Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bob Dylan - My Personal Chronicle


Bob Dylan: Nashville Skyline

Can you please crawl out your window?
Use your arms and legs it won't ruin you
How can you say he will haunt you?
You can go back to him any time you want to.
bobdylan.com: Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?


"I really was never any more than what I was—a folk musician who gazed into the gray mist with tear-blinded eyes and made up songs that floated in a luminous haze." Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan. Wow. Flashback. Come with me down Memory Lane as I open a page from my personal chronicles to one of the signal, if not defining moments of my Boomer youth.

While I was at Penn in the late 1960s, I escaped Philly almost every summer weekend to a classmate's family vacation retreat at the tip of Connecticut on Long Island Sound. The rows of large, comfortable homes were clustered so close together you could reach out your window and touch the neighbor's curtains.

One summer morning my friend and I were awakened far too early by music from an open window opposite ours. At first groggy, then annoyed, then stilled by the plaintive, haunting sounds drifting through the clear morning air. We listened, confused, and said to each other, "God, that's incredible. I didn't know Dylan had a new record."

I've telegraphed the punchline. There was no new record, at least not yet. It was Dylan himself, a house guest of the next-door neighbor, sitting in his room, playing and singing. Was he still composing? Playing for his own pleasure? We never found out. We just lay there and listened, entranced, as he sang.

Lay, lady, lay, lay across my big brass bed
Stay, lady, stay, stay with your man awhile
Until the break of day, let me see you make him smile
His clothes are dirty but his hands are clean
And you're the best thing that he's ever seen

Bob Dylan: Lay, Lady, Lay


Ah ha, gotcha with the bigger punchline. Whenever I hear that song I'm transported back to that time and that place and Dylan singing just to us.

We came to our window to see him at his, and our silent applause was rewarded with a crooked smile. No, there isn't another punchline, I'm not cueing up to claim carnal knowledge of Bob Dylan. The memory is perfect just as it happened, nothing but sense and sound and secret smiles.

That day he joined our crowd on the beach. The transition from bedroom troubadour to beach buddy was a bit unsettling -- for him as well as us. He was quiet in the beginning. Seemingly aloof. Uncomfortably shy. Thin and pale, especially compared to our robust, tanned bodies. And, I don't know why I remember this irrelevant and pointless detail, his own body was not only very white, but almost completely hairless. Not even close to the image of a rock star sex symbol ... I guess that's my point.

And yet. And yet. There was something special, unique, compelling about him. Intelligence. A vibrating intensity. Oddly, a measure of poise we certainly did not yet possess. And quietude. That's what strikes me now as I look back on that day. He was so still. His eyes didn't restlessly track every movement on the beach ... though they certainly lingered on the girls in our bikinis. I have to tell you, no matter what his reputation as a lothario, there was more longing than lasciviousness in his gaze.

We were all so alive, so boisterous, so young and juicy, he seemed to soak up our energy and enthusiasm as the day went on. And because we were also elite Ivy Leaguers, engaged, involved, committed to altering the chaotic adult world we were about to enter, he was drawn into our conversations too.

What did we talk about, our little group and Bob Dylan? The war, the draft, the Kennedy assassination, politics, feminism, sex, drugs and--only a little--rock and roll. We didn't have to talk about that because he played for us. Sitting on a blanket on the sand, leaning against a big red cooler, an old guitar on his bent, knobby white knees, he played and he sang. And we sang too, at first quietly and respectfully, then, encouraged by his smiles and nods, belting out familiar lyrics he'd engraved on our souls.

It was pure magic. A bunch of tuned in, turned on college kids, passing around cigarettes and joints, sharing swigs of beer and cheap wine, drifting in a private cocoon of near nirvana. Privileged to be joined by this odd duck, this awkward performer, this towering talent, who was, for one glorious summer day, one of us.


Word spread. People wandered past our blanