the mind of the general public at large as supposedly "classic" Dylan.
Fortunately, today merely a few Dylan afficionados lament decades later about how lousy the Isle of Wight performance was—or at least how few moments besides "Wild Mountain Thyme" ever found Dylan in the groove that entire night, and in front of three-quarters of The Beatles, for Heaven's sake! So how would you like having every Woodstock viewer conjuring that as their default image of Dylan?
But, I suppose, that would ultimately have been de fault of Dylan himself.
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Q Why did you publish Dylan's obituary while he's alive?
A Because for about 35 seconds while listening to Coast-to-Coast AM with Ian Punnett on Sunday night, March 29, 2009, I had truly good reason to believe Dylan's death had been announced.
Q So why didn't you pull the posting as soon as you learned Dylan is still alive?
A Because then I would have had to jettison a terrific essay premise, a premise that also, not at all incidentally, gave me an exquisitely ideal vehicle for publishing a book I had been sitting on—albeit in vastly different form—for decades.
Q What's the deal with your neverending posting's Neverending Paragraph?
A It's the vehicle—in the form of an extended literary device—for disclosing and detailing, if also deviously discombobdylanulating—each of my dozens of Dylan encounters 1975-1987, not to mention all of my various Dylan-related adventures 1972-1988.
Q Why that 1988 cut-off to the Neverending Paragraph?
A Because the nonfiction dialogue with the fictional "ghost" supposedly takes place on June 7, 1988, following the now-legendary debut show of The Neverending Tour. More precisely a half-dialogue, the Neverending Paragraph is a fanciful dramatization of my mindset in the parking lot following that concert which I did in fact attend, alone, at the Concord Pavilion. The events described in that fictionalized, hours-long rave really did happen, with no embellishment required or desired.
Q Is the Neverending Paragraph now complete?
A Not even close! Indeed, it's as incomplete as The Neverending Tour currently is. That is, I'm continuing to add new vignettes at least weekly, so if you had read the essay a month ago, you missed a lot of additional Dylan encounters since added.
Q Why the out-of-the-blue dedication to Abbott & Costello?
A Because, to state the obvious, the format of the Neverending Paragraph is largely if not entirely a direct theft from their most celebrated routine.
Q Why so drenched in style? That is, why make the Neverending Paragraph into this one-half of an old stand-up bit, instead of just a simple conversation? And why then discombobulate it so?
A Because I've never felt comfortable about ever publicly relating these events, which is also why I never sought publication until now. So if you want to see what happened, you'll have to figure it out. (And hey, it's still a lot easier than following stream-of-conscious Beat prose like that of Kerouac or Burroughs, much less Tarantula.) The toughest part is imagining what the ghost is saying to me, but his words are always reflected in my responses. It's true it's a constantly demanding read, as some e-mailers have complained. I'd reply that demonstrates respect for the reader, and anyway, as the introduction explains, it's thusly designed to deter all but the most Dylanologically determined.
Q Did you make up any of these stories?
A Not in the least! The only fictional aspect to the entire e-book is the ghost; everything else happened, often with numerous witnesses on hand.
Q If you're such a Dylan expert, how come you predicted the tour starting June 7, 1988 and continuing to this day would be a short one?
A That's a joke—on me. Obviously. (As is my later "prediction" that Dylan wouldn't survive to 50 if he didn't slow down. Again, obviously.)
Q What's with that goofball title?: LIKE A ROLLING TOMBSTON-—"Huh?...No WAY! I Don't Even GET Stoned Anymore!"
A That's also a joke, although a considerably more subtle one. The idea there was that, after thinking I heard on the radio of Dylan's demise, I am busily pounding out the title to my Dylan obituary when someone comes along, notices what I'm typing, and interrupts exclaiming "Hey Bryan, Dylan's not dead—what, are you high?!?" And there's also another hidden joke in the subtitle: the fact that the word "stoned" is right under what would have been TOMBSTONE, making for an implicit TOMBSTONED alternate title. (Oh, and the title LIKE A ROLLING TOMBSTON- is especially apropos, given that Tombstone Blues was what Dylan himself pressed me to change the title of Zimmerman Blues magazine to.)
Q Isn't it sophomoric to explain your jokes?
A Yes. But apparently, based on the e-mail, I had to. And I founded Zimmerman Blues as a Boston University sophomore.
Q Why all the colors in the Neverending Paragraph?
Q Aren't you and your cohort a couple of jerks for crashing Dylan's son's bar mitzvah in 1983?
A Well, the event was publicly announced by a Dylan aide, in New York magazine.
Q Who do you think you are, the new A.J. Weberman?
A I've never claimed that, and never would. But Albert Grossman once did.
Q Did you stalk Dylan?
A No! But I did live in West Los Angeles when he was using the nearby leased rehearsal hall facility informally known as "Rundown Studios" as his West Coast headquarters in the early 80s. Accordingly, I found myself more than a few times running into him here and there while he was out and about in the neighborhood, as he often was.
Q How did Dylan react when he would see you?
A To my utter amazement, he usually behaved as if he was glad to see me, perhaps because, unlike Weberman, I wasn't trying to provoke him. Though occasionally, as recounted in Like a Rolling Tombston- , he'd just ignore me.
Q Did you really almost vehicularly kill Dylan—accidentally—in 1981?
A Well, he might have only been seriously maimed in the extremely unsettling incident, but yes, the near-miss really happened. But I also pulled him out of the path of a speeding car a year earlier, if that compensatorily counts for anything.
Q Aren't you just being obnoxiously provocative by prematurely publishing a Dylan obituary, especially one so lengthy?
A The e-book has indeed reached over 35,000 words by now. But you'll note that the Dylan obituary therein, which is in the form of an imagined AM radio obit, is all of 14 words total, situated quite near the epic essay's outset. Then the text immediately takes the reader back to the happy reality that Dylan is still very much alive, and nearly as important, still very much creatively active.
Q Why don't you ever use Dylan's first name?
A Because all the other Dylans—Thomas, Jakob, Marshal Dillon—require a qualifier, whereas Dylan never does, as he has so remarkably earned his single-named status of being just Dylan.
Q Isn't a prematurely-published obituary tantamount to slapping Dylan's face?
A Anyone who reads the first twenty or so paragraphs of Like a Rolling Tombston- knows well that I revere, not scorn, Dylan.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
The piece appeared, if initially only in embryonic form, on RadioactiveSeattle, the newstalk radio-oriented sister blog to this newly-established Radioactive Dylan.
This marathon essay in a way provocatively takes the form of a prematurely-published Dylan obituary. I've been subsequently re-working and expanding it pretty much steadily since March 29th, but its basic idea and structure came to me more or less in a flash very late that very night, just as I detailed in the opening paragraphs. It should be clear, at least to careful readers, why I considered it vital that its initial though brief version be posted prior to that midnight.
That also of course is why this epic essay is composed, most broadly, from a March 29, 2009 point-of-view. But it's additionally, as you'll eventually see, written from the retrospective perspective of June 7, 1988, the very birth of The Neverending Tour. And as you'll immediately learn, March 29th was, until 11:33 pm Pacific Time, just another Sunday night for me.
Anyone who cynically wonders if I've employed literary license to fiddle with the time-line for my curiously copious composition's convenience can check the time-stamped original posting, which I shall preserve as the March 29th entry of RadioactiveSeattle.
Radioactive Dylan has been established, you may have already divined, to avoid subjecting the newstalk-interested readers of the radio biz stuff on RadioactiveSeattle to these more, ahem, esoteric Dylan essays.
In pure word count, the essay comes in at...well, I'm embarrassed how many words it currently stands at, though obviously anyone curious could digitally determine that in seconds. At the essay's outset I understatingly wrote, "Considerable explanation is due", and that sentence is warranted here too. That is, it might be puzzling as to why I might remain textually silent about Dylan since 1996, the last time this '70s-era Dylanologist published a word about him (a lengthy Dylan profile published online by the Center for the Study of Popular Culture), only to re-emerge now not with a mere posting or even an article, but with an essay so interminable that it's essentially another short Dylan book.
Well, suffice it to say this essay is designed to serve very different functions for very different readers: You see, pretty much anyone who knows more than the fact that Dylan is never pronounced with a long Y can find the introductory paragraphs accessible, if perhaps preposterous. For early on the essay makes—and defends —the bold assertion that Dylan isn't merely an influential recording artist, but the most important artist of all time.
But then the essay takes a rather bold turn itself—or maybe it's just a reckless swerve—by more or less pushing the ejector seat button for every reader except those who, say, wouldn't merely know the difference between the three takes of "Billy" on Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid, but might actually even harbor strong opinions about their respective charms.
Oh, and I guess there's one other narrow category of reader who might be interested in staying with this essay through to its seemingly vanishing-point conclusion: Abbott & Costello fans.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
11:44 pm PT
Sunday, March 29, 2009
For a few moments earlier tonight, it really sounded as though The Dylan Saga had concluded.
But not so. That's because late-night AM radio yakker Ian Punnett was merely returning from commercial.
Considerable explanation is due. You see, show-format imperatives for the various dubious incarnations of Coast-to-Coast AM dictate the host return from most breaks totally unannounced. Longtime RadioactiveSeattle readers know I'm no fan of this persistently-preposterous program that specializes in what they euphemistically term "the paranormal", but the Twin Cities-based Punnett's variation on this hokum is quite listenable, actually. That's because Punnett is always amiable and terrifically talented, plus the closest thing to a skeptic among the various Art Bell heirs who rotate as stewards of the supremely pseudo-scientific show.
So rather than each Coast host coming back vocally, or even some voice-over "liner" identifying the program—or at least that night's host—Coast listeners instead hear each segment of the show commence with music alone. Typically, an entire first verse and chorus of some oldie once in regular rotation on the senior broadcast band so pun-fully featured in the full title of the wildly-successful syndicated overnight radio production.
In this case, the Coast-to-Coast AM broadcast engineer happened to grab "Like a Rolling Stone" as Punnett's next bumper-tune lead-in, and ran the late-summer 1965 smash hit from its familiar rim-shot top, 'natch.
This radio junkie has long figured I'd probably learn of Dylan's eventual demise the same way I did Presley's and Sinatra's—in the opening seconds of a top-of-the-hour amplitude-modulation band newscast. For many years now, standard operating procedure at each of the AM radio news networks has been to begin major musical obituaries with a measure or two of a signature tune by the newly departed.
So as that distinctively cynical and oh so plaintively unsettling 24-year-old voice searingly sneered into the imagery, "…threw the bums a dime/In your prime/Didn't you?!?", my mind raced as I braced for the dreaded details—Word this hour from Europe* that Bob Dylan is dead. The rock icon was…—while glancing down at my watch:
It was 11:34 pm Pacific Time!—not the top or bottom of the hour. So what was emerging from my AM radio couldn't have been the cold-open of a national newscast with a mega-celebrity obituary as its lead!
Nope, it was just Punnett, resuming his program. As it happened, tonight Punnett was talkin' Minnesota alright, but not the mercurial minstrel therefrom and the talkin' blues thereof. Rather, runic relics unearthed in The Gopher State.
Yeah, I guess Dylan just won't let me off that easy.
He's strikingly short. Though Dylan's precise height seems a state secret, the rock giant stands a good four inches shy of my own 5' 111/2" frame, even when lifted by the boot-heels he's typically atop whenever mixing with us commoners. Yet he's nonetheless somehow been managing to poke his trademark nose straight into my theretofore blissfully-uncomplicated existence for 37 years now this spring.
And save a much-publicized stint in a cardio ward in 1997—"I thought for sure I was gonna meet Elvis!" he supposedly said during convalescence—the 67-year-old living legend has shown absolutely no signs that he won't easily survive me. So I'm pretty much condemned to serving a glorious life sentence, though a few minutes ago, I did have the momentary expectation that maybe my parole had suddenly, and so sadly, come through.
As a journalist I've published on a wide range of subjects over the years in newspapers and magazines across this infinitesimally-detailed nation, not to mention RadioactiveSeattle. At one point or another, I've covered pretty much "everything from astronomy to zoology," just as I used to say whenever soliciting open-line calls from newstalk radio listeners up here in the Puget Sound region over KIRO.
But since 1972, Dylan has always been my favorite story hands down, for a few hundred reasons. (That is most definitely not an allusion to his massive if somewhat-uneven song-bag, give or take several dozen compositions; it's instead a reference to the staggering diversity of the recording artist's vast and unparalleled body of work. Plus, I'll admit, his, ahem, eccentric behavior.)
Nominated twice for the Nobel Prize in Literature and a shoo-in for the inaugural award should the Committee in Stockholm add a long-overdue Music category, Dylan's reputation obviously needs no boosting from this quarter. Indeed, Dylan's career stands as the strongest case for the Artist of the Millennium.
That would be of the previous thousand-year span, although like each of us widely-read enough to gauge Dylan's cultural impact here in 2009, the recording artist happens to have straddled both millennia. He's earned this towering judgment inasmuch as his range of styles, rhymes and rhythms combine so originally, seamlessly and powerfully that his collective creative accomplishment transcends that of any of the Shakespeares or Schumanns or Sinatras anyone might counter-rank.
Enormous important segments of Dylan's recording work for various reasons are never heard by more than a comparative handful of his fans, much less ever by any FM radio audience. But to many privileged enough to have listened to the monumental stuff—and there's tons of it—Dylan's recording achievements in sum outdistance those of every other individual inspirational force whose own respective remarkable talent itself mightily dazzles. Simply put, it's hard to find any serious competition for Dylan in the long run. His one-two-three singer/songwriter/ instrumentalist punch kayoes every worthy creative colleague or predecessor of Dylan's I've examined toiling in any medium.
I fully realize it seems downright preposterously audacious to suggest a recording artist widely dismissed as unable to sing might somehow nonetheless outshine the likes of Milton, Mozart, Melville and the multitude of others. And while amazing polymaths such as Franklin and Diderot and Goethe were each astonishingly prolific, even their respective spectra of endeavor—if not their actual prodigious outputs—still seem less sweeping than the range of literary styles and cultural traditions Dylan has melodically drawn upon since 1957.
Yet we might still be in the realm of understatement. For looking back through the extant work of our civilization's most influential artists and wordsmiths, I don't see any serious challenges to Dylan's greatness from anyone on back through antiquity, many of whom shall be cited within this essay. Based solely on those portions of his prolific product which can arguably be characterized as ingenious, the case can be made that no other creative force's extant body of work so deftly harnesses a given set of talents. Ergo Dylan has earned a claim—one he might never stake himself, but did certainly make for himself—to being the greatest artist ever.
In terms of pure visionaries, the only possible analog I've seen for Dylan is Frank Lloyd Wright. Whereas if sheer artistic boldness is the principal criterion, Picasso seems the only case where the diversity of the product might rival the depth of Dylan's extant work. But if you'd rather gaze at your favorite Picasso canvas for 11 minutes than listen to the Highway 61 Revisited take of "Desolation Row", you might as well stop reading right here. I require a rhythm to hold my attention—something some Wright buildings do seem to almost impart upon anyone standing within them, not incidentally—so I'll try in my own way to instill a corresponding sort of beat in the prose I'm crafting for the reader below as well. Especially within a certain seemingly Neverending Paragraph.
Of course, Dylan has enjoyed a decided advantage: as a singer-songwriter, his art resides in his physical being. Michelangelo may have sculpted and painted for the ages, but once he had completed, say, his magnificent marble David, the polished statue ended up there and the presumably-proud sculptor over here. The sculptor, like the painter and the architect, never "is" his art as the singer-songwriter must be.
That is, when the finished David was finally ready for the world, Michelangelo could display it in a public place. Or bestow it upon the Pope. Or sell it to the highest bidder. Or donate it to a private collection. Or stash it away in a (walk-in, very high-ceilinged) closet. Or give it to a friend. Or take a sledgehammer to it. Or sail it out into the Mediterranean and bury it at sea. But whatever Michelangelo did with the David, the artist and the art remained independent of one another. Obviously.
But Dylan—and in fact every singer-songwriter—works in a fundamentally different fashion. Whereas artists in most media produce art which is distinct from their respective creators, a singer’s own song is him—his lyrical and melodic creation permeates his lungs, his throat, his nasal cavity. It's thus a function of and even a part of his body proper, if only during its execution. This inherent blurring of the line between art and artist may be true for all singer-songwriters, but in my admittedly biased judgment, is actually epitomized by Dylan. Further, in Dylan’s case, it is especially significant that a song also possesses the singer's mind, for this vocalist's capacity to uniquely phrase the same lyric time and time and time again seems all but limitless.
And of course Dylan has enjoyed the advantages most modern-era creative folk have: freedom and technology. Who knows how many potential Van Dycks or Steinbecks or Kubricks toiled illiterately and anonymously as slaves in the ancient world or as serfs through the Middle Ages?
Consider: were Dylan, of Russian Jewish stock, to have been born the very same day, May 24, 1941, not as he was, on the westernmost shore of The Great Lakes, but rather within Stalin's totalitarian and anti-Semitic Soviet Union, it's doubtful any of us would have ever been inspired by the liberty-loving sentiments of "The Times They Are A-Changin'", even in some Slavic tongue.
Dylan was also fortunate to come along at a time when devices existed to preserve, amplify and distribute his quirky voice and quirkier world-view around the globe. So even if, say, Aristotle in 331 BC did happen to live next door to some fellow thinking Athenian with a knack for nifty rhythm and impassioned, idiosyncratic expression of the human condition, only the philosopher and a handful of other lucky Greeks nearby could ever have been privy to that local bundle of talent. But with those two guys, it sure would have been a cool neighborhood.
Which is why all this has been fascinating for me in a way no other endeavor would have been. In journalism, the biggest stories tend to be events—Pearl Harbor, Dallas '63, September 11th. But no good reporter even for a moment forgets Emerson's dictum that all history is biography. My big story being thusly concentrated in a single short fellow Midwesterner always brought the saga literally alive for me in a manner rivaled by nothing else I've ever written about. And given Dylan's endlessly evolving nature, it's been an incessantly vibrant narrative. And, of course, a musical one to boot.
Now all that would have been more than enough, clearly. But then Dylan just nonchalantly tosses in the unexpected at any step along the way. You see, there's a lot of irony on the Dylan trail—in his music of course, but also in his life and the rarefied world he populates. You trip over it in the oddest places, especially if you're clumsy like me. But while I may be physically ungainly, I seem to have been compensatingly blessed with a keen eye for creative detail, and this magnificently-gifted man has consistently passed the most stringent of my many artistically-critical tests.
Or as another Dylan watcher put it in 1978, this recording artist has so many sides, he's spherical. Okay, so that critic actually was quoted as saying "round", but my line's way more applicable. Or as the tangled-haired mystic himself once replied in near exasperation to an interviewer, "Look, I'm always the first guy to put it to you, but I'm the last who'll explain it." Of the couple dozen or so Dylan conversations to which I was fortunate—or dogged—enough to find myself a party since 1975 when first encountering him face-to-face in Massachusetts, only once did he tell me anything nearly as seismic or revealing. And until now, my intention all along was to save that nugget for the book.
Yep, Dylan's a book alright, and a lengthy one at that, at the absolute minimum. There are literally dozens of prisms through which Dylan has been viewed by the thousand or so writers who've tried to summarize Dylan in some book or a lengthy magazine piece. The Dylan story has been told or mis-told through his lyrics of course. But also his politics, his women, his friends, his drugs, his religion(s), his vendettas.
If my fascination must be so succinctly characterized, term it "his sound". But whatever the approach, even minimally delineating Dylan, however futilely, requires tens of thousands of scrupulously-selected words. And that's particularly true in my case, mainly because I strive to avoid vagueness through specificity. Now my prose employs loads of indirectness, for sure, because that device is fun for both the writer and reader. But never ambiguity, at least not intentionally. My job, like any journalist's, is to report the story as incisively and maybe even insightfully as possible. Vagueness, it seems, is Dylan's job.
Given the scale of the task, I've decided it's unlikely I'd ever complete the Dylan manuscript my KIRO callers were kind enough to periodically inquire about during my overnight hosting run there, even though I always kept my radio broadcasts a Dylan-free zone for what should be painfully-obvious reasons. (While four-time Dylan author Michael Gray may have gone way overboard with his latest Dylan tome**, the reader will not be surprised I'm grateful he did.)
Besides, a nonfiction work concerning any notable must be comprehensive to ever really be respected as authoritative. More bluntly but still indirectly put, I hope to continue covering this story through to its natural conclusion. Though, quite obviously, I may never get that chance. My own particular publishing focus was to take the form of a memoir of Dylan's underground fan subculture, which I had been rather uniquely positioned to witness for a number of years.
But rather than that project someday adding to the clutter of the 150-odd sundry Dylan titles already on bookstore shelves, I've decided instead to memorialize these events herein. (Albeit in a difficult-to-decipher yet definitely decodable discombobulated discourse deviously designed to discourage all but the Dylanologically determined.) And there is more than one advantage to publishing it on the Internet, and in particular on RadioactiveSeattle initially and now here on Radioactive Dylan: it turns out that my since-senior-high interest in Dylan has frequently intersected with my lifelong fascination with the medium of radio, as shall be apparent in the Neverending Paragraph. As for the full biographies published thus far, of which about a half-dozen estimable efforts have been mounted: they're each seriously compromised by that natural-conclusion problem mentioned in the previous paragraph. And every such volume therefore, arguably, should only be written—or at least published—in our rich language's past tense.
In the meantime, we've got a simply terrific show which still ain't over. One which started in mid-March 1962 with the release by Columbia Records of Dylan's eponymously-entitled first album. And far be it from me to try to improve on A.J. Weberman's famous pronouncement about our mutual hero. The original Dylanologist's so apt bottom line: "The hippest dude who ever stomped through the pages of history." As my argument above suggests, I agree with Weberman that we are witnessing the twilight of what may—and surely should—someday be recognized as perhaps the most astounding creative career ever. You've heard that F. Scott Fitzgerald decreed—cryptically, I'd add—there are no second acts in American life. But we're already in at least the eighth or ninth act of that positively riveting musical drama Waiting for Dylan, aren't we?
That is, Godot may have stood up Beckett's protagonists in the end, but it seems unlikely we'll ever be let down—existentially at least, if not so much musically still—by this surrealistic spectacle whose curtain went up in 1962. Or maybe for you even by 1957, if you happened to live up on Minnesota's Iron Range during the Eisenhower era and were young and hip, and frequented rock-and-roll hangouts. And of course for him, a little past 9 on a Saturday evening in May 1941 in a maternity ward on the side of that steep hill plunging into Lake Superior onto which they built Duluth.
Just hours earlier that same momentous Saturday, as it happened, the entire United Kingdom and much of North America was stunned when, less than three thousand miles to the northeast, The Bismarck sank the mighty British battlecruiser Hood in the Denmark Strait off southeast Greenland with but three surviving sailors. The most feared Nazi warship in the history of the Third Reich would have but three additional days afloat itself in its brief but furious reign terrorizing the North Atlantic, whereas Dylan himself would manage another 67 years.
And counting. And, we're all hoping—and I'd even be praying, were I not agnostic—for even another decade or two of stage-time for the former Robert Allen Zimmerman. On both the literal sorts of stages Dylan's been so characteristically ambling onto since the late 50s, as well as that metaphorical and vastly wider stage that Shakespeare, another globally-revered words guy, talked about the world itself constituting.
But what I know first-hand and you probably can't as yet—but certainly shall, should you summon the stamina to finish this essay, including its upcoming interminable center portion—is how this fellow's constant acting on his artistic curiosity has truly earned him the seemingly-hyperbolic praise effused above. Especially once this essay's massive middle section starts churning. And should this paragraph seem a pointless interruption: Sorry, Ladies and Gentlemen! Might you then kindly consider this passage an intermission, as the directors of Gone with the Wind and The Greatest Story Ever Told—and Renaldo & Clara too, come to think of it!—so considerately inserted for their about-to-be-overtaxed audiences.
Dylan's kaleidoscopic genius may captivate me to the point of virtual incarceration, but it's been nearly four decades now, and I still can't claim I've arrived at any true understanding of him. That is, in the sense of the word where you're so acquainted with someone's every quirk that he's ceased surprising you much.
For instance, I was quite surprised when the career-long fashion plate started sporting goofy cowboy hats in the 90s, and that even sillier Errol Flynn-style mustache more recently. (Sure, this fellow's had facial-hair issues recurrently since his late-'60s post-accident interlude, but this latest look is something a pal tells me she thinks makes him come off visually like a dirty old man.)
Yet I was even more surprised when the rock Rasputin returned to the site of his unquestionably most controversial and arguably most legendary concert—Newport, Rhode Island—in something which resembled a fright wig. And I was really surprised he was interested in guesting on a ditzy sitcom, though hardly shocked when Dharma & Greg demonstrated again this performer's delightfully incapable acting skills.
And I certainly was surprised when he agreed to do the satellite radio show—though not nearly as surprised as I would have been had it instead been a commercial newstalk call-in production. On Theme Time Radio Hour, Dylan plays not talk host but talkative disc jockey, taking XM listeners on a weekly stroll down Tin Pan Alley and other neglected musical avenues, though his speaking voice these days is often so croaky that I often enjoy the music more than the DJ. That's because I love an infectious rolling beat, but absolutely detest the physical decay inherent to the latter stages of all life cycles. Now maturation is another matter entirely, and Dylan is aging not merely gracefully but even splendidly indeed, isn't he? As may we all.
Many weeks over the last couple of years Dylan's been phoning in his radio show—literally, if not usually figuratively—from the road. And ever since 1988, he's not merely been regularly playing out like any other of the two or three dozen major American musical acts touring at any typical moment across modern American or European popular culture.
You see, only Dylan has been on The Neverending Tour. And that's more than an exquisite title*** for the continuing public-performance portion of Dylan's career. (Though as any major daily's headline writer might attest, that in itself is always enough.) But I'll demonstrate that this celebrated road show is actually merely the most conspicuous of this recording artist's various creative sidelines.
The considerably bigger fish Dylan's been frying professionally these last few decades is not in the realm of his public performances, which anyone with a disposable fifty bucks these days can personally take in—though this week you'd have had to have been near Scandinavia to do so. Rather, the greatest-ever recording artist's prime creative business has always been—and for once not surprisingly—his recording.
For the sorts of vocal excitement or experimentation his concertgoers typically hear are almost invariably substituted for when Dylan is working within the bounds of one of those acoustical sanctums. When laying down his musical art for all time within the privacy of a studio and just a handful of sidemen, Dylan routinely employs substantially more of the sort of deliberate and nuanced phrasing which has always made him as inventive a vocalist as he is a songwriter, but which he rarely if ever summons onstage anymore. This is a considerably less rushed and sometimes even beautifully hushed—and thus much more subtly powerful—type of intensity which is sensitivity- rather than energetically-based, as is the huge bulk of Dylan's nonetheless interesting tour work-product.
And it makes perfect sense that Dylan would have a hugely higher standard for his recordings. For while no one but a few dedicated fans ever hear most of his stage performances even a second time, Dylan clearly understands what he records will surely be heard and debated late into the 22nd Century and probably well beyond. Dylan's recording career began, depending on how you count, in 1960 or 1961, and has continued apace until at least last month. And given Dylan's amazingly dense recording history, it just as possibly extends up through this afternoon in some Danish recording studio or a Neverending Tour mobile facility.
Whether Dylan's recorded musical brilliance peaked in 1965, as some days I might argue, is hardly the question. Other Dylan critics, distinguished or dilettante and as disputatious as disparate, would vigorously or even angrily reject that, instead insisting Dylan's best work was in '63, or '64. Or '66, or '67, or '68, 0r '74, or '75, or '76, or '78, or '81, or '83, or '89 or even '97, or maybe even 2001. And after reading Dylan's recent and remarkably sagacious interview with Bill Flanagan and hearing some of the late 2008 collection Together Through Life set to be released next month, I'm maybe no longer quite so confident Dylan's recording "peak" wasn't actually sometime earlier today.
And here at the tail end of the first decade of this new millennium, there's always the faint hope that this elusive summit might actually be scaled in maybe, oh, how about 2015? Actually, I have a better target date: 2017. That's an important year for me, even though, obviously, neither you nor I know whether either of us shall see 2015 or even 2010.
For my part, I profoundly hope I'll still be a travelling 62-year-old eight years from now. That's so I may return to my hometown of St. Louis that August. And no, it's not for a Dylan concert, although that's maybe not such a bad idea. Whichever of Dylan's many able handlers has the tedious job of finalizing the performer's numerous tour stops, it's doubtful he or she has even penciled anything in yet for 2017. But that scheduler might well consider inking in a Dylan performance date somewhere in east-central Missouri for Monday evening, August 21, 2017.
For I know of no instance of Dylan ever staging a concert—neither along The Neverending Tour, nor anytime earlier stretching all the way back through high school in Minnesota—which deliberately tied his performance to a total solar eclipse earlier that day. Yes, at 12:05 pm local time that far-off Monday, the moon's umbral shadow shall silently hurtle southeastward a few miles south of The Gateway Arch at some 1800 miles per hour, and I intend to be gazing skyward within that astronomically-narrow swath for the entire two minutes and forty seconds of totality. Late-summer Mississippi Valley weather cooperating, of course.
And so might Dylan and his entire entourage look up within that landscape-sweeping lunar shadow, just hours before commencing a concert timed to begin that very sundown in what by then would be the 29th year of The Neverending Tour. Now I'd be surprised if Dylan has never viewed one previously—though the narcissistic Lear-jetting celebrity whom Carly Simon claimed made the Monday, July 10, 1972 total eclipse in Nova Scotia in her cynical yet sensual hit "You're So Vain" was widely reputed to have been Warren Beatty, not the swinging actor's reported occasional party guest Dylan.
But if it so happens that Dylan has yet to witness the sun's corona, I can recommend first-hand—Thursday, July 11, 1991, at the tip of Baja California—that the total solar eclipse experience is totally worth almost whatever the inconvenience. So maybe Dylan's venue that evening could be the new Busch Memorial Stadium in The Arch's own southwestern shadow, should the Cardinals be on a roadtrip that week?
And who knows, maybe I'll be even able to bring Mom back to Missouri for the celestial event, for she too might still be kickin' then at 91; Alzheimer's can fool you like that. But she lives in Houston near my brother nowadays, the same city where I unwittingly pioneered this Stybles-to-Texas migration in 1978. I spent a couple years there learning the news business. And it is also where, oddly enough, my involvement with Zimmerman Blues ended, as I finally began going straight, at least in my parents' eyes, who in those days were still proud St. Louisians. Maybe you can't anticipate Dylan, but you can certainly calculate lunar orbits with split-second precision decades and even centuries in advance.
Aye, there's that darned rub again: the biggest mistake with Dylan is to anticipate him, eight years down the road or eight minutes around the corner. Maybe you can, but I can't, and I've been working this story on and off for 37 years. The Zimmerman Blues era was but 1975-1979, and I only did it full-time towards the end. And then while pursuing my newstalk radio career 1989-2008, I couldn't follow or even listen much really to Dylan, at least to any sort of the degree which had characterized my youth. But my radio days now seem to have concluded, and you've heard how a door unexpectedly sometimes opens just as another one somewhere is being shut, or slammed. So I never necessarily expected to publish the following paragraphs—including one particular Neverending Paragraph—in 2009, or even by 2017.
But now: here comes all I saw and did in close proximity to this historically-important figure I've been lucky to cover at close range. And as you'll quickly enough figure out, all this before you now is but the first installment, for the technicolor Neverending Paragraph will live up to its grandiose name by being continually augmented—at least weekly—for the Dylanologically diligent reader. And I'm saving the best, or at least most Dylanesque, vignettes for later, once readers have had a chance to get a handle on how obliquely I'm presenting all this. Everything you'll read has on occasion been verbally detailed to a few interested—and trusted—acquaintances over the decades. But never published, until now.
Yikes! I almost forgot, this endless essay isn't about me, it's about someone else. I can't call this man a friend, though he sure seems to have a lot of them. But he surely doesn't need me as a friend, nor even as another journalist hanger-on. Yet he did allow me to cover my story pretty darned unimpeded for a quite few years there. I don't know if this prose would make him smile or even chuckle occasionally, for I'm unsure he'd find my jokes funny. But I'd hope so, because every one of the dozens of professional comics I've worked with over the years seems to have needed not additional friends, but just someone sharp enough to get their gags and laugh when anything strikes them funny.
I'd say Dylan has always struck me funny, but you might take that the wrong way. Seriously wrong. For while Dylan's work—and much more so, his eccentricities—have been making me laugh, or maybe just scratch my head, since 1972, you should never for a moment assume that this isn't a serious essay. Yeah, seriously long! I can hear you mentally retorting.
I can't blame you, but I also can't help you. Because this story can't be told in 5000 words. Or even 10,000. So I'd better not even estimate how much text you're in store for below, because I'd likely scare you off. Oddly enough, there are many readers I have, improbably, been more or less trying to scare off over these proliferating paragraphs. And that's anyone who might find Dylan intriguing indeed, yet for whatever reasons still can't isolate just why. There are numerous books and articles which are far better suited to introducing the unacquainted to Dylan's enormous artistic significance. No, the intended reader here is anyone who already has long been captivated by this recording artist. But still maybe not quite yet persuaded he truly is it.
Now if you have been thusly dissuaded from continuing on, my sincere thanks for getting this far, and good luck in your continued reading endeavors. Maybe you'd rather read fiction—because there is no fiction below, if you don't count the jokes or that ghost who soon shall be haunting this essay. And just in appreciation for your having endured this much, in exchange I can point the reader in some more enjoyable—and fictional—directions.
Accordingly, this longtime professional nonfiction book critic can make some well-considered recommendations of novels: Tom Wolfe's Bonfire of the Vanities features an utterly brilliant narrative in any of several literary contexts, though its (mis)adaptation for the screen was a profound disgrace. Les Miserables needs no additional raves from this critic, nor any additional stagings, operatic or otherwise—and Hugo would have surely moved me even more if I had been able to read more than dozen words of his wonderfully rich untranslated language. But I'm handy with English—served me well for decades as a newstalk radio host!—and that's why I could savor Nineteen Eighty-Four in its original voice; I eternally thank Orwell for that, as should every liberty lover. Tom Jones is many, many times longer than even this essay, and unlike Bonfire, Fielding's masterwork was even more enjoyable in its faithful if comic and melodramatic cinematic expression. Now, nearly everybody forgets Moby-Dick properly has a hyphen in its title, even if they do notice how intricately and masterfully the plot works on multiple symbolic levels. But as the late poet Richard Armour—a 1988 Styble profile subject for The Los Angeles Times, the legendary literary wit's final interview—complained, the title character never swims into his own narrative until Chapter CXXXIII, and Melville's done after CXXXV. And you might try Catch-22, whose 1970 Mike Nichols film version was satirically sobering enough, but in the wake of its 1961 publication after a decade of revision, has the distinction of being my favorite novel ever. Now don't start me talkin' Joseph Heller, else I'll tell everything I know—including the couple of Dylan stories he related during the second of my two encounters with the celebrated novelist by 1979.
I'm like that—i.e., long-winded and emphatic. And it annoys a lot of people—including some late-night talk radio audiences over the years. But the previous ponderous paragraph belabors an important point: I'm not exactly unread when it comes to fiction. Yet I've never been mostly a reader of it, compared with all the disparate nonfiction I endlessly consume as a newsman working a multifarious beat. Whether in the form of novels, novellas or even short stories, I don't read nearly enough fiction, but I sure read a lot more of it than I write. Because you see, I not only don't write fiction, I can't write it. I don't know how many professional writers you've met, but I've known more than my share. Yet I've still no good idea precisely how those plot-and-character guys and gals pull off what they so often do so well.
But I am clear on the idea that I'm lacking those skills. So that's for you to bear in mind, should you decide to plow on into the paragraphs which follow. I can't know how swiftly you read of course, much less how quickly you mentally digest what you visually absorb. On the upside, even pokey readers shan't require nearly, say, the running time of Dylan's epic self-directed art film Renaldo & Clara. That opus timed out at almost four hours. And I'm proud to report in one of its final pre-release cuts the marathon movie included a filmed interview longtime Dylan compadre Allen Ginsberg conducted with yours truly a quarter-mile west of the Plymouth Rock on the Rolling Thunder Revue's opening night. So you'll soon enough be able to return to whatever is your regular routine, even after fully navigating a particular perpetual paragraph, and you'll have no difficulty identifying it; I can't pledge you'll have no difficulty following it.
By the way, the Neverending Paragraph title is more than a descriptive name, just like The Neverending Tour is more than a clever trademark; each hints as to what is in store. And remember, I don't presume to understand Dylan. Nor do I have any idea whether Dylan "understands" himself. That may be, by the way, a logical or philosophical self-inconsistency; I'm not an advanced degree holder—though I am proud of my Boston University bachelor's—so I can't offer a learned opinion as to whether even Euler or Magritte or Olivier ever "understood" themselves, much less whether Dylan does or doesn't. This though is factual: while I may never understand Dylan, I find him artistically enchanting in probably a dozen ways. And after patiently slogging through the prose which awaits below, you may conclude the previous sentence was an understatement.
If you hope to understand Dylan or even any of his typically opaque lyrics, don't bother with my not-so-little nonfiction narrative below, peppered with scores of jokes along the way. You may not find my gags funny, anyway. If so, sorry; I'm a better writer than I ever was a standup comic, or even a radio personality, where I had much talent but not quite enough success. No, if you want to be exposed at least to the Dylan he allows the world to see, you're better off with any of the better biographies, which may or may not textually do Dylan justice. Or better, just watch for yourself any of the hundreds if not by this point thousands of extant visual and vocal variations on Dylan 1963-2009 now floating inside YouTube.
Or catch Dylan's latest personal reboot—probably booted and under some nifty hat, to boot—for yourself next time The Neverending Tour comes rockin' and rollin' down the road. But as shall be repeatedly demonstrated in not-quite-living-color below, you gotta look fast.
What you won't get below is more than a peek at the Mobius-strip Neverending Tour he's been on since 1988 and continuing through this very day in Denmark, as so tragically but fictively portrayed at this essay's outset. Since as you'll see, the perspective I'm offering is one peering back from the front-end terminus of The Neverending Tour. But as it happens, I've only talked to Dylan once since 1988—on the evening of Valentine's Day 1992 in Toledo—so fortunately for those readers intrigued herein only by the actual words Dylan has spoken to me here or there, every one of the many earlier chats happened to have occurred prior to the commencement of The Neverending Tour. And thus will be eligible and shall—eventually, if not just yet—turn up in the Neverending Paragraph.
By the way, my fictional radio obituary at the top of this essay wasn't a merely handy literary device concocted to draw the reader into this seemingly-endless piece; it really happened like that while I was listening to AM radio. This much you must understand: I consider myself a pretty decent writer, though a good percentage of my readers insist I'm incapable of clarity. But clear or confusing, my writing is nonfiction. Redundant prose really annoys me, but please indulge me one reiterative sentence: this entire essay is a work of nonfiction.
True, the character whose voice you shall never hear in the Neverending Paragraph is fictional, for as I'll report, in fact I was alone that first-ever Neverending night. And no, I've no idea what this ghost's name is, and unlike many of the gullible callers heard on Coast-to-Coast AM, I don't believe in ghosts anyway. So just imagine I was gabbin' so much at him—or her?—that I never got around to asking my unseen pal's name after we first met that afternoon while converging on the Concord Pavilion and then agreeing to attend together what we had no idea would by the ensuing century be recognized as an historic concert. But everything else which follows, either in the Neverending 'Graph or any of the remaining paragraphs of this extenuated introduction, either I witnessed or have solid reportorial reason to believe is true.
So besides my non-existent interlocutor, all the rest are real people—if shrouded by fanciful names shared by lyrical characters who had by that 1988 point popped up in Dylan tunes. And these things really happened. And if I'm half the journalist I think I can fairly claim to be, this paints an accurate portrait of each vignette. Now some of this still just ain't gonna seem so, because you'll understandably think, No, that's gotta be a joke, too. Or an exaggeration.
Well, I'm an exaggeration, arguably. Of the human specimen. But if there's one person who requires no exaggeration, it's Dylan. Indeed, he seems naturally self-embellishing, but seldom intentionally. So shall I fib to bump up Dylan? He not only doesn't require it, it would be tantamount to my insisting Dylan let me play kettle drums on his next acoustic album.
Lest anyone think I have not a critical word regarding Dylan's oeuvre, you should know I find this terrifically-talented tunesmith perfectly capable of writing dreadfully bad songs. "Yea! Heavy! And a Bottle of Bread", "The Mighty Quinn (Quinn the Eskimo)" , and "Apple Suckling Tree", for instance, are each decidedly substandard compositions, even though each of the former pair and all three extant "Apple Suckling" takes feature estimable vocals, both primary from Dylan, as well as backing from The Band. But those particular songs are lyrically lame, to put it politely. Yet were I to solely list those as exemplifying the most slothful or careless of Dylan's prodigious songwriting efforts, you might erroneously presume I've really got it in for The Basement Tapes, the informal late-'60s upstate New York sessions during which each of those duds misfired. While in fact, such fellow Basement artifacts as "Sign on the Cross" and "Clothesline Saga" and "I'm Not There (1956)" are simply magnificent and among the most probing Dylan moments ever. Whereas "Lenny Bruce"—a 1981 lyrical and melodic throwaway from the otherwise-much-underrated Shot of Love—as a composition may actually be as narratively-simplistic as its comedian-subject was bombastically brilliant. So if songs of this other, negative Dylan caliber had been the best he'd ever mustered since Minnesota…well, I'd surely then have had a lot more lovely listening time over these last 37 years for Crosby and Clapton and Caruso and Cline and Sinatra and Streisand and Sade and The Allman Brothers Band.
I'm not sure I heard you ask, but I'll confide in you anyway: I'm not gay, nor have I ever endured even a single such physical experience. That's of course none of your business, nor probably of much interest to you either, but it is not irrelevant. For I can be ungainly, and often display animated and somewhat effeminate mannerisms, so many people naturally but erroneously assume I am homosexual. This is raised in this essay for one reason alone: had I been gay, I would have never approached Dylan offstage, not even once. For I'd have been therefore intensely fearful that my fascination with Dylan might not ultimately be of the intellectual and musical sort I'd always believed it to be, but was instead rooted in something thoroughly inappropriate and unwelcome.
But that was never a problem. Anyway, regarding writing fiction, save for one unpublished-for-good-reason short story, I've never finished even a paragraph of fiction since maybe seventh grade. Point is, what's below is nonfiction and thus true, with the occasional joke inserted. Whimsically-presented nonfiction, but nonfiction reporting still. A respect for rigorously-confirmed facts and a dash of style—isn't that what graceful writing is supposed to be about? I've always had the impression that was the case, but I wouldn't know, for I didn't learn to craft prose in any high school or college composition class. I figured out writing mostly by attentively reading Newsweek, Time, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and dozens of lesser-known but elegantly-written publications. Zimmerman Blues taught me how to edit more than it did how to write, and much of its laboriously-assembled text in those pre-software days was, alas, embarrassingly sophomoric. (Of course, I started publishing it while a Boston U sophomore.) I was essentially clueless then regarding what constitutes the sort of sophisticated prose—meaning eligible for publication in, say, The New Yorker, as opposed to some mere alternative weekly in New York City—which might be worthy of having Dylan as its subject.
I hope you've sequestered more than a few minutes to complete this essay, which in fact is still in its introductory phase. Because I'm long-winded. Truth is, I don't know how Father put up with me, for unlike my WJR/Detroit and KIRO/Seattle listeners, Dad could never just conveniently click off my volume button back in St. Louis, though I'm sure he turned the radio off more than a few times to better catch whatever was pouring out of his verbose younger son's mouth. To Dad's credit, he listened to me whenever he had the time. And to Dylan's credit, he did too quite a few times, didn't he? Although Lord knows he didn't have to. I fully realize Dylan's got far more important people to interact with than little ol' me, so I'm just flattered and humbled that he let—if not outright so much helped—me cover my story. And y'know, sometimes I'd hear from certain various people who were in a position to know that maybe he even kinda sorta likes me... Nah, I talk too much.
But I reliably know via any number of channels that Dylan used to read Zimmerman Blues. Although yes, I did seriously doubt that when I first started learning of his surprising interest even in much of my publication's detail. In the end, it was as unexpected as it was gratifying to realize my subject knew more about my activities than I'd ever imagined. Up until then, I'd naively presumed he'd never bother remembering much about any of the various talented and quite varied journalists who had come to cultivate an interest in his work.
But about the fiction thing. Everybody has his strength; I trust mine's modifier-dense prose sprinkled with a few jokes. But while Dylan's been making me chuckle almost daily since 1972, I consider him a profoundly serious recording artist. And while I might have seen things from such skewed angles occasionally so as to maybe get some details switched, at least I worry about that. So I'm never going to fib to make myself look good. So I'm going to look bad. And for all I know, you're going to think some of this makes Dylan look bad.
Dylan seems to instinctively keep everyone guessing, and who wouldn't treasure that faculty? I'm hardly so fortunate. No, my style is radio. Or at least commercial newstalk radio, where credibility is everything and the specificity Dylan has made a career out of avoiding is instead highly valued. I had some serious success on the air in Detroit and Seattle, and also made a few waves in the San Francisco Bay Area and Albuquerque. But throughout both of my unusual careers, I've always recognized and been embarrassed by my various shortcomings: first, during those years as an underground rock journalist riding a one-of-a-kind wave where there always was the chance of a spectacular wipe-out of one sort or another. And then eventually as an adult Asperger's-addled apolitical newstalk radio host cultivating a regional following while propagating conversation at 186,282 miles per second via waves of electromagnetic radiation. Because all along, I've at base merely been this earnest math nerd from suburban St. Louis.
My KIRO listeners around the Seattle-Tacoma region would back me up on that, even those who for whatever reason found my broadcasting style difficult to enjoy. And yes, considerably more people didn't like The Bryan Styble Program on KIRO than did appreciate my wee-hours work over that remarkable signal which reaches much of the nighttime Northwest. Sorry, comes with the territory, for I'm apparently just not a very likable guy. Now, the suits all claim that's actually an asset in commercial newstalk radio, but I'm glad I'm out of the field if it's an endeavor where you must be widely despised to be successful. I suppose I might blame all this on G-d, if I didn't agnostically doubt His existence. I'm proud I've got decent smarts, but in my particular pedantic case, it so happens it's just about my only strong suit—a nerd usually more interested in collecting facts than opinions but blessed with a terrific, some say remarkable memory. That's my skill set. So I pick up the trail of a story with downright historical dimensions in 1972, and the result is what you're reading in 2009.
But of course I was necessarily Dylanologically-sidetracked in 1989, when my commercial newstalk radio hosting career finally got rolling. Even early on, I was one of the precious few radio newstalkers absolutely uninterested in convincing my listeners to agree with me politically. Nearly all the other newstalkers around the country on the AM band, prominent or obscure, were on the air to sway votes. Or attract dollars. And usually both.
In my case, I finally made serious money in newstalk radio; I was tremendously overpaid during my career-concluding gig at the "heritage"—meaning strong-signaled, long-standing and influential—station KIRO/Seattle. But only for what seemed like about the duration of a long commercial break. Two years for the great bucks, in fact, out of my three-year KIRO run. The rest of my 19 years in commercial newstalk radio, comparatively few bucks, and for a couple years there, virtually no bucks.
The local press reaction along the way? They mostly ignored me—we-newsguys-never-stay-up-that-late was the feeble story radio-beat writers peddled to me to excuse their never coming through on their oft-promised coverage of my offbeat and eclectic overnight show after a year or more in a given market. And when they did cover my work, they didn't always like the wordiness they heard. But when a Detroit newspaper critic—and a Harvard man as well!—rhapsodized about my broadcast's range of subjects and my principled fair-mindedness with not only guests but every caller as well, and also even recognized that "Styble is one of the few hosts anywhere in newstalk radio who understands a heated discussion need not be uncivil", well, I knew my radio work was reaching at least someone as clearly as Dylan had been reaching me since 1972.
But oddly, famously liberal Seattle displays little interest in Dylan, or even much respect for this onetime Hendrix contemporary, at least based on the numerous—but always off-air—conversations I've had about the recording artist since arriving here in March 2005. Oh yes: Seattle listeners even found my voice annoying! That's if those ideologically-driven bloggers—who never seemed to notice how generally apolitical my show typically was—are to be believed. And of course they shouldn't be trusted, because in some twisted spirit of guerrilla para-journalism, Seattle bloggers scurrilously ignore the journalistic ethical rules I'm proud to scrupulously uphold. Not to mention literally placing quotes around things I never came close to saying, an annoyance Dylan himself has frequently complained of over the decades. (I retain a tape of my every broadcast, if only to disprove every various character-assassinating attempt some blogger nastily made by misquoting or even fantasizing things never said on or off the air; I've also, uh, got a lot of rare Dylan recordings on tape.)
But yeah, the biggest surprise was that so much of blogging Seattle so detests my speaking style, though that unexpected realization did serve as a tip-off to how irrational ideologues inexplicably got when listening to my decidedly non-ideological show. For you see, in earlier cities along my commercial newstalk broadcasting career, even my most critical callers would often compensatingly volunteer, "But Bryan, I gotta say, you've got an absolutely terrific radio voice." Still, I admit I seldom like hearing it; Dylan's has always sounded sweeter to my ear.
Few of the folks I meet in Seattle seem more than only dimly aware of Dylan, much less are interested in his career. Which both does and doesn't make sense. Does, because lots of people don't like him as a recording artist, which is why he's always been more respected than popular. But also doesn't, because his package is so alien to what most people expect for their art or entertainment that you'd figure the famously literate Seattle crowd would find his idiosyncrasies intellectually intriguing. Of course, most people just can't get past his voice. Make that voices. And that's probably two-thirds of country right there.
So Dylan's a niche act, no doubt about it. And for what it's worth, I'm a second-wave Dylanologist; Weberman is not merely a decade my senior, but was astute enough to catch the Dylan wave early on, whereas I never noticed the artist's significance until 1972. And from my 1989 radio talk host debut—a non-musical interview with Palm Springs mayor and onetime Dylan pal Sonny Bono, by happenstance—on through to the apparent end of my radio career just last year, by professional priority and necessity I neglected covering, much less ever actually writing up, the ever-continuing Dylan story. And it just may be evidence of my arrested adolescence that I must say, it has been fun to write about all this again. Actually, maybe what's really going on is that I'm just hearing a lot of the music for the first time in decades. Nah, it's surely just revisiting what it felt like to be in my 20s and 30s, instead of my 50s awaiting old age. By the way, I've never formally interviewed Dylan, on radio or for print. It was actually supposed to happen once in 1981, but bad follow-up. On my part, not his.
But while I've never sat down to interview him in an office in Santa Monica or at a resort in Tucson or backstage in St. Louis, I did, as it happened, come face to face with him in each of those locales, as well as a lot of other settings in other states. There are many surprises in what you'll read below; one might even say it's a theme. One obvious surprise is, I never imagined Dylan as a radio personality, never once. I mean as a disc jockey, though I did often envision myself as one eventually. But my radio career would ironically take me in a decidedly non-musical direction.
To this day, the only times I've ever earned money spinning records—we commercial radio folk never count our college radio experience—were in discotheques in Boston, St. Louis and Houston in the late '70s. And by the way, from all those boogie nights in all those clubs, I can count on precisely one finger the number of requests I ever had to play a Dylan record. One can only imagine the reaction of the stylishly-dressed crowd that night at King's Row—across the street from Boston Red Sox home Fenway Park, incidentally—had I not disappointed this nice lady, who hoped I had in our DJ booth Dylan's original acoustic version of "Don't Think Twice, It's Alright", but added she'd be satisfied just to hear it by The Four Seasons, a truly ghastly cover of the ballad which Frankie Valli's vocal quartet had improbably cracked the charts with in '65.
Of course, now it's fully a third of a century removed from the Disco Era that we find ourselves, here in the Internet Age. And I suppose there's a chance someday soon I'll learn this essay has actually been read by its very subject, given how universally and easily text can now be accessed. Though G-d knows what Dylan's reaction might be to what follows below. At this writing, Dylan remains oh so very alive and professionally active, and if G-d is up there or out there or over there somewhere, I sure hope He keeps this Social Security recipient healthy and going for however long those two can agree. And you'll surely doubt this, but even if I had a chance to eavesdrop on Dylan speaking to G-d, I swear I'd recuse myself unless I got word from each party that it was cool. But of course it would never be. Because I'm not cool.
If I were, then maybe I'd have become a big radio success, instead of having to be more than contented just to be a minor broadcasting has-been. But that's okay, it was a great run and great fun nonetheless, just as the Dylanology thing had been earlier. And doubt me if you'd like, but I'd ever keep my distance from that confiding pair. Because I'm a painfully polite fellow, or at least try to be while stumbling into someone or the furniture.
But I digress. I have a problem with that, as you may have noticed. And just maybe not coincidentally, Dylan seemingly does too. His interests are so wide-ranging—to understate it—that merely observing him striving to take it all in takes you to some surprising places. And you're liable to lose track of how he you got there while you meet all kinds of fascinating people. And sometimes I even forgot for a few moments how utterly incongruous it was for a kid from the southern suburbs of St. Louis to somehow hold his own in the same crowd that includes a guy like Dylan.
Check that: there is no one like Dylan. That much I know. And nope, I haven't met anywhere nearly every of the six billion people or so now residing on this orb. Nor have I encountered every American, and there's only about a third of a billion of us. But I have known more than my share of people along the way, as anyone close to me could confirm. Well, met and talked to them, at least. And sure, many of these people never had much to say to me other than things like, "Hey, I've gotta run—really wish I had more than a couple secs!" or "Look, you don't need my name, and anyway I'm late, so good luck and if you absolutely require a name, just call me L. Ron Hubbard. I'm outta here." But back to that truism, which I'll even expand: there's nobody even similar to Dylan.
And yes, I realize, there's also nobody precisely like you. Or your mother. And nobody like this certain barber I had in the early '60s. Or your barber. Or mailman. I'm belaboring things here to emphasize an important existential point, without an understanding of which you might only be wasting your time, for in such case most of which follows may seem but hopelessly-confusing prose.
Meanwhile, I could die of a heart attack eight hours from now. Or of a stroke tomorrow, or of whatever whenever, obviously. It's a fact I not only frequently consider, but probably obsess over. And yep, while obsessing or merely worrying or even joking about it or anything else, there's always that possibly-looming meteorite strike. Not one of the dinosaurs-extinction magnitude, but just one of the pebble-sized sort which might quite improbably but not at all impossibly at any moment out of doors and out of the blue impact the back of my head and thus permanently punctuate my existence. On the other hand, I'm already doing a lot better than, say, Sal Mineo (murdered at 37), John Garfield (heart attack at 39), or John Belushi (you know). Anyway, since I may very well never speak to Dylan again, if he does end up reading this—and I'm a decent enough writer that he just might be curious—I'd like to address these particular paragraphs to the recording artist himself, while I've still got the chance:
Thanks for everything, to understate the obvious. And I hope I haven't cramped your style ever, although I surely must have from time to time. And if it would have been more often than that, then I should have been kept away from you in order to better allow you to do what you do. We don't have much in common, but we are both proud Midwesterners who share a certain wanderlust: I've now lived in a dozen American cities, so of course I envy what is surely your intimate acquaintance with literally hundreds if not thousands of locales around the globe you've considered home for a season or a month or a week or just an afternoon. I can no more imagine you spending your entire life in a single region than I would expect you to use your gifts to hurt the defenseless.
I'm only interested in being around those types I term thinkers—and my deepest secret is that those are pretty much the only men or women who usually seek my friendship. But I'm not in this life for friends as much as I am for experience and inspiration. And that's of course why I hang onto your every studio-recorded word. Your wondrous work doesn't reveal many secrets, but it always prompts this lifelong reporter to ask another bunch of questions. And you know far better than I can how those who recoil at your voice are never really listening to you in the first place. A successful software engineering pal here in Seattle who's both a serious Christian and a serious mathematician is someone I've discussed maybe a hundred things with so far. Yet I've never once raised your name much less your music with him. That's because he claims he listens to absolutely nothing but jazz, and that doesn't seem to be an exaggeration; heck, he might even mispronounce it Dye-lan if he came across your name in a magazine. And if I played him that bebop "If Dogs Run Free" track just once, he might become a Dylan admirer instantly. But I haven't as yet, and I doubt I shall, and not merely because I'd rather talk advanced mathematics with him.
You've never needed me nor anyone to ply your case for you—your music has always won its own listeners, and I'm sure you realize my magazine was never about boosting your numbers anyway. At 54, I'm probably way too old for Dylanology, whereas at 67 years you're somehow still in your stride. I proudly finished the Boston Marathon in 1974, my first and last entry in that storied race, just three months after I first found myself in the same building with you, the old Boston Garden. But I've no longer such youthful energy, so you need not worry I might again follow you about this wondrous nation. We met face-to-face as far east as Lowell, Massachusetts, that same day they earlier shot the footage of you and Ginsberg at Kerouac's grave. And we also met as far west as the Pacific Ocean, all those times around your Rundown Studios facility on Main Street in Santa Monica.
And in between and all along, you proved you're an artist, not a teacher. But your unfolding body of work did somehow ideally complement my particular curriculum of life as I pursued my newstalk radio dreams. So now I'm about to tell some of these old stories, toss in a few jokes, and thus allow the rest of your most devoted audience a peek into the world you allowed me to peer into all those years. And if any of this hurts, I'm profoundly sorry, Robert. But you can take comfort in the fact I didn't make anything up, something you could confirm, but of course I'd never ask you to. You'll surely have little trouble seeing my intentions were always upright, just as I recognized the utter uniqueness of your artistic vision pretty much from the first time I paid attention to you. As an artist, you're the class of the class. Because of how you undergird your lyrically-welded beauty with truth. Not that honesty of the depositional sort you're so deft at avoiding with the press, but the more figurative varieties of veracity you so gracefully dispense throughout your work. But of course you already know all this. And which is why I was always so leery of coming off to you or your aides like that earnestly comic buffoon Moe in the one-reelers. And while I was often not alone when you'd see me, I assure you there were no Larrys or Curlys in my journalistic act.
No, Bob, I was always The One Stooge, and I thank you for the repeated access so many times offstage in so many places around this nation. And I promise I'll not emerge uninvited to bug you, should you ever retire. I'd probably just trip into your swimming pool anyway, if not be pushed in by one of your less sensitive hangers-on. But never by you of course, or at least I can't imagine that, and you've enhanced my imagination more than anyone. More than any hundred anyones in fact. On radio I proudly discussed everyone from Aristotle to Zoroaster. But pretty much never Zimmerman Blues on my various AM-band afternoon-drive or night-time newstalk shows down in the Bay Area, in Detroit, out in Albuquerque and most recently up here in Seattle. But not because I'm not flattered whenever someone still seeks my aging Dylanologist's perspective on any of your various current endeavors. Rather, because few of my callers on radio ever sounded like they were in your audience anyway. Well, it was AM newstalk radio, Bob. And a longtime showman—and now also a nifty satellite radio DJ!—like you of course understands how we broadcasters must always "work the format" . But if I couldn't talk then about your music on the air, I can certainly now write about it here; thus this Radioactive Dylan essay. In any case, as far as I was always concerned, all you ever owed me or anyone in your public was an album of your best efforts whenever you felt it was ready. And from what I've heard thus far of Together Through Life, it sounds ready, alright.
I'd strenuously oppose your ever retiring for any reason other than illness. After all, you haven't slowed down much since I first noticed your world in 1972, and if you don't produce those words and tunes, nobody will, because nobody else can. And as you know far better than I could hope to, I don't—and probably can't—truly understand much of anything about your creative ways, except maybe your artistic integrity. You once told me you'd like to sit down at length somewhere and see what kind of questions I might toss your way. Well, I'm prepared, if you'd ever like to reschedule that promised-but-never-collected-on interview. But don't expect Zimmerman Blues: The Next Generation. Speaking of which, you may recall explaining to me backstage in St. Louis your discomfort with that Z-word, and that's why of course I ultimately changed the title, if only for that final issue I dubbed Changin'. But I'm sorry I couldn't go with your suggestion. No, that's a fib: I'm in fact glad I resisted what your aides credibly contended was your own decided preference of Tombstone Blues as my replacement title. While that fateful two-word phrase since 1965 has reigned atop one of your indisputably finest tunes, I'm afraid it would in 1978 have also rained much morbidity down on a little magazine I'm proud was always more about your ups than your downs.
And should you wish to try to enlighten me on the G-d question again or anything else: well, my telephone number is not unlisted, as yours of course must be. On the other hand, I probably get a lot more clowns goofing on me with phony Dylan phone voices than you do. In any case, keep The Neverending Tour rolling as long as you can and want to, and way more important, keep living and looking and thinking and then writing. Maybe we'll talk again sometime, but I'm not counting on it, at least not like I'm counting on getting back home to St. Louis for that total solar eclipse in August 2017. No, I've had more than my share of your attention over the decades.
I typically sign off conversations with the old stand-by, "So long and good luck". But you seem to have been blessed with almost as much good fortune over your time on this planet as you were gifted with talent. And the "So long" part doesn't apply either, because every time I hear another studio collection from you, I'm reminded that that sort of one-sided "conversation" is the only kind of talk you ever owed me. Although yeah, I admit, it sure was interesting speaking with you all those times. I don't understand much about you, but I get the strong impression you're more of a monologue than a dialogue person, and fortunately for so many of us, your monologues are one-hundred percent musical.
There. This essayist much appreciates your indulgence through that unprecedented—for me, at least—textual aside, and I now may resume addressing you, the more, ahem, general reader. And I'll try to get back on track quickly. Or, maybe not quite so quickly.****
As noted much earlier above, Dylan of late and of necessity has been sending his wonderfully-quaint Theme Time Radio Hour broadcasts back to his XM Radio patrons from out on the road, from whichever region of the globe his almost ever-ongoing Neverending Tour happens to be haunting at that particular moment. Now, the Dylan roadshow's title may seem literal, but of course we all know it must cease sometime.
In the meantime, I might point out that The Neverending Tour also had a beginning, although a somewhat obscure one. And through a combination of determination and luck—it was only the second Dylan tour I'd ever caught the debut of—I reached suburban San Francisco to witness it. These days, many Dylan followers claim to have attended this now-all-but-mythical show beneath the off-white permanently-pitched open tent which back in those days shrouded the stage and close-in sections of the otherwise-outdoor Concord Pavilion. But I actually was there.
I can therefore report that, in the end, the kick-off in Concord would prove be one of the least well-attended Dylan concerts that first Neverending Tour year, even though the Dylanesque tour title wouldn't be coined until mid-November 1991 near the Pennsylvania shore of Lake Erie. And yes, Dylan conjured it up himself, off-handedly it sure seemed like, as part of a reply to repeated Dylan interviewer Robert Hilburn of The Los Angeles Times.
But Concord was remarkable in two musical regards, each unprecedented in its own way: in Dylan's very ensemble itself, for this was the first time anywhere since a 1984 NBC television appearance he had publicly performed with but a single guitarist, bassist and drummer. Yet this night in Concord also happened to represent, quite incredibly, the first time ever Dylan would so sideman-sparingly tour since he abandoned solo professional performances in 1965.
The Concord concert was also unique in that it was either hugely augmented or seriously hamstrung by a certain surprise guest superstar, who may or may not have overstayed his onstage welcome with any of the backing trio or even the headliner himself.
What eventually would come to be regarded as the premier of The Neverending Tour on that clear and warm pre-summer Northern California evening in fact I happened to attend alone, as I do many of the Dylan concerts I'm fortunate enough to make the scene of. But you, or anyone, might have accompanied me to that opening-night performance amid the amber rolling hills 22 miles northeast of San Francisco Bay on Tuesday, June 7, 1988. And exiting the tent after the encore, I might even have been asked a certain question, inquiring about the likelihood this new tour might add, say, a European leg—not for the twenty-first time by 2009 mind you, but even just once, perhaps for that ensuing winter, or maybe for early '89. And if my onetime professional Dylanological expertise had been so tapped that Tuesday night two decades ago, I'd probably have profusely and pedantically proffered:
What drug are you on? I'm sure this is just another quickie tour. Look, I'm not proud of this—in fact I'm profoundly embarrassed by it. But as it happens, this one starting tonight here in Concord is now fully the tenth of these darned Dylan tours I've trudged to… I counted 'em up on the drive up from L.A., actually. I was surprised myself—see, I started way later than Weberman and so many of those other hard-core followers. I'd never even seen him on a stage until the '74 comeback tour, so I thought this was about my seventh or eighth so far… Anyway, after all these years I think at least I've got this much figured out about Dylan: he plays out for a couple months or so through a region or two and that's it. Though I gotta say, it's gotta be the first time Neil Young ever sat in for nearly a whole show, opening night or not! That was sure a surprise! But nah, this dude's tours usually wrap pretty quickly. One reason Dylan is so cool is because he understands, maybe intellectually too but I bet just instinctively how ya gotta remain a moving target… No, don't get your hopes up—that's a lot tougher than you'd ever think these days—you oughta see the way his handlers act like they're the Memphis Mafia—they whisk him into the bus and have pulled out most nights before even the house lights are up back at the arena. And then as the crew starts finally laboriously loading up the semis, there are usually a couple dozen of folks still waiting respectfully, pad and pen in hand, hopes slowly fading for an autograph they'll never even get a chance to ask for… Yeah, the other musicians usually end up followin' a half-hour behind or whatever. 'Course this one might be a bit different, 'cause there's only three in the whole band. That's why I wanted to not miss this opening night. But then Neil Young makes it a quintet for almost the entire show! But Young won't be stayin' with him. At least I hope not. I would hate would that actually. And I love Young's work! But he'd just mostly distract Dylan, 'cause he's clearly long been more than just another rock-star friend of Dylan's… Anyway, I don't know how close he gets to most of his sidemen—I've met a lot of 'em, and some seem like they're pals of his, but others just hired hands. He doesn't talk to 'em all, that I know… No, I meant that literally. Nothin'. Not a word. Well, maybe between takes he'll growl "A-flat" or somethin', but that's it, I hear. As for first-hand, I dunno, I never been in the studio with him… No, I didn't! What I did say is that I was down there in Alabama for the Slow Train Coming sessions. We talked to Dylan outside, in the parkin' lot… So anyway, it's hard to say what his relationships with the musicians are. I'm sure every case is different. And that's all other things bein' equal, of course. But you could say that phrase is totally alien to this guy. 'Cause everybody's always complainin' or maybe just marvelling about how moody he is… Well sure, but who knows, man? Oh, and 'member what that guitar player for the opening act tonight told me when I was talking to him over to the right of the stage late this afternoon: "Man it's opening night, and I still haven't yet even met him yet!" I don't know if he meant hasn't shaken his hand yet, or never even seen him even at a distance… Yeah, that's right, the first moment we saw him tonight could also quite possibly been the first time he'd ever seen him in the flesh, if he'd never caught one of his concerts over the years!… I dunno, I didn't ask his name. I don't even know the name of his band, though they seem pretty talented and original! Look, I don't cross the country for Dylan's opening acts… That's certainly possible. Yeah, Dylan's always rehearsin' off on his own I gather. Dylan was back in Brooklyn for at least a couple weeks they were sayin'. And I forgot to mention this durin' the show: Marshall Crenshaw, of all people, was supposed to be playin' bass for him this summer!—but then some kinda dust-up supposedly happened in New York, and it's Kenny Aaronson not Crenshaw tonight. Who knows? Anyway, Young tonight really ended up pretty much just gettin' in the way—he's way more animated than I am, at least once the drummer kicks in. Look, I really hate to trash Young—I love a lot of his work as much as Dylan does—I mean, you should see Dylan with his arm around him at Chasen's! That was just a couple years ago, I think that's the night Dylan pulled up with Liz Taylor on his arm… She was definitely there with him, but I always get this mixed up. 'Cause I think there's some other footage from Chasen's another time I've seen, sorry, it's tough to keep all this straight… Well, thank you! I love tellin' these stories, but nobody in my life cares much about him. My father's not 25 months gone—and I'd be compromising his integrity to say he ever saw the point of this Dylan thing. In fact, he didn't much like him or his music, but I won't sell short the one person I've ever deeply loved—he just never really listened to Dylan, for whatever reason, even though he did buy me Highway 61 Revisited, and for Christmas. But though he got me my all-time favorite album, he never "got" the guy who recorded it. Well, it's hard enough for most people to see his specialness, even when they do listen to him… Well, a few galpals over the years, but not most. About five years ago I was living with this wonderfully sexy woman, Sally Gal. Now she was a serious Springsteen aficionado. Yet Sally Gal was ninety percent clueless about how Dylan's different, not just from her idol, but from everyone. Which granted makes her still eight percent better than the rest of the population, but no, Sally Gal likes Bruce. And so do I, a lot actually, but Springsteen's range is still severely limited. He's a typically talented artist in that regard—very, very good at a very specific thing or two, and that's it… Well, any two-trick pony's still got me beat by two musical tricks, that's for sure! But very astute of you, by the way—you're precisely correct about the idol part; Dylan has never been any idol of mine, even before I'd talked to him enough times to now at least say I kinda sorta know at least the public Dylan, he's always been in my mind my journalistic story… Now before we split up, you gotta hear 'bout The Neighborhood Bully, because he's one of the keys to so much of this. I had just watched Dylan depart in his Mercedes after having spoken with him for about twenty-five minutes in the fall of 1980 when I heard these excited words emanating from across the side-street: “Congratulations on your interview!” They came from the lips of a man standing in a doorway, and who had until then completely escaped my notice. I had, after all, been rather preoccupied during the previous half-hour. Just twenty feet to the south admiringly stood The Neighborhood Bully. He’s a good-sized guy with something of a paunch, a sad-faced 30something fellow, and he happens to look vaguely like my favorite Stooge, Larry Fine! I would later come to know that The Neighborhood Bully was not a fellow who typically was prone to smiling. But at that Dylan-departing moment his face was lit up, something I could discern even in the low-level light illuminating us that Tuesday night… No, this is all going down right outside Dylan's Santa Monica office. Anyway, The Neighborhood Bully clearly wanted to debrief me on what had just happened. Of course, I had had nary a chance to think about it, much less intellectually and emotionally digest everything that had just occurred, 'cause Dylan had covered a lot of territory with me that night. But based on his own declaration, it was also evident that the Neighborhood Bully didn’t realize I was there merely to converse with, not interview, the artist. Now I didn't get to know him very well that night, he was guarded and asking all the questions anyway. But I got to know him well, still do in fact, and he had the most amazing story to tell. See, it wasn't just happenstance that put his office across a small sidestreet from Dylan's headquarters. He leased that space so he could sit across the alley from the same guy I had been straining my life to watch… But of course with this Dylan character, there's always the poof factor—remember that stairwell story! But I guess my loose grip on the Chasen's thing at least proved to you I don't sit around the house watchin' Dylan videos all the time, 'cause I'm sure havin' a hard time remembering this. My family was always bewildered about how there didn't seem to be any focus to my interests… Narrow-interest was never my thing, and I'm actually proud of that, and could prove how useful it is if some program director ever gives me a shot! But I won't be mean to my callers just to get attention to my show, like so many of those radio talkers seem to. Don't they realize their callers in effect book themselves as guests on their shows and therefore are due courtesy even whenever they're way less articulate than the host, who's supposed to be better-spoken anyway, else he'd never have gotten the microphone in the first place?… No, I'm serious about this: for even if Dylan's artistic thrust were to even hinted at a similar mean-spiritedness in his underlying character, I have to say, that just might break my fascination with his musical art. But he's never violated that: he's a sensitive guy. Anyway, it was the Songwriters Hall of Fame thing. They inducted Hal David too. Maybe his songsmith partner Burt Bacharach too… No, not Dylan's partner, David's! Dylan almost always composes alone, didn't I make that clear earlier? Sure, he's co-written a lot of tunes over the years, and with some of the greats, but Dylan's main artistic mode of operation has almost always been a self-contained kind of thing. I mean, Van Gogh didn't need any painting contemporary of his to add brushstrokes to Starry Night… Oh, I dunno, I never try to keep track all of that stuff. Bob Seger's in that footage too, and he's lookin' nearly as stylish as Dylan and Liz did that day… Are you kiddin'? No, I was workin' at the law office probably that day. It was on a Monday or Tuesday or somethin'. And early too, like 4 or 5 o'clock… 'Cause ya gotta be on the lists they're workin' from! Some PR babe is callin' every TV station in town beggin' 'em to send over crew for B-roll, if not a reporter… Well, of course I'd bolt the law office for an afternoon if somebody called me up about this! But I woulda just have to had watched it from outside, my press pass wouldn't have done anything for me there I wouldn't think. I'd have never made it past the maître d' in that place, anyway. And even if so, what then? Hey Stybes, what's up! Wanna dine with me and Miss Taylor? I'm sure it woulda happened just like that! So why didn't you call me, man?… Sure, sometimes I get a tip—that was how I got into the press conference in '86. Or how I found out about it, at least, with absolutely no notice. But then I got in by just being a good reporter… They didn't know who I was. No, I gave 'em my name, but they didn't know I was intrigued by Dylan. So there was safety in numbers for me at this one, because press conferences in L.A. are well-attended, at least when there's a chance to question a star of Dylan's or even Petty's magnitude… As it happened, by the time I got credentialed, I was walking into the hallway just as they brought the artist down the adjacent stairs a step behind and to Petty's right. Dylan passed right in front of me, and nearly bumped me actually. But I'm polite, so I got out of his way… Nah, he's the only one who's like this. If he were to die, don't for a second think that I'd just start doin' any of this for whoever Number Two is. Fact is, I've never compiled that list, though it would be short. Dylan's at the top, and there's no Number Two. Or G-d knows what that list would be like, and you know I don't believe there's a G-d hearin' any of this stuff anyway, even though I always agnostically wish there were… And yes, I understand the irony or whatever ya wanna call it about my interest in Dylan and his faith in G-d. His presumed faith, that is. I mean, it's not like Dylan had never found G-d before his so-called conversion. John Hammond probably knew him as well as anyone, at least early on, and he insisted to Dick Cavett in 1980 that Dylan had been an atheist in the earlier stages of his career, but then became serious about his Jewish background later. And of course Weberman always insisted Dylan was a closet Zionist… Well, yeah, that was the weirdest of all, no doubt about it. But was it the real deal? Sure seemed like it. Lots of Dylan acqaintances complained to the press about how annoying or oblivious Dylan had been acting with all this, right after the conversion at least. I've never seen Dylan convincingly act on film, and anyway I can't imagine his just pullin' some sort of extended act for his circle of people. And who on Earth would want to make Jesus the butt of some elaborate practical joke? Besides, I had some private time with Dylan in 1980 that convinced me how serious he was about it. Meanwhile, at least ya don't have to presume stuff with me. And besides, I'm not smart enough to make even a hundredth of this up… Okay, okay, I don't blame ya, man. So back to Culver City: as soon as I got the word, I rushed over to the press conference, which wasn't too tough—my apartment was literally about 40 feet from the Culver City border… No, it was still a good three miles, 'cause my place was on the extreme western edge and the place where all this is goin' down is on the eastern edge of Culver City, and it's a weirdly-configured city anyway for G-d knows what reason… No! That was 1980! I told you, this is March 1986. Didn't I? If not, I'm sorry. And I'm sorry you got stuck with such a nattering knucklehead in the parkin' lot, let's be honest. But speaking of honesty, who else is gonna own up to coming within a hair's breadth of crushing his hero to death!… Nah, A.J. was always just a lot better cut out for all this than some nerd from St. Louis. For one reason, because Weberman carries a considerably larger frame than I do, which was an issue there on Elizabeth Street in October of '71. I mean, if Weberman hadn't had quite a few pounds on Kid Bobby that afternoon, that sidewalk bout might have been a T.K.O. At least I hope all those witnesses wouldn't have been so starstruck that they'd not pulled Dylan off poor A.J. before any real damage was done. Weberman later said he'd momentarily considered punching back, but then he realized just what, and who, he'd be hitting… Yeah, Weberman was always all about provoking Dylan in some way or another. And he sure succeeded in a manner I would never want, much less be able to deal with… Oh, they say there were all kinds of fluctuations in Dylan's relationship with Weberman over the years. And I don't want you to think I was ever close to Weberman, much less friends with him. I've only met him or talked to him probably seven or eight times total, and a couple of those didn't even much have much to do with Dylan, 'cause Weberman's involved in all kinds of political things. I ran into him quite by accident in the Midwest once, for instance… Nope, Dylan was nowhere in sight! Don't think Dylan's the kinda celebrity who makes the scene at national political conventions! Especially G.O.P. ones! See, it was the Republican convention in Kansas City, Kemper Arena, a building Dylan's played a time or two himself actually. This was the last contested convention, the one where Reagan nearly snatched the nomination away from President Ford. I'm there 'cause a college radio pal had finagled credentials back east. He invited me to head over from St. Louis and be one of his reporters. I went there with Hollis Brown, who helped me on Zimmerman Blues, actually. And then, while we're in K.C., someone mentions that Weberman's in town. They tell me he's stayin' at this huge old house the Yippies were using as the base of their protest operation that week! So I find the place and it's got all kinds of people milling around in and out, it's on a pretty good-sized property… And somebody goes in and finds him for me, and it turns out not only Weberman is there, but so is legendary underground musician not to mention noted Dylan-crowd hanger-on David Peel! Now the Yippies are characteristically not displaying any organization, to put it politely. So while Weberman is paging through the latest Zimmerman Blues which I'd just handed him, I asked Weberman how much he was politically involved with these Yippies, and he responds, "Nah, man. For me this is basically just a vacation". Now I gotta say, the born-and-bred New Yorker who became the world's first Dylanologist considering my humble home state of Missouri a worthy vacation destination made me proud! I mean, Weberman was never much less remote in my mind than Dylan himself, because he was so close to Dylan himself, or so it seemed. Now, for whatever reason, even when Zimmerman Blues was happenin' big-time, Weberman seemed only casually interested in it anyway. He'd moved on to the JFK assassination and other things during those years. But of course I was always interested in what he was doing, because of this strange relationship he had with Dylan himself—I mean, everybody's heard about Dylan jumping Weberman, but just as weird was how he'd talked to Dylan on the phone so many times and even negotiated with him regarding articles he was about to publish. And then more than an hour of those taped conversations ending up being bootlegged, for Heaven's sake!… And how Weberman had otherwise interacted with him here and there at least in '70 and '71—they both were Greenwich Village residents at the time and it ain't that big a part of New York City. But by '72 Dylan was already starting to shift his base of operations to California and proximity is a consideration, obviously… And naturally it was always my fear that I might somehow inadvertently find myself also in Dylan's sights. I mean, how that must have felt to have Dylan himself clobbering you! In broad daylight in the Village! So I always knew this was a potentially high-stakes game I was playing, even though I sure wasn't trying to pick any fights, even on paper. But anyway, about the press conference: it's the run-up to the Petty tour, and it's over at Westwood… Right! But how'd you know that? I thought you didn't follow radio! Anyway, I guess you then also know that somewhere quite nearby this Westwood One facility, maybe right under our feet, was the very onetime MGM backlot where Rhett first spied Scarlett descending that staircase… Yeah! From what I've read, every frame, or darned near at least, of Gone With the Wind was shot there somewhere on that tract, and now we got Dylan, who's a Clark Gable fan by the way, sittin' there, lookin' sometimes bored, sometimes impish, sometimes reflective on the very same property. And it was a really odd look, even for him, for he's wearing this goofy straw hat… No, not a sombrero!… Well, I can't stop laughing!… I'm sorry! Oh, no I'm not! I needed a side-splitter after all we've seen tonight! Oh, wouldn't it have been fun if, instead of Young slouching all over the stage for most of the concert, we instead got Dylan tryin' out a five- or six-minute stand-up comedy routine between musical sets? I'll be his Ed McMahon, and I'd be a great Ed for him!… Sorry: the hat was a narrow-brimmed Panama or somethin', why doncha watch the video if you're so curious! Look, I don't know hats! But I know Dylan. Oh no I don't; I've met him. Anyway, dig this: he's smokin' there at the Culver City presser! Just flickin' the ashes in his ashtray while he seems to be contemplating his next question dodge. And he's generating some serious laughter amongst the scribes, like when he succinctly summarizes the biggest difference between touring in '66 and '86: "The accommodations." … Of course I did! Your reporter on the scene Styble actually got in three questions plus follow-ups on two of 'em by the time they were done! I don't think anyone else got a third; it was a crowded presser. Inside I hooked up with Jokerman, who had given me the tip a couple hours earlier, and I'm not sure in the end Jokerman had asked any. And I'd once introduced him to Dylan… No, that was in '84. Anyway, can we get back to the Chasen's thing? The only reason I ever brought Chasen's up was not because I love to talk about Liz, although I could, I've seen nearly all of her films, at least the ones she made as an adult. But I gotta tell ya this: she's mentioned in a song on Dylan's second record… '63, yeah, Burton's in there too. Well, maybe I do wanna talk just about Liz for a second, 'cause this has absolutely nothing to do with Dylan, but it does have to do with growing up. But it's a pure Elizabeth Taylor story, I promise. See, it so happens that her exposed backside early in Cleopatra wasn't merely one of the first times I'd seen a female rear, it was the first time. First time on film, first time in life, never before in a magazine, never at a swimming pool, literally the first time ever anywhere. And I look up to Dad on my left, and even over at Mom to his left, but of course I looked right back at Taylor laying there, I dunno how long the shot lasts, it coulda only been two seconds, but it seemed like 10 or 11. Dylan's like that too—even if he's in your face just for a couple moments, it feels like a good while, that's the stairwell story, that's for sure… I dunno, I guess '63, '62 I can't remember, but I don't think it was out for more than two or three weeks before they succumbed to my askin', and we went an saw it downtown at a Sunday matinee. Anyway, so much for Liz. I was tryin' to tell you about all the different stations coverin' the Chasen's thing. So you get a lotta angles, and you know Dylan the guy you're lookin' at from the right may or may not look that all much like the guy you're seeing from the left! That's why I'm always walking around at the concerts, and that's in turn why I almost always attend Dylan shows alone. And anyway I don't like sitting much, everybody complains about that. Have a seat, relax they say, and they sometimes seem offended when I tell 'em I'd rather stand. I think better when I'm standing. If I can ever con my way onto the radio again I'm gonna do talk radio standing up… Right, sorry. So here's the deal: Dylan looks weird in a lot of this footage. There's a buncha different L.A. stations' reports on it. It mighta been Entertainment Tonight footage. Whatever it is, the point is Dylan looks, I dunno, maybe buzzed, maybe giddy, but the way he's hangin' his arm over Young's shoulder is memorable… No, I dunno if I can call it another surprise. It's just real interesting footage, that's all. Again, this ain't me hallucinating, most the people who look at it roll it back or a second look. But the reason it ain't a surprise is because they're friends. More than that actually. They're close friends. Or so I hear. So either buzzed or whatever, the arm-over-the-shoulder thing goes on for a longer time than you'd expect. That's what's weird… No! Come on! I mean, sure there was this story once in Australia back in '66, but that read like an elaborate joke to me and a lot of other people, so don't be silly. And it's none of my business anyway! Just 'cause I'm a Reaganite don't make the mistake of thinkin' I'm a homophobe. Jeeze. And for that matter, Reagan's no homophobe, either, that's a myth! Oh, speakin' of him—dig this: when I see Dylan and Liz in that Chasen's booth, I always wonder if they're in Ron and Nancy's old booth… I don't know the details of that story, but I know the Reagans actually got engaged there, maybe with Bill Holden who was later his best man connected in there at Chasen's that same night somehow… Say, that's not a bad idea! But ya know, Chasen's ain't just another fancy L.A. restaurant, it's mega-expensive and exclusive. I never been in the buildin', but of course anyone who lives in L.A.'s probably been by it a hundred times, it's in a pretty important part of town… I told you, it's none of my business. A buncha my pals in L.A. are in that scene. Oh, and I got the lousiest gaydar around, or so I'm told. Found that out in the weirdest way. It's a radio story that you might think I'm makin' up… No, later. No time for that one now, man!… Okay, okay. So this guy Louie the King, was this fellow I worked with at the traffic-reporting service on L.A. radio. I dunno how it got started, but I started kidding Louie the King about being gay. And I swear there was exactly zero reason for me to think that. I assumed Louie the King was straight, though I can't even say I believed he was straight, because I never thought about it. But if someone woulda asked me if I thought Louie the King was gay, I'd said, "Whatever makes you say that?" So somehow it became a long-running gag between me and Louie the King, and then after I left the radio gig a year later, he calls me up, it's great to hear from ya, what's goin' on at the traffic network and all that, and then Louie the King quite matter-of-factly adds: "Bryan, I thought you might like to know I'm gay." I was absolutely floored. Still am, thinking back to it!… No, he had a smile in his voice the whole time. Anyway, I don't know how Louie the King came up, because I'm not sure he much respects Dylan. Don't remember ever talkin' to him about Dylan, in fact. We were always talking radio. But you know somethin'? By weird circumstance, Louie the King did chat for a bit once with Echo Helstrom! That's the woman Dylan supposedly wrote "Girl of the North Country on his second record about!... Say, you're right—it is on Nashville Skyline, too! Hey, the newcomer trumps Dylanologist at his own game, way to go, man! Anyway, Louie the King met Echo at my apartment, oddly enough. This was at a party I hosted on a rainy winter night… Well, she had a different last name by that point, but she was still goin' by Echo! And still lookin' great, with this sort of European kinda middle-aged exotic beauty thing goin' on. Now, Echo had not merely famously been Dylan's high school girlfriend, but actually ended up being the virtual centerpiece of one of the first books ever published about Dylan, Toby Thompson's Positively Main Street… And she had told me more than a couple times that Dylan would still call her up about this or that in those days! Now I barely knew her—she was a friend of a friend of a friend who was living in L.A. by then, remember this was a quarter-century after she and Dylan were hot and heavy. But even though I hardly knew her, she still was kind enough come by for a while. But she of course didn't talk of her Bobby Zimmerman background while there, nothin' like that of course, so Louie the King never knew who he was talking to until I told him a week later. But this was earlier, in '83. Oh, and Louie the King also happens to be the guy who first convinced me I oughta try newstalk radio. And Louie the King had many years in radio, up in Alaska and down there in Hollywood. So it had special import to me when he said I not only could handle it, but that my mind and speaking style are even ideal for it!… Nah, I could never let those radio guys and gals at the traffic-reporting service know about the Dylan thing, 'cause that'd never work. In the radio biz, association with Dylan, even if you personally know him, is only respected, if at all, on the FM band… No, all those broadcasters, many of them considerably more talented or at least experienced than me, they knew I have a certain serious respect for him, but probably no more than I do for pretty much all the rock greats. All they knew was that I'm into music, with of course I am, much more widely-based than just some hopeless Dylan freak. And of course they never knew about any of this. Besides, I got lucky with my timing for once, because my years as a traffic reporter were '82 to '85, and Dylan just happened to not tour the States during those years anyway… Because I can't remember what section I parked in!… Anyway, who really knows about any of this stuff? Look, the main reason I don't like Young up there with him is I been waitin' for years for Dylan to quit that orchestra-sound excess—a decade ago in '78, even though I loved his vocalizing that tour, but jeeze he musta had a dozen singers and musicians behind him up there. He can live without a percussionist, for Heaven's sake! All he ever needs is a good rhythm section as far as I'm concerned. But I'm glad G.E. Smith's playin' lead for him on this tour, he can always use that of course. Actually, you oughta hear Dylan's own lead work, which we got almost none of tonight… No, it's primitive, man, little more than just going up and down scales. And not great primitive like his piano playing almost always is. Though when he plays keyboards it's like his lead guitar notes, nothin' special—but that's easy to understand, because the feel of weighted keys completely affects how you produce the music on a piano, and always for the better. At least in my case, and I'm not someone you'd consider even a decent pianist. Yeah, Dylan's piano work I love. That's an understatement, actually! Man, if they're marooning us on a desert island and he only gets one instrument, I'd encourage him to take the piano over the guitar. 'Course he gets the harp with either, 'natch… Man, can you imagine if Dylan had somehow just never played harmonica? I can't, not for even for a second—and I got a powerful imagination; learned that from Dylan himself! But it's sure an interesting question… No, that's not what I meant—of course there's loads of times he doesn't play it regularly, at least in public, for a year or more. For whatever unfathomable reasons. I don't know if it's on Slow Train Coming for even a moment, I don't think! No, what I meant is, had he just started out doin' the folk thing like he did and for whatever reason he just doesn't try playin' harp. How might his art have differently evolved? I'd never really considered that before just now!… Well, thank you! You're not the first one to notice I kinda specialize in thinkin' differently about this artist. Maybe the proudest moment in my entire Dylanology career was when this hard-core fan I'd known quite well over the years, The Guilty Undertaker, who's seen many more Dylan concerts than I ever have, by the way, observed, "Yeah, Bryan, you're one of only maybe four or five people who've ever had an original thing to say about him"… But "credentialed expert" or not, I really can't see it, for harmonica is somehow something way more than merely a core element of his sound. It's like some kinda golden thread runnin' through his art… Oh, deceptively hard! Ain't an easy instrument just 'cause it's only got ten holes! I can never get the tongue thing happenin', so I don't even try anymore. I guarantee you'd rather hear me play guitar than harp, and ya wouldn't want that either. But back to the Neil Young thing: he shoulda just popped on for a couple or three tunes and gone backstage and hung out. I doubt he woulda been lonely back there tonight. But anyway, with or without Young, this tour'll go on like that for a few weeks through one or two regions, playing four, maybe five shows a week, in and out of world-class hotel suites or just the kinda Sheratons or Ramadas you or I might bunk down at… No, that was pretty much just the old days, now they usually don't bring even him over to the venue until the opening act's almost done most shows… Well, it varies, like anything else, but yeah they're pretty good at sequestering him. Anyway, so he does all this for two, three, four months, and that's it. Then poof, the magician disappears—Mr. Mysterious is jetting or driving or RVing or maybe just pogo-sticking off again to G-d knows where for G-d knows how long to do G-d knows what. But whatever it is, I always hope it's musical and that some aide is at least competent and attentive enough to be rolling tape on it… Well, in that case I hope he just nods and sez "Sure, Bob" and then at first chance just sneaks it back on again. And by the time The Big Guy again notices it rolling 45 minutes later, he'll be just as liable to say, "Yeah! Hey man, I'm real glad you saved this stuff! Didya hear that next-to-last take, the one in E-flat?" Yeah, as far as I 'm concerned, those guys don't just work for him—they also work for posterity. And that's gonna be around a whole lot longer than him… Ha! Well, you'd probably be right about that. Except there's lots of serious establishment types who say the same kinda thing I've been layin' on you! I probably know a couple dozen people who would make most of the same points in their own words, an' at least half of 'em have serious careers, pullin' in serious cash. Don't make the mistake of taking me as typical of anything… Anyway, to directly answer your question—which I'm very flattered that you would ask, by the way!—as a retired Dylanologist, my expert opinion is no, I don't expect this latest roving revue will last beyond the fall. And frankly, it's amazing he's lasted. Jeez, he's already a half-decade beyond what Presley reached. And while we can only imagine what Dylan's private lifestyle is like, we sure know a lot of what was goin' on in Graceland all those years… No, I never got to meet Presley—though Dylan supposedly did, of course; that's what sparked "Went to See the Gypsy", although I've never been too sure about that well-worn tale. But me, I never even caught a single one of those musically-sterile jokes Presley let the Colonel pass off as his concert tours. But I did get to Memphis for his funeral, and even Dylan didn't make that. So maybe I just take rock superstar mortality more personally than most people… I'll tell ya this: every single time, like tonight here in Concord, when I see him again in the flesh, I'm always struck by something: the stage of course refracts the audience's perspective, so he appears to be of just average stature during those 90 minutes. So I allow for that, and then see I had again forgotten just how really slight a fellow he is. I mean, I'll never know how he's avoided gettin' seriously hurt down at that gym in L.A. where I hear he regularly boxes. I mean, I'm sure they try to be easier on him, but that's still playin' with fire… And don't get me started on how some summers he's always ridin' those Harleys, which I'd wish he'd keep always safely hidden inside that trailer hitched behind his tour coach. I realize another intensely idiosyncratic rich recluse—Howard Hughes—survived two crashes, and in planes, no less. But Dylan had better be as lucky as he is gifted if he's gonna walk away from a second big motorcycle crack-up. Incidentally, remember how the aviation tycoon died? Aloft—on an international flight. Just like Albert Grossman!… Yeah, he was Dylan's manager in the early years, real Machiavellian. And then in the end fights his former client in court for years, too. But he shrewdly kept Dylan off TV for the most part back in the '60s—make 'em pay I'm sure was the thinking there. Actually, his getting paid his commissions was what those lawsuits were mostly about I gather… Fatal coronary while aboard a Concorde en route to London, the Saturday before the Challenger explosion, actually. Y'know, I even ran into Grossman once, in November '75, as we were both exiting the Rolling Thunder Revue's show at the Harvard Square Theatre. It was only three weeks after I had shook the hand of his onetime client the first time. I probably shouldn't have fibbed in the affirmative when Grossman asked if I liked the singer's iffy work that night, but a couple minutes later I truly didn't know whether to feel insulted or knighted when, after paging through the copy of Zimmerman Blues I'd given him, Grossman declared, "So you're the new A.J. Weberman, eh?"… For his own part, Dylan never much appreciated my conspicuous use of his discarded surname. "Uh…about that title again, y'know, I mean, well, I just really think we can come up with somethin' better. Don't you?" he asked, tilting that familiar again-hatted head up at me backstage. This was three years after the Grossman chat, and it happened of all places in my hometown of St. Louis! That, coming from a wordsmith who had come up with "When the Ship Comes In" and "Love Minus Zero/No Limit", without collaboration! And dig this—when all was said and done, his idea was to make it Tombstone Blues… If it was a joke, I'd have a punchline for ya, man. Look, the tune's an exquisitely smart piece of music for sure and maybe the finest five minutes of Mike Bloomfield's entire guitar-slinging career, but it's also sure a profoundly dumb choice for a magazine masthead! I'd never select that! Man, what if, right after the first issue under that title comes out, he happens to kick off—how'd I like have that ricocheting around my cranium for the next five decades! It sure woulda gotten my little project the Rolling Stone coverage I always craved, but man. I mean, they always say in showbiz there's no such thing as bad publicity, but that's bad publicity!… Anyway, it never was clear how serious he was about the suggestion—he's really got that vagueness thing down, in just about everything. In some ways that's actually understatement! But anyway, it also never mattered—I wasn't about to go with anything that grave or grave-evoking, no matter who suggested it. And oh yeah, something else weird. Nah, this ain't merely weird—it's alien, I got no explanation for it, but man I ain't the only one who notices this, darned near everybody does in one way or another. But somehow it's like Lucille Ball trying to conceal she was a redhead on I Love Lucy… Anyway, this is the way it goes down. Oh, and just maybe he gets away with all this because he sternly keeps his game face on throughout darned near every concert and usually whenever else he's in public too. Because as far as I can see, even his most dedicated devotees rarely glimpse this. 'Cause they still virtually never get close to him, I mean offstage. For ya see, up close you're in fact really be hard-pressed not to notice how he also displays this certain aspect, this real surprising, almost feminine, frailty. But the really strange thing is how that always seems to be filtered out by the various visual media! Even well-lit, color video almost never picks it up! No, this is somehow an in-person kinda thing, and I don't pretend to understand it, I'm just reportin' here… Look, I got a couple dozen hours of video down in L.A. and I ain't kiddin' ya, I think I got maybe two tapes where you can see it. Maybe three. But anyway, as a journalist, I'd sure like to claim these two observations as original, it'd be a scoop. Well, except for the little problem that no one would believe it, so y'know, this ain't the kinda thing you can write about, even in Zimmerman Blues. But that's moot anyway, as they say in the law, 'cause someone beat me to it: Nora Ephron first astutely reported all this after interviewing him. I don't think she used the word spooky, but she coulda!… No! This was way back in '65!… Nope, never have! But I met her husband once, y'know Carl Bernstein, the Watergate guy. I dunno if she was married to him at the time—I met him at WBZ in Boston, they were on their All the President's Men book tour… Sure! They were flyin' around together, or I dunno maybe the train up from DC, but yeah, he was there too. He was the more talkative one, by far—I don't know if Bernstein said one syllable more than "Nice to meet you". Well, I guess he thanked me for the coffee. But Woodward was pretty warm. Anyway, they were there to do—actually, I'm not sure, it couldn't have been Larry Glick's show, I think he was doing overnights then, this woulda been either early '75 or late '74. This was early evening, so it was whoever had the 6 or 7pm slot then, I dunno. Anyway, I was just an intern, so I wasn't talkin' to 'em much, y'know, I got to shake their hands and get 'em the coffee, but they were in there just for a good while I'm typin' up the hit lists… Yeah, the DJs give ya the sheets then you figure out the right order based on a couple reports from local record shops and rough estimates of airplay. Then type 'em up and get it to the graphics gal. That, and producing the bunch of talk shows they ran on weekend mornings to fulfill the community-service obligations the FCC used to mandate in those days, that was the intern gig. Plus all the famous hands you could shake who'd come in to do any of the big boys' shows on the AM side… Hey, I gotta kick outta puttin' those lists together. For when I was in high school, that was my Friday night ritual in St. Louis with St. Augustine, the guy who turned me onto Dylan: go pick up the KXOK and KIRL hit lists at the music stores that night, because they'd usually be all gone by the end of Saturday! And here I am five years later, putting them together for WBZ-FM!… Oh, and I didn't mention: there was exactly one gold record hanging in that office in those days. And it was a holdover wall decoration from when WBZ-AM was still playing music in the mid-60s. And you know what gold-plated 45 that was? Barry McGuire's 1965 hit recording of that apocalyptic P.F. Sloan tune "Eve of Destruction", perhaps the most Dylanesque non-Dylan record ever to make the Hit Parade!… Oh, I was already a great typist by then, or at least fast. Yeah, it may have detoured the rest of my life, but Zimmerman Blues sure made me a qwerty-fast typist!… Qwerty, man. Never mind… Anyway, I wonder if Woodward or Bernstein would remember it if sometime I'd get one of 'em on the show if I ever get on talk radio? But I digress. Maybe I should get those three words tattooed on my forehead—but don't worry, I'll make sure they're in reverse so I can read it in the mirror… Y'know, that's a question I've been wantin' to ask Dylan for a long time: Do you have any tattoos, and if so, what and where? I'd ask him that in person in a sec, though not with any expectation that he'd show 'em to me—that's just too personal, at least for me. But on the radio no way I'd pose that question, for fear he'd just hang up… No, if I'd ever swing that promised interview, it would probably just be a phoner. Hey, but this is just one of the reasons radio is so much better than TV—you book someone on TV, they either have to get into the studio or you have to set up an outrageously-expensive remote where they are or at least buy some satellite time to pick 'em up off the bird. But on radio, all they gotta do is give ya their phone number! But I gotta get a show first, man… Anyway, here we are in 1988, and maybe my career's goin' nowhere fast, but Dylan's on a roll if you ask me, man! It's now fourteen years after he came back, outta "retirement" they said. But I don't know if he really regarded it like that all along. Or ever. From my perspective early on, it was always pretty much just assumed he was done for good with the long-haul thing, just as the Beatles had never gone back to it after '66—so I dunno, I never really thought about him ever comin' back regularly again those first couple years. I stumbled onto him in May of '72, and I don't really remember calling it retirement. Oh, I know why! 'Cause he'd been doing all those one-shot gigs! From '68 straight on through to '71, And a bunch of 'em were solid, absolutely first-rate. Better even… Hey man, as a writer, I understand the concept of hyperbole. And I ain't exaggeratin', I'm just reportin'. Check the movie out, man. Yeah, when I started, he'd just been onstage at Harrison's Bangladesh fund-raiser in August, so that's what eight, nine months?… Yeah, that's right. See, I never thought he was retired, I just thought he was playin' his cards more slowly. And before '72, even though I wasn't listening to him, I of course knew who he was and that he was hugely important, but I had no idea why… Nah, I was a Beatles guy, man—and I thought they weren't just great, but pretty much the beginning and the end of rock to me… Well, I was pretty young, so gimme a break! But I didn't keep my eyes shut as a youngster, even if maybe my ears were. I watched 'em on The Ed Sullivan Show—all three weeks! By the way, did you realize they were messing with videotape there—the second week they were live again for sure, and actually part of a remote feed from Miami Beach, but then by the time they aired the tape made that first weekend in New York for their third consecutive Sullivan show, they were already back in England… No, that was much later. Well, actually, that same year, but at the end of the summer, in late August, at the Hotel Delmonica on Park Avenue... Of course that's true! You think John and Ringo would lie? I mean, about that? It was set up by a journalist, actually, and one with a lot better sources than I ever had! Al Aronowitz somehow worked his way into Dylan's inner circle, and he's the one who took him over to where the lads were staying that Friday afternoon… Look man, I was never close to my brother, he's five years older and he may or may not love me, but he sure doesn't like me much, that's for sure. And that's mostly maybe because of rock 'n' roll, which he's never been into despite his serious musicianship—he plays half a dozen orchestra instruments, I bet. But he's strictly classical and jazz. But hey, if he hadn't not let me hang with him and a couple of his pals the week before the first Beatles appearance, when we stumbled onto this kinda animated promotional tableau, with all four mop-topped heads on these little springs that made it a 3-D and mobile set-up. At Concord Village Shopping Center in St. Louis County, no relation to Concord Pavilion! That display was the first time I'd seen or even heard of the Beatles. Anyway, at the shopping center there they started talkin' about how this was gonna just be somethin', I had no real idea why, but I knew about Presley and I knew I couldn't miss this Sullivan thing. So if not for my brother, who knows what I might have been doin' that Sunday night—maybe not playing outside, since it was February, but you get my point… Weird thing is, I didn't really start listening to the Beatles until '69. 'Fore that, I was into Streisand and Sinatra and The Baja Marimba Band and Englebert Humperdinck and pop stuff like that, Jack Jones, Steve & Edie, that sorta thing… Maybe, but I don't even like the Beatles anymore! Nah, that's not true. But it is the case that I don't really listen much to 'em anymore. I swear, I hear The Allman Brothers Band about three times as often as I hear McCartney singing anything now. Probably four. If I wanna hear a Beatles tune, it's almost always one of Lennon's these days. Anyway, I was certainly up to speed on this Dylan cat by the time he announced he was comin' back in '74… No, the magazine's not even an idea then. 'Cause the comeback tour was actually announced in November of '73. And even the concept of Zimmeman Blues never came to me until a bit after New Years '75. Now, I never had to mull over its need, 'cause the mainstream press all but ignored Dylan in those days. But I did consider for a week or two if I really could do it on a continuing basis, and once I decided that, then I was buying the ditto masters I think maybe at the BU bookstore that afternoon and I was probably up in my 15th floor dorm room typin' the first words in Zimmerman Blues history within the hour… Weird thing is, I assumed I was at least the tenth guy or so to try this and maybe worse. So I start off with a factually-incorrect sentence, right outta the chute: "Sure, there have been many, many Dylanzines before" I wrote, when in fact I'd never seen any! It just never occurred to me that there was just one guy outta—what was it in '75, maybe four billion people on the planet?—who was doin' this… Okay, that's silly, but you'd be amazed at Dylan's international audience, even in countries where English is seldom heard outside the subtitled Hollywood flicks on TV. So okay, anyway, I figured out of 200 million Americans, there had to be a dozen or more of these things out there somewhere. Well, part of it too was I knew, even though I never much read 'em, that there were all kinds of Beatles fanzines, so I assumed with twenty or so Beatles fanzines large or small, mostly small over here and in England, well, there had to be at least a few Dylan ones. But again, I was just sorta extrapolating, 'cause I didn't have a list and I guess if I think about it—well, there's the problem—I wasn't thinking! Great way to start off the magazine about the thinking man's recording artist, eh? Hey haven't I been tellin' ya all night how this guy ain't about anything if he isn't about irony?… Yeah, even "fanzine" is a stretch for that first issue—it was a six-pager! That's a newsletter, not even a fanzine really. But fortunately, that was I guess pretty much the worst falsehood I printed in the whole five years. One I'm most ashamed of, for sure. It's just so embarrassing 'cause it was the first typed-sentence in Zimmerman Blues history!… No, for that comeback tour, I was just your average Dylan watcher I guess. Well, not really—here comes another of those weird things. Nah, I'll tell you about that later—But again, I don't remember back then anybody who expected another full-blown tour—I told ya, I was always hopin' just to get lucky by being there for one of those one-shot surprise appearances… Well, it took about 20 years, but it happened, at the Rose Bowl on D-Day 1982. Dylan-day. Now that's a weird thought. But that three-song set with Baez played on the 6th of June reminds me of one of the most interesting factual tidbits of all. By the way, the original D-Day was a Tuesday, but dig this: the D in D-Day stands for Day! As in Day-Day, which makes no sense at all but I looked it up. Speaking of sense, I would have probably not been there except for Queen Jane. She insisted for weeks she had a "feeling" about Dylan's participation, something I was dubious about given its pointed political orientation. Yeah, it's quite the rush to be on-scene when he appears and you had no idea if he was even on your side of the planet—poof!… Oh, of course I was also at the U2 thing last year. I had no clue about that one, I told ya that. Of course, now if you realllllly think about it—he blindsides us pretty much every time he enters a recording studio! I mean, at least once he stopped imitating all those old bluesmen and figured out his schtick. I shouldn't say that. He doesn't use gimmicks—unless you call the harmonica that. And you shouldn't… Anyway, by mid-'62 he 'd already found his own voice. Better make that voices, man. 'Cause I sure never know which one we'll hear from album to album. Or even show to show some tours! And then, how 'bout the Christian thing! I don't think "bizarre" is too strong a word, I mean, think about it! Born-again Bob, whoda thunk that!… I have no idea! Well, I got an idea, but of course there's only one person in the universe who could really answer that, and he might pull your leg… Actually, no, I think it's legit. Or was. No way it's still happenin' like it first was, but my hunch it's still happenin' in one way or another. But he doesn't talk about it anymore, man, at least not with me. But he sure did once!… No, no, not at the Roxy. It was down in Santa Monica outside his office, in the car with his dog… But actually, it was that same month, but a couple weeks earlier. And I probably shouldn'ta fibbed to him when he asked, "Tell me Bryan, are you saved? Or are you a Jew? Or are you a heathen?… Nah, I told him I was Jewish, which was essentially true. I mean, I've been trying to convert to it now for a long time, but of course this agnostic thing is a hang-up for these various Reform rabbis I've been talking to. But fib or not, look man: it's not like he gave me a lotta choices! Actually, from the tone of his voice, it sure sounded like he was even looking out for me… 'Cuz I figured neither he nor his dog wanted to hear my religious views, man! That's not sufficient reason?… No, Asimov's the atheist, I'm the agnostic! And I told you, I don't read his sci-fi, it's his nonfiction that I've read about fifty of his books of! And for the record, I've zero information as to whether Asimov likes Dylan or not; well given his trademark wild sideburns, I'd say it's a safe bet he'd like that Dylan hair… No, not yet—but I met his kid, Steven. That was in St. Louis back in '69, actually—at the World Sci-Fi Convention, which weirdly enough happened to be held in my hometown that one year… I don't usually like or even read science fiction, his or anyone else's! I read science fact, man, or at least try to. Asimov is to nonfiction like Dylan is to lyrics—amazingly prolific and covering every subject sooner or later. Look, I coulda met Asimov easy any of those four years I was at BU, since he'd come up from New York weekly to teach biochemistry at the med school downtown. Once I attended a joint lecture, not really a debate, he had with John Kenneth Galbraith, but I didn't go up and shake his hand afterward, figuring I'd just visit him sometime at his university office. But if it had been Dylan, I guess I woulda shown a bit more initiative… No, I know Dylan didn't shun the nonbelievin' crowd, even right at the height of his Christianity period. How could he? And by way, I bet Dylan could probably explain Nietzsche to me, except he ain't into explainin' anything! You shoulda seen what Jerry Wexler said to him in the studio in Alabama. The way the famed R&B producer tells it, Dylan had been yakkin' to him about the new faith thing for a few nights or so and finally Wexler just up and says, "Look Bob, I'm 62, I'm Jewish, and I'm an atheist. Can't we just make a record?"… No, I was outside, with Peggy Day and the Lonesome Organ-Grinder and a couple others. But correct, same locale. Right on the Tennessee River, actually, set back about a couple hundred yards from the river. Looks like the kinda place if I was building a recording studio there, I'd put it up on stilts! But I mean, it's a legendary place, not only did Wexler cut all those records there that pretty much made Aretha's career, but the Stones did Sticky Fingers there too. It's hallowed musical ground in a lotta ways. By the way, you know what is the first word of Dylan's stream-of-conscious so-called "novel" Tarantula ?… No, not "spider"! But that's a good one! Nah, the title never even gets referred to in any of those 140-odd pages of lotta-imagery-but-not-much-else pages. Actually, the first word is "Aretha"—he calls her "Queen of the Jukebox", but of course Dylan I guess could maybe just be playing with us and is instead talkin' about some obscure singer Aretha Smith or Aretha Jones he'd come across… No, Wexler was quoted saying that; he doesn't call me up, although I did I talk to him that time in the parking lot, when Dylan was busy talkin' to The Lonesome Organ-Grinder and The Roving Gambler. They were down there with me and the others. By the way, did ya ever read that Wexler is actually one of those two backing vocals, along with his partner and Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun, you hear toward the end of what's maybe my favorite early R&B record ever, Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle & Roll" ?… Nah, just a couple days. But I think Dylan was there for a month or more, well, in and out at least, he's always doin' that. I worry about that, that's one of the reasons I hate flyin'. No, actually that's the only reason. Anyway, no, I suspect he really meant the Christian thing. Maybe still. I mean, what kind of a jerk pulls a practical joke like that? Look, that cat's surely capable of abominable behavior, lotsa people, even some of his supposed friends say he's perfectly capable of being a jerk, but he's no phony. So I just don't see that... Well, it's been since about '65 that he just quit talkin' onstage. Early on, Dylan would talk to the crowd frequently sometimes, and even at length here and there. There's tapes of a lot of those bits, gives you more of an insight into how he thinks than just hearing him perform, obviously. At least how he thought back then. But then right there about 1965, something changed pretty much for good. But some critics trace it to a certain retort to an angry audience member in England in May of '66, that's it… Yeah, no more taunting of the audience, no more talkin' to the audience. It'd really never be the same again. Oh, he'll say hello sometimes and if the crowd's really lucky maybe get the obligatory "Glad to be here in fill-in-the-blank" and then by show's end thank the band members by name, and indeed, we heard that tonight. But that's always been about it for a long time now… Sure, he tries to be polite sometimes, but for basically three decades he's just been singin'. Wish I could say he's been doing so ever-melodically that whole time, 'cause when he doesn't carry his tune, or when he gets into one of these silly singsong kinda ruts he falls into, I can't much listen to it. Or enjoy it, at least. So that's maybe when I head to the concession stand for an overpriced hot dog… Oh, that's something of an exaggeration, but not much—ya gotta eat, after all. But yeah, I'll usually watch him no matter how much he's veering off course, assuming I'm not overdue for a visit to the crowded men's room. Even when he seems to be just going through the motions. But I don't need to hear that stuff. And given all that I criticize him for, especially for the all those tuneless-if-not-moonless concerts every tour, why do people think I idolize him?!? That would give me exactly zero credibility as a journalist!… Oh, I've been meaning to mention this: You'd be surprised, or maybe by now you'd maybe not be surprised to learn that he's an often careless motorcycle rider. And this is in sharp contrast to how deliberate and conservative a driver he is. I've seen him drive both cars and larger vehicles loads of times, and he's a safe and polite guy behind the wheel. But the bikes are a different story. He seems to have learned no lessons from the infamous crack-up in Woodstock. I told you about the two Harleys he trundles around with him on tour, but those sometimes stay locked up in the trailer for most of a tour. But down in L.A. he rides a lot I hear, and one guy who rides with him regularly tells me Dylan's always taking his eyes off the road! Makes me hate the phrase "an accident waiting to happen". Look, I understand and of course admire Dylan's magnificent eye for detail, but if it ends up killing him, or he winds up in a wheelchair like Teddy Pendergrass, Dylan would risk being remembered as a fool, one who cheated fate in 1966 yet inexcusably failed to learn that often-lethal life's lesson… But anyway, the reason I brought up the talkin' onstage thing is that the only time I ever saw him talkin' much onstage, and some nights like for ten minutes or more, was during those Christian shows. And some nights it was intense. I never happened to be there for any of those 7- or 8-minute harangues, but I heard the tapes, you betcha! Some guy transcribed just those Christian raps into a book or something, that may have been a self-published thing… I dunno, there's too many Dylan books out there, most of them missing whatever point they think they're making about him. I don't know the titles of more than half of 'em probably. As for readin' 'em, frankly I usually prefer just tracking the nation and the world via Newsweek and Time and US News & World Report… Actually, there were a buncha books that focused exclusively on the Christian period. But Dylan never much explained any of those harangues or anything else about that period. But even that's not what's most interesting; what is amazing is how the Christianity phase publicly stopped darned near as suddenly as it started! Poof, it's all gone. After three years of the gospel thing. Now, by the end there he wasn't doin' exclusively the religious stuff, they weren't quite the proselytizing performances of that first year, mind you… Look, as an agnostic, the whole thing never really much alienated me, like it did so many of the others. Ya gotta understand, his audience has always been way disproportionately Jewish. But dig this—when The Los Angeles Times pressed him on what might be behind his so abruptly turning so silent on something so important to him, he replied with a non-answer for the ages: "Well, Jesus only preached for three years, too." Oh how I would have loved to follow up on that. Actually, I had such a chance, barely a year ago, but that time, in West Hollywood, he was posing a lot more questions to me, than vice versa… I'm not kidding! It was another one of these times when I just got lucky—I mean, outta five straight nights U2 played at the Los Angeles Sports Arena in April 1987, I only took in the middle show, yet that's the one where it happens. Poof, the prestidigitator reappears, and grabs the lead vocals on the band's two-song final encore—his own songs, of course… He's really like that, y'know. I mean, all kinds of heavyweights are hovering around him so much of the time, but in the end it always seems to somehow all along have been all about him. Just watch the last 25 minutes of The Last Waltz. His songs, his lead vocals. That film's about The Band, not the guy who jump-started their career! Tom Petty knows about this—didya hear how he said, "After awhile in this business, you get to meet pretty much everyone you ever hope to. But there's no one else I know whom everybody else asks me about"… Anyway, following that U2 gig, the band returned to their hotel with our boy in tow after midnight. It's one of those fancy boutique hotels that all the celebs use, Sunset Marquis, a block south of the Strip, just down the hill. And Dylan was chatty that night. At one point he'd even ask me how I thought the place might be workable as a set for a future music video. I didn't have the nerve to confess I watch his "Tight Connection" vid for laughs—and it already has a hotel-pool scene. At least you can mostly blame that one on his director, Paul Schrader… Now here's a surprising connection: I found myself on the phone to Schrader just a few months ago. Not in any Dylan context, but for this piece I'm putting together about the guy who shot the President. I wrangled an exclusive from Hinckley and it so happens Schrader's the guy who wrote the Taxi Driver script—the movie that set the gunman off about assassination in the first place! Like I told ya, I'm writin' about other stuff nowadays. Actually, I've been off the Dylan beat since well before Dylan himself challenged me on this rather sensitive subject… No, no, completely different night. I'll finish that Marquis thing in a bit. This was four years ago, January '84, outside the Santa Monica Civic Center. Dylan wasn't alone—he had The Wicked Messenger with him, who as far as I could determine spent as much time with Dylan in those days as anyone, at least professionally. And when Queen Jane, my galpal in those days, and I were walking around to go backstage with The Clash, I actually spotted The Wicked Messenger first. And I knew if The Wicked Messenger was right before me, then that shrouded figure ten yards back doing pull-ups in the dark from a low-slung tree branch was quite likely the very person I'd been looking for earlier that night. Yep, Dylan was hanging from a tree branch when I first spotted him… When I approached him. See, he kinda swung a bit and then bounded onto the ground. But as soon as he opened his mouth Dylan didn't sound as friendly as he had some of the other times. Maybe he was annoyed that I'd interrupted his exercising. "Oh yeah Bryan, really? You aren't still makin' a livin' writin' about me anymore?" he grumbled from behind those big shades he always in. And he was using an almost contemptuous tone I'd never heard from him before—at least not in person much less directed at me, and all of a sudden I'm starting to feel like the Science Student in Don't Look Back… I'm sure glad Queen Jane was also there that night in Santa Monica. I needed her perspective on all this. And it wasn't just another night out for us, either. In fact, we had just the previous month or so kinda preliminarily split up, and by utter coincidence, the site of the Santa Monica Civic Center property also happens to be the same complex where I'd met Queen Jane three years before… And I guess it's also relevant that I met Queen Jane on the real-foggy-at-least-near-the-ocean first anniversary of Lennon's assassination. At a candlelight vigil staged by a bunch of Beatles fans! See, I was actually looking for Dylan, who'd just disappeared into the fog not three minutes before… Queen Jane thereafter always recalled how proud she was that I stood my ground the night Dylan was doing his pull-ups: "No, Bob, what you don't know is I write about lots of subjects now. Among other things, I'm a nonfiction critic for one of the dailies, so I'm reviewing books on politics and history and culture and even sports. Mainly politics I'll admit, but…" "Oh yeah? So you're now a political guy, eh?" That night at first Dylan was speaking in such italics, in a way I'd only heard first-person maybe once before. So even little ol' naive me understood he was puttin' me on, but as to why I had no idea. So I defended my diversity of interest: "No, not just politics, Bob! Actually, science is my preferred area." but it's more of the same: "Oh, you're a science guy then..." And then, "Oh, so you're a sports guy?" Even Queen Jane later she said was puzzled by all this, and this was hardly the first time she'd seen me with him… Anyway, in the end, I shoulda realized it was futile. After all, that Street-Legal line always did stand out: I have dined with kings/And been offered wings/But I've never been too impressed. Nothin' you can say to this guy is gonna one-up him, so that night it's amazing I wasn't just content to play court jester to the king there, 'cause that's sure how this whole scene was shaping up like at first. And speaking of which, that's also of course why I was surprised—actually stunned—the first time, years earlier, I learned he'd been reading Zimmerman Blues throughout most of its existence... Yeah, guess I oughta explain that—that information first came via Howard Alk, of all people. Alk was one of Dylan's three or four closest aides, and for decades essentially filled the role of Dylan's personal filmmaker. Just about everything film-wise Dylan would do after the two first hooked up in Chicago in '63 Alk would have a hand in. And then for reasons I don't understand, in 1979 Alk decided to do a big favor for me. Phoned me up in Houston out of the blue to alert me that public TV in New York was going to air "Eat the Document" just once in a low-profile slot, and he didn't want my people to miss the chance to tape it... Yeah, I was blown away! I'd always figured Alk, who'd I'd never met, was like most of the rest of Dylan's inner circle, just professionally if not also instinctively hostile to me! But here he was almost cheering me on. Well, he was cheering me on, regarding Zimmerman Blues, as he had been a subscriber for some time by then. And then he invited me out to his house to watch some rare Dylan footage! And you'll never guess what Alk was wearing when he met me at the front door... An Albert Grossman T-shirt!... I swear to G-d that's not a joke! He had to point out that fact to me, for it was this old faded one without any text and the silkscreened Grossman photo wasn't that good a likeness. But I of course was more preoccupied with the fact that Alk's house was literally next door to Dylan's dome-top Malibu spread! And Howard's place was closer to the ocean by a hundred yards! But anyway, on the phone there back in Houston, I was getting such good vibes from Alk that I finally hazarded a question I'd been pondering a long time. I mean, it's one thing when Dylan recognizes you as you're talking to him, but I always was curious if he even knew my name. "So Howard—if someone mentioned the name 'Bryan Styble' to Dylan, do you suppose he would recognize it? Howard was adamant: "What? You think he's an idiot?!?" was his response. And then he insisted Dylan had sat down at the Alk kitchen table the day before departing for Japan for the '78 tour and re-read every single one of the Zimmerman Blues issues cover-to-cover. "I'm calling from that same table right now" Alk added! Yeah, I was starting to wonder if he was just humoring me! But then I hit him with a question maybe he alone in the world could answer. "Hey Howard, I doubt you remember it, after all it was only about 10 minutes amid all those 400 hours of footage you guys shot for Renaldo & Clara, but do you happen to recall seeing an interview one of the film crews shot with me?" "Oh you mean that piece from the lobby in Plymouth with Ginsberg?" he replied without even needing to dip into his memory bank. "Yeah, that's it!" I responded in delight, probably screaming! "Well, actually, it was only seven minutes long, but you've seen it, Brian, we put some of it in there!" Now this was a real mind-blower, because I'd seen Renaldo & Clara enough times to know there there wasn't a single frame of yours truly in there which managed to pass the final edit. So Howard says, as my heart sinks to the bottom of the ocean, "Well, I sure don't know what what happened then, because we had it in there, right up to the end of the editing, 'cause Bob sure liked that bit"… I got a bunch of other Alk stories, but none as strange as how he ended up. You see, Alk's shocking death over New Year's weekend '82-83 wasn't merely ruled a suicide, but it happened inside Dylan's rehearsal hall! Soonafter I got to Hollywood in 1980, I had gotten to know and even interacted quite a bit with Alk over the next couple years, and I never found him to be the depressive sort. But of all the places to do it—to risk bringing on the glare of the media by offing yourself in the headquarters of such a media-allergic guy--that was pretty in-your-face, wouldn't you say?… But at least Dylan had reason to take notice of my magazine. But whoda ever guessed he'd be familiar with my radio career? You see, that night underneath the tree was also the night I learned he'd often heard my traffic reports! Yeah, seems Dylan's not just a baseball fan, but he's also a big NBA watcher, so he catches a lot of Lakers games on KLAC radio. How's that for a surprising twist—Dylan listening to me on a microphone! Queen Jane insisted I never lost my composure that night, even an hour later inside, when Dylan was as friendly as he had been cynical under the tree. I tell ya, it's a weird feeling having him whispering in your ear! He sure surprised me with that. But Queen Jane witnessed it all, and like I told ya before, it was hardly the first time she'd see me around the offstage Dylan… Well, that was a weirder one than most, admittedly. And Queen Jane always claimed it's about the only time I'm ever low-key. First time she said that, I replied,`Hey, I learned that from him—y'know, John Wesley Hardin, "Never make a foolish move" Yeah, that's just the way things seem to go down around him, a never-ending cascade of one irony after another… But you won't believe the hoops connection—see, in those days I happened to hold the distinction of being Chick Hearn's traffic guy! That would be as in, Pro Basketball Hall of Fame Broadcaster Chick Hearn… That's right, but not up in a chopper, but rather zippin' around the boulevards outside the Forum in a sedan and radioing in my little 30-second updates for live insertion into Hearn's Laker Line pre-game show: …but other than that, you should do just fine as you work your way east from the 405 in toward the lots surrounding The Fabulous Forum; Bryan Styble in Inglewood for Metro—that's it, Chick. y'know, that sorta thing, six times an hour two or three times a week when the team wasn't on the road. But I'm sure Dylan never has any trouble getting a primo parking spot at The Forum!… Oh, you bet he does his own driving, in L.A. at least. Can't say about New York or Minnesota. But it makes sense that he'd always want to be in control… He's almost always behind the wheel whenever I see him in L.A., even in that RV he's got. For months he was even using the bulky camper as his regular car—even drove it to his kid's bar mitzvah in Beverly Hills. That was tacky... But I guess by now, maybe I shouldn't even be surprised to see him peddling down Pico Blvd. on a unicycle. Balance doesn't strike me as one of his shortcomings… But I'm curious if he can ever go see the Lakers and keep his mind on the game. I don't mean down in Nicholson's seats, even though those two guys are pretty close buds I hear… And you know how they say Nicholson's almost always high when he's acting, so just imagine what Dylan and Jack are rollin' when they get together out in Malibu or up on Mulholland! And Brando's right next door to Nicholson up there! But no, Dylan's way too camera-shy to sit down in those seats with him. Though it'd be interesting, 'cause Dyan Cannon sits close to Nicholson and there's this story about Cannon and Dylan backstage at The Astrodome in '76. Dylan and Dyan, now that's a couple… Hey, come on, I mean, she was married to Cary Grant!… No, maybe not at the time, at least I don't think so; I'll have to get back with you on that. I don't know when he was hitched to her exactly, but I got one killer fact about Cary Grant for ya… Archie Leach, actually. But anyway, do you know where he was when he died?… No, not flying! Ha! But he did probably fly into Davenport, Iowa, I'd guess. He was surely there for some good reason when he had the fatal stroke, but just about nobody remembers where his end came. I'm glad Grant quit early, because he was in a very different end of the creativity biz than Dylan—because Dylan's voice carries his work, whereas Grant was more of an all-body kinda thing… And his last one Walk, Don't Run was pretty lame, and I love romantic comedies; I'm the biggest Doris Day fan you've probably ever met… This is no joke! and it's a shame that she and Grant only worked together once… That Touch of Mink, in 1960, with cameos believe it or not by Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra. Dylan's such a baseball guy that he'd get a kick outta that scene at least… Oh, Day had more than her share of klunkers for scripts, especially after the early '60s, but her winsome smile always opens a face of delight. Just like Dylan's standard-issue stern expression telegraphs G-d knows what… I've no idea whether he's seen much of Day's work, but don't assume that—those flicks so widely dismissed as fluff combined my two favorite subjects, love and laughs. And I bet that's a combination that delights Dylan many days too. As for me, that's pretty much all I ever hope for from life… No, Pillow Talk, but Lover Come Back was way better, I've always thought. But they were such a natural combination many forget they only made three films together yeah and don't forget, Tony Randall's in all three too… I dunno why Grant was there in Davenport, maybe it was somethin' to do with his PR gig with Fabergé… Yeah, he was like Joan Crawford, went corporate late in life—she worked for Pepsi in the late '50s and early '60s... No, I think all that was supposedly much earlier, but I dunno, I never read the book, don't think I've ever even picked it up in a bookstore. Funny you should cite that though, 'cause they were sayin' some of the same kinda stuff about Dylan… No, not with the kids, I mean with his wife Sara, during their divorce in '77. There was only a couple alleged incidents, and who knows how true any of it was… Well, Dylan clearly can be a tempestuous fellow, but except for the Weberman fight in New York and his sparring at that L.A. gym, I don't know of him ever hitting anything other than a downbeat. You can't believe at least 75 percent of what you hear in divorce court, or at least that's what several of the attorneys I've worked for tell me… Yeah, my Clark Kent's actually a paralegal, not a reporter, unfortunately… No, used to work for a divorce attorney, I'm stuck typin' up borin' business lawsuits every afternoon nowadays. Anyway, I don't follow Hollywood, I like stuff with a beat… I did live in Hollywood for a year, that wasn't a joke. Yeah, on the top floor of this old three-story house on Willoughby within about 45 yards of the Paramount walls. Right next to the cemetery where Valentino's entombed… No, he's up, in one of those vaults, not down in the ground. Y'know, like Marilyn Monroe's interred above eye level… No, she's over on the southern edge of Westwood in that exclusive little graveyard behind the cineplex, same one where they later planted Natalie Wood. But I'll tell you who is in ground there in Hollywood Park: Tyrone Power and C.B. deMille—both got these real nice set-ups, deMille's even got a little marble bench! Well, maybe's it's stone, whatever. We used to go over the there with the guitars on weekends, and once even with St. Augustine, the guy who turned me onto Dylan in St. Louis, right outside the Paramount backlot wall. St. Augustine was visiting from back East that week when we also went up to Burbank to sit in Carson's audience… And dig this—not only that, we get also end up getting Lucille Ball and Bob Hope too! Hope was doin' some special and Lucy's his guest star… My thinking is always I'd rather see someone past his prime than never at all, and I'm sure a lot of the people who'll see Dylan this summer for the first time go in with that attitude… No, I hardly ever play his songs—that's like teachin' Ted Williams how to bat… No, actually three chords'll get you through most Dylan tunes and in fact most rock songs. But I can't sing his songs. I can't sing, first of all. And I sure don't hardly ever like it when pretty much anybody attempts his stuff. They're always gettin' the emphasis in the wrong places… He's got this amazin' but also quite personal rhythm, not just to his music but to much of his conversation as well. And that's probably why nobody musters much of a workable impression of him. Look, I hang out at a lot of comedy clubs, and I've pretty much never seen a decent Dylan impression, even though lots of comics try 'em. I've even seen a couple comediennes do Dylan, and they were like all the guys, just sounding like a bad Dylan impression!… Because they are all just caricatures, and usually not even decent ones. I mean, the dude's a walkin' caricature, everybody knows that, but none of the comics ever seem to nail him… Well, I don't really consider myself a comedian, but I do happen to have a heck of a gig. I'm the open-mic night emcee down at The Laugh Factory… No, never, but wouldn't that be somethin'! As a matter of fact, I gather he has been in there now and then over the years, but not when I was around, that's for sure. But Frazer Smith himself was telling me he just finally met Dylan recently at some industry party… Oh, he's this DJ whose been bouncin' around the FM dial as long as I been in L.A. Only The Fraze, as he's known, he's not really a disc jockey, he's rather a comedian with a radio show. And as an improvisational radio talent, he's simply brilliant. The most hilarious guy I've ever heard on radio anywhere, in fact. And strangely enough, he's indirectly the reason I got the gig!… Nah, he just does sets there all the time, though mostly just to demo new material… No, landing that slot was pure luck. Outta the blue. I was workin' on this profile of Frazer last year for one of the weeklies in L.A., so I'd been hangin' out there for a couple weeks, several nights a week, and then this one Tuesday the owner gets into it for some reason with the gal he's got emceein'. So she splits—I dunno if she quit or was fired, but the owner says, "Bryan, you know howta tok...you wan to finish de night? Comon, yoo goh up dere!"… Well, he's from Israel, and yeah, obviously I don't do impressions. Actually, he even works with The Fraze on the air as this character Buddy Buddy, kinda like Andy Kaufman's "foreign man" stand-up character that he eventually turned into Latka on Taxi... No, I don't understand that either. Buddy Buddy, Corrina Corrina, "good answer, good answer!", Duran Duran, Day-Day, Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, what is with it with this redundancy thing, anyway? Y'know, I got this gag I'm gonna use if I ever get on talk radio: every time I'm accidentally redundant, I'm gonna say, "Well, as a matter of fact, we do on this broadcast like to check in from time to time with the Department of Redundancy Department..." Actually that's something I've been learning every week down at the Factory—hey, I just realized, this is Tuesday, so tonight's the first time in better than a year the Factory's had a substitute emcee for Open Mic Night! But if it was talk radio I was doin' down there in L.A., I'd have skipped the concert rather than desert my audience; I understand at least that much about showbiz!… Anyway, in stand-up, you sooner or later figure out that if you can get your timin' just right, the audience will think you just thought up whatever you gag you just hit 'em with on the spot, and the response is about three times what you'd get if they think you sat around polishing the gag for 20 minutes that afternoon. How much ya wanna bet Dylan understands that?… Of course, he never needs to fake anything. In fact, when he comes off as a phony on somethin' or other, he's a fool. But that doesn't happen often, pretty rarely actually. Anyway, I gotta make my Forum point here, man. See, I was thinkin' of Dylan up in the Forum cheap seats, he'd probably not be recognized up there. Not the way he always gets all bundled up in the hats and the hoodies and coats and shades, waaaaaay too often the shades. But at least he mixes 'em up, and some are of such light tint you can pretty much see right into his eyes, but of course then you never get that robin-blue thing… I thought I had mentioned that. Well, Baez sure did, in "Diamonds and Rust". Yeah, now you don't wanna catch him when he's wearing contacts or anything, but if there's good light, yeah, it's hard not to notice. Impossible not to, actually. This is part of what Nora Ephron was talkin' about. His color is surprisingly vibrant. I mean, I'd been looking at a lot of shots of him for a good while by then, you'd expect that of a guy editing a magazine about him, right? But until I got right up there the first time, I actually always thought he had black hair! It's definitely brown, and not nearly as dark as it looks in all the darned photos… You notice the skin tone too. I read a lot of articles that quote people as sayin' he's a homely guy, I've even had women tell me that. Not at his concerts, of course… But the eyes, just about everybody mentions the eyes after they meet him, at least with the darned shades off. Anyway, I bet he goes to Lakers games a lot! I know he attends Knickerbocker games when he's back East… He's in public a lot more than you'd think, but he's also not recognized when out and about a lot more than you'd think. Oh, people he encounters in stores or gas stations usually figure he's a musician or some kinda artist, especially if he's wearing any designer European duds as he often does. But I got a zillion stories about how clueless people are sometimes about his identity… Heck, two or three times myself I've had people dubious after my saying under my breath somethin' like, `Yeah, be cool now, but he's over there—he's kinda hard to see, but he's right there in the corner booth, to the left of the guy with the vest on" or somethin', yet they still doubt me… It sure does. Like the time this gal—let's call her St. Annie, from "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues". I was there with this friend The Cowboy Angel, who I had earlier introduced to Dylan. And St. Annie, who's kinda antsy most of the time anyway I'd later learn, she kept wonderin' why I was whispering to her to stay cool. I reluctantly mentioned his name, and that did it. St. Annie just up and bolted and marched right over to him, got right up in his face almost, and all but contemptuously demanded: "Are you really Bob Dylan?"… I ain't kiddin'! And you shoulda heard his response!… But hey, that was also kinda the supreme insult to a Dylanologist, doncha think? I could tell that was him under the motorcycle helmet in the titles sequence of that Hearts of Fire movie where he played an aging rock star. I mean, I could spot him with a bag on his head, for Heaven's sake. And some of those hats that end up on his noggin are about as wacky. Look, I may not be that smart, but I'm a journalist, and I know my story, even if I don't really understand it… But anyway, that actually worked out too, since I actually ended up dating St. Annie on and off for a few months!… No, the "saint" ain't reflective of that. But y'know, come to think of it, I can't even remember just this moment even if St. Annie is Jewish, as that's what I generally go for. And just as important, given how Dylan responded to her, was the fact that she sure looks it… But anyway, my only point about the ball game is I've often wondered if Dylan can ever watch Magic play without thinking back to the dozen or more times he's performed his own tricks in that same cavernous building?... Yeah, you're probably right, since just about every scribe who's ever published a paragraph about him has commented how he's always looking ahead, never back… The title of Pennebaker's famed film just facilitates that kinda lazy writing. Anyway, like I said, that scene under the tree in Santa Monica where Dylan's trying to get my goat about being a one-trick pony was in 1984. And I guess I shoulda mentioned I had a national magazine cover story out on Dylan's conversion at the time. So that's probably why he didn't believe me when I insisted I was movin' on, subject-wise. Well, in terms of publishing, at least… But the night last year at the Marquis, after the surprise appearance with U2, was way different—tables turned. That's when I was there with The Hypnotist Collector, one guy who's dead serious about his music memorabilia. The Hypnotist Collector is also a very well-connected guy, and he had invited me to the show, but who can blame him for leaving me in the bar to look for Dylan on his own, soon after we arrived at the Marquis. But that little bar to the left of the front desk was a good place to be. I found myself engrossed in a conversation with the president of Amnesty International… No! He's just been identified with politics all these decades! That's a huge myth about Dylan, almost as big as the one that he can't sing! You see, it's a holdover from his sole political period, right there around '63 . That's when he performed, and powerfully so, earlier the very afternoon of King's famed "Dream" speech that swelteringly hot Wednesday in August… No, the political songwriting and his many performances at demonstrations in those days, when seen in the context of Dylan's entire career thus far, turns out to have been pretty much just another of those in-and-out phases Dylan has been so characterized by! 'Cause by '64, there were no political stances taken, at least ever publicly anymore through the '70s. That's if you don't count his chart-cellar singles "George Jackson" and "Hurricane", his impassioned plea for imprisoned-and-just-maybe-guilty-as-sin middleweight contender Rubin Carter. Those both were terrific if politically-naive tunes, by the way, and each with some utterly amazing vocals on alternate takes. But Dylan never got political again on record until 1983, with "Neighborhood Bully". That's the track which so heroically defends Israel, but does so one-hundred percent metaphorically, without ever mentioning the Jewish State by name! And that one too has a bunch of alternate takes which blow the one everybody hears on Infidels simply out of the water… But of the many bottom lines about this artist—and I suppose he'd be annoyed by the very notion of anyone ever trying to bottom-line him—is that Dylan sure seems to exist in this beautiful sort of apolitical world, where who's in or out of power in Washington or London or Moscow is all but irrelevant to him. He's aware of all that D.C. and Paris stuff, for sure, I mean, this guy's apparently not oblivious to anything, as far as I can tell! But it sure looks like he generally prefers to focus more on the historical, literary, scientific and of course philosophic aspects of things than harboring any sort of arguably political emphasis. That's why, by the way, I've been waiting for years for Dylan to write a song about Aristotle!… Anyway, the best part is, he then draws upon all those things almost alchemically to combine the ideas and images in the most lovely or cynical or reverential or just plain blues progressional kinds of ways. And often simply beautiful kinds of ways that greats from Lennon to Morrison and Clapton have marvelled about. Me, I just think Dylan's maybe tuned into some kinda way of seeing things that's mathematically precise… So yeah, I guess it's possible to have Einstein and Nero in the same Dylanesque tableau, and don't necessarily assume it's the physicist! For it could just be Super Dave!… Yeah, fortunately Dylan's only an artistic daredevil! But Super Dave Osborne is a funny guy who satirizes the real thing. See, his real last name's Einstein —Dave Einstein, younger brother of Albert Brooks… Well his Einstein was kinda like Dylan's Zimmerman—now why would Albert Brooks drop a surname like that? That's a question that's got an obvious answer, but not for me. Brooks, by the way, had a prominent role in Taxi Driver . Anyway, if I just by luck of the draw land the name Albert Einstein like Brooks did, I woulda kept it, not to help steer me toward a career in particle physics but because my next career move was into showbiz, good for the act, doncha know, but heck I'd probably hold onto that celebrated combination maybe even if I was just pushing an apple cart… Hey, even that career for Dylan would prove interesting, if you think about it—you doubt he'd find an enlivening rhythm in a yellin' grocer cart's spiel?—but the enterprise might commercially fail just because he was more interested in the architecture and the people surrounding him than in makin' a buck… This is related to why Dylan's a recording artist and not a poet. Now of course I'd imagine Dylan would ho-hum all this, not because he'd reject my instinctively mathematician's point of view about everything, but because he probably saw all this long before he could add two plus two… You see, any sentence in English or in fact almost any Western language boils down to an alphabetically-coded sequence of aural and semantic information. What we hear and react to is sum total of that which is written, plus its characteristic sound—which once it's tumbled through Dylan's vocal cavity almost invariably ends up sounding rhythmically unique to him. Now this is all true of any great singer, for sure, but Dylan somehow seems to consistently take it to another level. This is sometimes obvious, when Dylan plays with his supposed peers, as he's done a lot of times. For when he's on his game, they mostly by night's end aren't holding a candle to this guy whom so many others claim can't sing!… All those people up front, every show, always sayin' "Play this Bob, play that one Bob", they gotta lotta nerve as someone once positively lamented. I mean, I often call close friends of many years standing "Mr.", simply because it's a handy shorthand which connotes respect. But with those Bob-this-Bob-that types, I feel like confronting them: Hey, You, it's the Dylan Politeness and Creative Momentum Police here! Show some more respect, People! You don't know him and none of us can, even though you might know his songs. And don't you, uh, think he's really in a much better position to decide what he'll next perform?… You know, Dylan actually once deputized me down in Hollywood to serve as an ad-hoc bodyguard. There were more than the usual paparazzi out there on the Strip that night, and he called me over to try to keep the photographers away from him… No, that ain't a joke—really happened, kiddo. Right out there in public in front of literally dozens of people. And you can bet that that night for the first time maybe I did see the other side of my physicality-and-ideas equation—or inequality in my case… But back to the Marquis: Anyway, I'm in the bar talking about prisoners of conscience with the Amnesty International guy. He's the one who'd convinced Bono that they should have his group sponsor the whole tour, to raise their profile with the younger crowd, y'know. I've always been interested in the political-prisoner issue, especially over in the Soviet Union, so he had a lot to tell me, as you'd imagine. For a good while, I almost forgot who else was in the building somewhere… In fact, unbeknownst to me, the Hypnotist Collector had already found Dylan, and was there with him alone, almost pressing him for an autograph, just inside the patio. You see, that's a decidedly foolish move—trying to persuade Dylan to do anything he isn't interested in doing. So of course, in trying to get signatures, he was also trying patience there in front of the elevators. That's when I stumbled onto them, while prowling for a restroom. So Dylan was definitely annoyed at the instant his peripheral vision picked me up. Glanced right over, did that little eyebrow-furrowing thing he's always layin' on people, and then back to dodging the signing detail… I still don't know if he approached me because he thought I might know something he was curious about, or just because just then he was just in no signin' mood or just was uneasy with The Hypnotist Collector. That's another weird thing—sometimes Dylan will just stand or sit there for fifteen minutes or more, patiently signing for anyone who comes up. That's the way it was that night in 1980 at the Roxy with Mark Knopfler and George Segal the actor and Belushi… No, Jim. But weirdly enough, as it happens, the Roxy is right around the corner, on the same side of The Strip there, just a little west of where John would end up overdosing with that speedball thing! But that was a couple years later… Don't worry, I'll finish the Marquis story in a second! I know it's confusing, but I know how to tell a story. Not like Dylan tells a story, maybe… Anyway, I guess I was pretty lucky at the Roxy, too. See, it was a two-night stand for Dire Straits. Halloween week, right before the election. A week before I mean. The first night, the Tuesday night performance, had been uneventful—just a solid show featuring my favorite lead guitarist on the planet… But Dylan was nowhere to be seen that first night—personally, I'd like to think he was home in Malibu, watching Reagan and Carter in Cleveland face off in their sole debate. But the next night, the Wednesday, it sure didn't take long for events to fall into place! I'd heard he was up there in the afternoon for the rehearsal, so I figured the chance of a poof! that night were favorable. And sure enough. But then dig this : Dylan's was coincidentally but literally was the first face my eyes spied once I had tardily arrived inside the darkened club. Jumped right out at me it seemed like. That was weird… But anyway, of course his eyes were trained on the stage, and why not, Dire Straits was amazing in those days, just a quartet still and barely a year into their big time. Dylan was sitting toward the rear, back in that extra L-shaped corner that's there hard by the exit door, if you know the Roxy. If you've never been in it, just think good-sized comedy club. But of course with a national act like Dire Straits, we were all pretty packed in there, I'm not sayin' sardines, but people were bumpin' each other a lot. Anyway, get this—the chair right behind Dylan was still unoccupied! But not for long… Now, had Dylan ever noticed me in the dark right behind him, between songs at some point it might quite easily—and quite embarrassingly—have been me that evening, just like it was Carter the previous night, being scolded by a disappointed and shaking head, `There you go again…' Pretty long show, longer than the first night if I recall, and once Knopfler and the band had finished and the lights were up, there I was again, by hook or by crook, this time only three feet behind him in a jam-packed night club. But surprise! Instead of splitting quickly, his usual M.O. at these kinds of things, this time Dylan decides to hold court at his table for anyone who queued up to greet him!… Are you kidding? Of course I got in line! Wouldn't you have?… I dunno, maybe 20 or so. And you're not gonna believe who ends up being right behind me, not the kinda face you'll forget, and besides, she was back on TV in those days on one of those syndicated weekend dance shows. Yep, it's the 1980 edition of Twiggy herself!… You have recognized her in a second, just like I did. The fact that I'd seen her new show a few times gave me an excuse to talk to her… She appeared to be alone, believe it or not. Now anyway, it's a good while before I finally reached the front, and then the chair on Dylan's left had just opened up, so I grabbed it. Now even Twiggy—whom it seems he gets to call "Twiggs"—wasn't so privileged that night, 'cause see, I had snatched the only open chair anywhere near Dylan, so she couldn't even sit while catching up with him… Actually, I was hopin' she'd just hop onto his lap. Good thing she was right behind me in the line, rather than having cut in front, else I might never have gotten the seat! "Uh, Mr. Dylan, we have two seating possibilities for you: Would you prefer the Sixties Supermodel, or the Zimmerman Blues founder?"… Man, I'd never have even coaxed a hello outta Dylan that night if I wasn't squeezed in there right up against his shoulder, 'cause he wasn't sayin' much at all to me all that time inside; he kept talkin' to all these various people sitting or just crowding in to his right, especially this guy directly on his right… I have no idea. No, Segal I think was gone by then, I'm not sure may have been out in the parkin' lot or even up the street at the hotel by that point. That of course turned out to be where much of the action was gonna be that night… That's what I was talkin' about before the show, man! Remember how Dylan's laughin' up a storm there under the light pole? When Temporary Achilles was there tryin' to shoot some video of him? And he's lookin' like he's goin' into convulsions or somethin', but yeah, that was a hour later, all that was outside, man! Inside, it seemed as though I would have had more success had I been trying to hit on Twiggy. But no, that Roxy scene is the exception alas, not the rule, when it comes to Dylan making himself available while out in public… Well, weirdly enough, later that same night I kind of made up for for a later horror, if you can say that. Yeah, maybe you can say it's a compensatory act before the fact, for my later almost accidentally crushing him between those cars—I promised I'd detail that to you and I will if we don't stumble onto my car in the next five minutes—but anyway, you see, I kinda sorta made up in advance for my near-catastrophic error later, because that night thirteen months earlier Dylan himself was the negligent one! I mean, he nearly got hit by a speeding car while waiting with his entourage to cross Sunset. They were heading over to one of those small parking lots beneath The Strip. This big sedan was barrelling along westbound and I managed to pull Dylan out of harm's way just as he was pulling Regina Havis back, missing her by just a foot or two. You can hear the whoosh clearly on the tape… I'm not kidding! Dylan saved Regina's skin and I saved his. I'll detail the rest of that one later. Now you see, under normal circumstances, most of the time Dylan quite reasonably just doesn't wanna have anything to do with fans, and that was what The Hypnotist Collector ran into seven years later at The Marquis. Now me, I've never requested an autograph and never would. I'd always rather get 60 seconds of small talk with him than get a slip of paper I might get 600 bucks for. Besides, if any of few people I'm willing to admit this stuff to doubts any of it—and I bet a couple do—why wouldn't they also doubt the authenticity of any autograph I'd be wavin' at 'em?… But anyway, the Hypnotist Collector, he's cut from different cloth. Way different. Yet he's no naive guy, either, far from it, in fact. So I still don't know why he wasn't picking up on Dylan's hints when I happened upon them in the foyer leading out to the pool. Actually, they were more than hints. So maybe he was merely shaking The Hypnotist Collector by taking up with me. But his bad fortune was my good, as Dylan deserted him and started addressing me intently: "Yeah, I thought you looked familiar! How ya been, man?' So there he went again, once more so characteristically straining my credulity so satisfyingly. Because you see that time, as I'd soon find out, circumstance would have him hoping I'd be forthcoming!… No, first, he brushed off The Hypnotist Collector: "If you'll excuse me, please, 'cause I really gotta talk to Bryan. Alone."… I know, I know, this was like a dream. Maybe not quite "Bob Dylan's Dream", granted, and nothing remotely as surreal as "Bob Dylan's 115th Dream" for sure, but yeah, and I sometimes think I'd gladly give ten thousand dollars at the drop of a hat to have a certain photo from that night!… No, not from that one-on-one—I remember precisely what he looked like in there, 'cause it was all lit up, and no shades!… Oh I think he had 'em with him, but I dunno, maybe he thought it was important I look him right in the eye. Never a problem for me… Hey, he's not that short! I said about 5'6", but I told you earlier, I don't know, man—I try only to talk about stuff I know… No, the photo I want is from much later, and also poolside. Of me just standin' there against the Marquis's eastern wall talkin' with a couple of shorter guys on either side of me… Yep, I kid you not: Dylan on my left and Bono on my right. Maybe I oughta hire an artist to try to recreate it on a canvas. Really shoulda been carryin' cameras more than recorders all those years, but hey, I'm a radio guy, even more than I ever was a Dylanologist… Sorry, Mr. Dylan, wherever you are! But I doubt he'd be insulted by that—if there's anyone who understands how to imply a separate reality with just a related set of sounds, it's him. So anyway, it may have taken awhile, but I guess Zimmerman Blues, in its own way, after the fact and after all, finally did end up placing me literally right into the middle of his weirdly wonderful world, however briefly. Well, at least there's a tape of this, otherwise everyone would just presume I was fabricating it, or worse, just being delusional! Yeah, like I could write this stuff… Anyway, when we finally were alone in another adjacent foyer, it soon became clear this was all about other Dylanologists! See, first he kept pumping me about how well I knew The Hypnotist Collector. I risked putting him off by disclosing how he been a valued Zimmerman Blues reader from early on, and then I even vouched for him. And I'm glad I did, because I really like The Hypnotist Collector, though that clearly wasn't his finest night. But only then did it become obvious what was really gnawin' at Dylan… No, turns out it was another person, someone he seemed to think might be worth finding more out about. You see, Dylan was concerned—"worried" probably isn't even too strong a word—about what Bob Spitz might be including in this big bio's he's got comin' out, though I dunno what might have made Dylan think little ole me might have had anything on Spitz. That was another surprise. Dylan books are a dime a dozen, and have been for at least a decade now, so I always figured he looked at all those coming out every year the same way I assumed he regarded Zimmerman Blues: just keep your eye on the ball and never be distracted by all that's out there. That's always the way he's seemed to handle it… Look, I doubt he much sits around listening to his records, and I doubt he gets much of a kick outta readin' about himself. But after this episode, who knows? Who really knows much of anything about this guy? I'm supposed to, but I gave up ages ago—I'm just watching the parade now. So I didn't have anything helpful to offer Dylan that night… And you know, now I'm kinda glad. I mean, that's a bit underhanded, tryin' to play one guy coverin' you one off against another. And had I known anything useful, and how much intimidation could I have withstood? I mean even gentle pressure, from him, of all people? After all, this is the one guy I'd never be messin' with even if I could box!… But y'know, just maybe my embarrassment about all this also makes me sell myself a bit short. 'Cause come to think of it, maybe his consulting me, even if only to maneuver or defend against some other writer, was a kind of unstated acknowledgment that, in the end, he actually somehow kinda sorta respects me. So maybe he wasn't oblivious to the fact that the term "fanzine" was always such a misnomer for Zimmerman Blues. Well I sure never referred to it that way after the initial primitive issues. 'Cause sometimes I'd be highly critical of his work in the magazine! I'm sure it's obvious why I detest bein' called a Dylan freak, but I also abhor bein' mischaracterized as a "fan" for less conspicuous reasons. I don't lionize much less idolize Dylan, I scrutinize him. Which is always a lot more interesting anyway, right?… Please tell me that's no surprise to you, is it? I mean, you been hearin' me complainin' about him pretty much all night, haven't you? Not to mention probably through three-quarters of the amphitheatre's lots here in Concord. Oh, there's my car! So how on earth did we miss it when we were over there before, for Heaven's sake?… Oh well. I guess this is where we part. So anyway, sure hope seeing your first Dylan show with an oldtimer didn't spoil it for ya, man. Look, I know my Dylan stories are next to impossible to follow, but believe me, even with me mixin' ya up and all, you sound like you sure got a lot of it. And it's gotta be easier for you to follow all this than it is for me to follow him. If you don't believe there's a cost/For this live Paradise Lost/Just remind me/To show ya the scars… Yeah, yer right, that doesn't fit. Sorry, screwed up the rhythm. But you know, Dylan could sing that line and make it work. There's nobody I've ever heard who can do that quite as effortlessly as he seems to. They say Dylan can't sing, but he can do that in maybe a way maybe even Sinatra couldn't. And you know what I think of Francis Albert. Actually, watchin' him… No, watching Dylan!… I mean, followin' this guy over the years, you always feel like it's Waiting for Godot, 'cause just like that never-seen fellow, I don't know if the real Dylan has ever arrived at any of these corners of the country I keep seein' him in! Anyway, I just did that Milton riff just to lay on ya one of my favorite lyrics. Too bad Dylan tonight didn't dust off "Where Are You Tonight (Journey Though Dark Heat)"! I think even I woulda applauded that!... Because he's got enough people clappin', whether or not the rendition he just finished was any good! Are you serious? You really think I should be applauding the whole night through? By the way, that actual lyric is "sweet paradise"… Yeah, Dylan's like that, he'll just be singin' some lyric that's normally got Einstein or Kissinger or Charles Atlas, and now all of sudden it's Houdini, or Streisand. Or William the Conqueror. Or Blanche Dubois. Or Jonny Quest. Or Archie Bunker. Look, I can't keep up with this guy, my only mistake was ever thinkin' I might! Well, one of my mistakes anyway… But at least now you understand how Dylan's not just another self-indulgent megastar, and how he so gracefully glides under the celebrity-culture radar, 'cause despite his Sinatra-sized clout, he seldom matches the record sales of even the second-tier trendy acts… But he sure knows somethin' 'bout trends. Lyrical, musical, dictional, attitudinal. Even fashion. He's set 'em all. Hard to measure influence, but not hard to see it. And in his case, it's even easier to hear it… Hey, I got another irony for ya. And this one's truly off the chart: back in '84, Dylan may actually have heard me on the radio more often than I heard him on the radio! At least during the basketball season with all those Lakers traffic reports I was doin', 'cause I told you he's a hard-core hoops guy, and I'm told he virtually never missed even the pre-game shows. And I virtually never listen to FM, so oddly enough, through all the years I almost never heard Dylan on my favorite medium! I've always been an AM guy, and even today man, I truly can't tell you how many months it's been since I've heard some Dylan tune on an FM station, and his voice almost never is heard on AM anymore!… Anyway, if I ever land a talk radio gig, I'm not plannin' on ever talking about him. See, I wanna do open lines, so I guess he'll inevitably come up from time to time, but I ain't gonna bring him up, that's for sure. Because this guy's a niche product, musically, and a niche personality, existentially. Nope, the squares I listen to doing call-in radio don't know how to react to hipsters like Dylan. Oh, they might recognize some of his talent, but that beautiful strangeness I'm so transfixed by they just find odd. And not the good kinda odd. See, they're the kind that come away shaking their heads muttering, "Great songwriter maybe, but he just can't sing"… Yeah, you and I sure know better, don't we? You got lucky tonight, by the way… Yeah, more nights than not on these tour shows, he's fiddlin' around with vocal tricks that I'll grant are usually interesting to hear once or even twice, but ultimately not much more often, because that stuff is usually not very melodic and don't usually sound very heartfelt either, in sharp contrast to his records. But he also comes through every once in a while at some of these tour concerts, and tonight he sounded like he was workin' at it… But no matter how impressive the stage singing, even after just one show you can see how he almost always saves the real, the serious singing for the recording studio, can't you?… Oh, they'd never me peek into those audio vaults…but they sure oughta. I would painstakingly sift through all of it, take by take, every one of the hundreds or quite possibly thousands of extant segments, and highlight the stuff that's worth really dwelling on. That's may be only every sixth or seventh or even fourteenth take sometimes, but then man oh man he'll just fall into the groove and then there's absolutely no one who can touch him. And I've heard a few of his fellow rock stars say pretty much the same thing as well. Oh, what a fantasy! In any event, I guess even with total access I'd still never get to hear all of the studio stuff, since I'm gonna quit flying soon and I bet a lot of it is in a bunch of different places all over Europe… Oh, you did first ask about Europe, didn't you? That's what started me on this endless rave! You were seeking my expert Dylanological opinion on how long this tour's gonna be happenin' and if it might get across the pond for a Euro leg before Dylan shuts it down and retools again. So my best advice is: you'd better see these shows while you can, 'cause by winter this tour is kaput, and then next year, who knows? He could pull a Thomas Merton and decide to see what it's like to wind down for a year or two in a Franciscan monastery! Wouldn't be the zaniest thing he's ever done… Yep, absolutely one-of-a-kind. A bit ago I used the phrase "hipsters like Dylan", but of course the truth is, no one is like him. I've never found anyone he's even similar to, alive or dead. Blake, Byron, Hemingway, Brando, Dean, Ali, none of 'em work. Picasso's been posited, but maybe Evel Knievel's closer. But he can't sing or probably even very cleverly rhyme I wouldn't think… Oh, speaking of those guys. You see, I meet a lot of people, and I love meetin' famous people, not 'cause they're usually any better than schmoes like you and me, but because they got such weird lives. Ya ever notice that celebrities don't have jobs? Now they got careers of course, but none of the ones I meet ever have to be at a desk by 9 am weekdays. Well, maybe the radio stars I know do, but you get my point. Of course everyone sez I'm a name-dropper, but hey, I'm tryin' to pick up famous names!… Whenever Dylan's around, you shouldn't be surprised by anyone you meet. But of course, everything's relative—so I meet a lot of people, but not like he meets a lot people. That's one big reason it's fun to be a writer, and I bet that ya can raise that to the second or third power for one of those late-night radio talkers, should I ever persuade one of those PDs I ain't just a good writer. That's about all I got, I'm afraid—oh, I paid attention in school and all that, but the PDs I talk to around the country, I dunno how much they care about any of that. I ain't a musician, even though it's sure fun playin' with people, but you wouldn't wanna listen to me on guitar… Oh yeah. I been meanin' to tell you this all night, almost forgot! Dylan's not the lame musician so many in the biz say he is behind his back! Don't get me wrong, he's gotta know he's mainly seen as a words guy with most of 'em, but it might surprise you to see how musical he is. I mean, when he's just hangin', talkin' to people out in public, watch his feet, man, one of 'em's always tappin' out some tune in his head! I dunno, maybe all those guys are like that. Yeah, I'm sure Clapton's always thinkin' musically too. But why not? If I was any good on guitar or bass, that's what I'd be doin', that's for sure. It's a lot more fun than bowlin' or shooting pool. To me anyway… 'Cause they're musicians, just a fundamentally different kind of person. Dylan once talked about this to somebody or other. He was speaking about pro athletes, about how they're just a different class of people fundamentally. And of course the same thing applies to musicians and artists in general. Even though you can't separate the artist from the musician—and you shouldn't wanna. First and foremost, at least to me, he's an artist. Nearly everybody else calls him a poet, sometimes he does himself, but I sure never do. You heard me even once call Dylan a poet tonight?… No! That was when I was comparin' some of his narratives to Edgar Allen Poe!… No, I don't think I will forgive you for that one! Oh maybe I will, now that we've finally found the car. Anyway, if succinctness is more your style than my various Dylan ramblings, the famed New York-based Australian critic Lillian Roxon distilled the entire Dylan thing down to one line: The Moment of Truth… Roxon picked up on him while he was still young and pretty new on the scene there in the Village, and then she died young, in '73. Of asthma, actually. That was in 1970 that Roxon wrote that, in her landmark Rock Encyclopedia. It was her single-sentence lead for her marathon entry… Yeah, you're right, it is a bit too amorphous, vague, but of course that's Dylan's stock-in-trade, remember. And it's also why Roxon wrote half a dozen pieces in which she always made it clear, her work would all but intone it in fact, that Dylan is it, that that should be obvious to anyone who gives him half a listen, and most important, that there's really zero competition. Both Roxon's writing and temperament were compared to Dorothy Parker, and she's still hailed as the Mother of Rock Journalism… Well, like Parker, Roxon was particularly known for making trenchant points, and really said something when she noticed the irony in how the press regarded The Byrds as Dylanized Beatles. She countered that the whole point all along was that they were Beatles-ized Dylans. Maybe her background made her especially attuned to Dylan: she was a Polish Jew whose family escaped Down Under a year before the war. And to think Roxon has by now missed out on nearly two-thirds of Dylan's career—makes me feel all the more fortunate for what I've been around to witness so far… That's why I love his name, just five letters, no repeats, and he's got that cool Y almost up front. "Dylan" says it all, but of course in turn tells you absolutely nothing. Doesn't explain a whit, just the way he likes it. And I guess I nearly said it all tonight, too, and you've at least pretended to enjoy it… You're kidding! Well, thanks! Yeah, but even in the middle of the night? Could you imagine staying up that late to listen to it? Not that it matters, for there's enough lonely ears up at that hour anyway, overnight live call-in radio will never die or be replaced by computers… Well, I told you, I ain't gonna talk about him on the radio. Unless of course he's in the mainstream news—but he hardly ever is anymore—No that just ain't gonna happen, I'm keeping that show a Dylan-free zone for obvious reasons… Well thanks, really—now all I gotta do is get a PD to say the same thing and maybe it'll work out. Because in the end that Zimmerman Blues thing sure worked out in its own way!… Yeah, I gotta roll too, but this one last point and that's it, promise! It's this line written by a guy I know in New York, although I think he's from England, actually. He sure sounded it—barely know him, only talked to him at length once. Anyway, I didn't think it was possible to fully summarize Dylan in less than a thousand pages. But he did it pretty much with one line, although I bet half the people who read it just chuckled and then didn't even bother to think about it. But they should. 'Cause that's when it hits ya. Kinda like the writer plantin' a time-bomb in the copy. Since it really brilliantly places into perspective why every comparison is inadequate. See, he was reviewing the first Christian record, Slow Train Coming… Correct! In Alabama! Now you're gettin' it! So it ain't totally impossible followin' all this! Anyway, this editor at this New York City weekly pairs his Slow Train Coming thing with a sidebar piece I did completely independently from him out here in California… No, I ain't nearly a good enough essayist to be published by The Village Voice! It was the poor-man's Voice, the SoHo Weekly News… Anyway, my contribution was on Dylan's church down in Tarzana. You know the San Fernando Valley, right?… No, Tarzana's flat part, on the north edge, almost up at Reseda. Anyway, my article was just a pretty straight report from the field with an interview with Dylan's pastor Kenn Gulliksen. I went up there with Mack the Finger and The Lonesome Hobo. And you bet we went for a Sunday morning service. We were of course hoping Dylan might slip in, but no poof that day… This is summer '79 , mind you, before anyone had heard any of the new music. You see, the conversion was still a rumor to us, and a scary one to an awful lot of them, though not to me, you already know how I'm the religion-friendly agnostic. But a lot of hard-core Dylan fans that summer were sayin' if most of this turns out to be true, that's it for me, that kinda thing… But anyway, this other writer, the guy in New York, put his Slow Train review in the form of the old thing where you stage a dialogue in your piece. So he's got these two aging Dylan fans arguing about his conversion after listening to the record just once, and the exchange reads pretty much as funny as you'd imagine, but it also hits you. Wallops ya. A lot more than anything Dylan and Young belted out under the tent tonight, I tell ya that! Anyway, his pro guy points out, "Hey, what's wrong with Dylan changing his life? After all, he changed yours"… Oh that I admit was way better than the best line in my companion piece there, but hey, I told you, he sounded like he went to Oxford or Cambridge or somethin'. That's also why I guess I didn't feel bad that his ended up being the featured piece when the package was published in New York… They came up with "G-d and Zimmerman", actually… It's a very clever title—it's Nietzsche, isn't it? Or Shaw maybe? No, that's not right, it's Buckley… No, not Tim Buckley, William!… F.!… WilliamF.Buckley,Jr.! never mind. Can we move on?… Anyway, that first Dylan-changed-our-lives line was primo for sure, but then it's grand slam time, baby: you see, this writer maybe oughta be a philosopher, because he then tops himself when he has his anti guy win the debate with this: "What you can't seem to see is how Jesus was the Dylan of his time!" Now sure, it's a joke and a hilarious one at that, but it's even more a brilliant if oh so subtle point… Alright, alright: busted! But gimme a break—remember, I got that Laugh Factory gig down in Hollywood! So I hadda polish his gag up a bit. That's called editing. And hey, dude, I wasn't merely the Zimmerman Blues publisher, I was its editor too!… But for whatever reason, Dylan never got in my way. Almost just the opposite, actually. I mean, if he was really annoyed with me—and I never got that impression—he coulda picked up a phone and told whomever he thought would best handle it just three or four serious sentences of general instructions and that would have been it. Of course, he couldn't sic Grossman on me, 'cause he was long gone by then… No, not on the Concorde! Fired by Dylan! Or quit. Or got laid off due to budgetary cutbacks, or outsourced somewhere, I don't know! How could I have met him in Harvard Square if he had already died?!? Look, I'm getting distracted here… Sorry. My only point is, Dylan presumably coulda made things uncomfortable for me big-time in any one of half-a-dozen ways. Or hundreds of ways. I mean, I always had the First Amendment on my side, obviously. But if he really wanted to make it difficult for me, well, he coulda had Zimmerman Blues shuttered in weeks, I'm sure. Or days. But he didn't seem to care. And why should he, after all? I was a college junior at least as worried about my stayin' together with my girlfriend and maintaining my GPA as I was doing this Dylan project! I was a kid, and he was Dylan. Why on earth would he be the least bit concerned?… And I'd learn regularly enough that sometimes he even got a kick outa it—I told you how he jumped off the bus that time with the eighth issue in his left hand—and it was open with him pointin' at it, and almost kinda… Of course I do! And this strangely appreciative expression on his face, too: "Hey, I really like this picture ya got of me here!"… Look, it's gettin' late, man. That Christ gag says it all, when you really ponder it, plus hammers a powerful point. If you're gonna be a really good writer, you'd better make great points and be funny, or better yet, witty. Just like on talk radio, though there ya gotta make it up on the spot, plus sneak in the phone numbers, billboard your next hour and then get out in time for the network tone, and that's never off by even half a second. And somehow manage to sound relaxed throughout the entire process! So maybe I'll make the world's most edgy radio talk host. But I know I can handle the mechanics, and will always uphold broadcast professionalism. And anyway, these stories tonight were worth listening to for an hour, right?… What, I haven't demonstrated by now I know tons of stuff unrelated to Dylan? Though it's true, more things are related to Dylan than you'd ever figure. Or maybe once you've finally figured out that this guy's on some kind of mission, you just expect to find Dylan connections everywhere. Lawyers have a real nifty term for when you face something as one-of-a-kind as this entire Dylan business is: Sui generis… Yeah, it kinda does makes ya wonder what he might sound like singin' in Latin! Well, I'm sure he could handle it. And maybe we'll find out someday, if he ever does that Friar Robert thing and they got any tape decks up in those places… Anyway: My bottom line is, I hope it's now crystal-clear now why long ago I got tired of being confounded when trying to figure this guy out. So these days I just appreciate his work. It's not only easier, it's way more fun. Which actually makes it all the more acutely painful for me to admit this, particularly right after such a spirited and unusually-melodic performance tonight under the tent here in Concord at the outset of this quickie tour… So after this one runs its short course, he should just recharge somewhere for six months or so. Not at a religious retreat, mind you—he of all people can't enjoy having people tuggin' on his mind, I wouldn't think—but maybe just at one of those world-class resort spas. He should just rent an entire wing of one of those joints and chill. Never have to deal with a single other person except the help, and depending on which corner of the globe it's in, they might not understand much English anyway. Because I gotta say, all factors considered, at the rate he's been goin' all these years, if Dylan even makes it to age 50, I'll be surprised."
So. Now, nearly a decade here into the new millennium, any ideas as to what might be next for the 67-year-old with the funny nose, the funnier hair and the funniest voice? A guest-judge appearance on American Idol? An on-location Food Network series from the dome home's kitchen in Malibu? Flagpole-sitting?
* The Great Inscrutable One's Neverending Tour is currently snaking its way through Denmark on the way toward Germany, as every self-respecting Dylanologist is well aware...though granted, it's hard to conceive why any Dylanologist might have self-respect.
** If you're really curious, my half-decade as the Dylanologist behind Zimmerman Blues is detailed pretty darned accurately on pages 645-646 of Gray's massive Dylan Encyclopedia...and my KIRO broadcasts even get mentioned!
*** I realize Dylan's organization, not to mention virtually the entirety of the media, hyphenatingly arrange the applicable text as The Never-Ending Tour. But note that Dylan was apparently borrowing his phraseology from the famed German children's novelist—and so ironically named!—Michael Ende anyway. Ende's endless fantasy was published in Germany in 1979 hyphen-free as Die unendliche Geschichte and then translated as The Neverending Story. So herein I'm employing my own compounded-word configuration of The Neverending Tour to further certain syntactical and existential ends.
**** At this seemingly infelicitous point, I'd like to dedicate this punishingly-long piece to Abbott & Costello, neither of whom, alas, survived into the 1980s. In fact, Lou Costello died Tuesday, March 3, 1959 and thus missed the entirety of Dylan's career. And his taller, thinner, and even-faster-talking partner Bud Abbott expired Wednesday, April 24, 1974, not ten weeks after Dylan completed his landmark Newsweek-cover comeback tour. So the quintessential straight man himself also couldn't witness the ensuing three-and-a-half-and-counting straight Dylanological decades. If I ever speak to Dylan again, I will inquire if he ever crossed paths with Abbott. Now, I've no idea if Abbott ever heard even a single Dylan song, much less how he might have reacted to the surrealistic singer's sound. But come to think of it, Abbott's voice was roughhewn too! So I'd maybe not be surprised to learn they were mutual admirers, even if they'd never met. Meanwhile, I can't imagine why anyone reaching this point in my marathon musical essay—and even dutifully reading each footnote!—might have done so with no remaining intention of completing it in this same sitting, something I'd heartily encourage for several reasons. I just figured you needed a break about now, since after all, you're still seven paragraphs shy of merely completing the introduction to this mega-essay. So, to additionally further your enjoyment of the impending Neverending Paragraph, something you, the dylangen—I mean diligent—reader will so soon be so helplessly pulled so headlong into, I thought you might use this breather beforehand to watch "Who's on First?" on YouTube. Especially if it'd be your first time through the extended exasperating exchange which hilariously answered so many never-asked questions. It's probably the most celebrated comedy-team routine in showbiz history, and deservedly so. Any of the numerous extant filmed or kinescoped renditions of Abbott & Costello performing it will do, but I'd recommend the one in their 1945 vaudeville period piece The Naughty Nineties. Not merely because that film features my all-time favorite comedy team doing what the comics themselves are said to have considered the definitive version of their signature bit, but also because my hometown is featured prominently in the dialogue and even emblazoned across Abbott's chest in the form of the fictional St. Louis Wolves. And nary a word about Dylan.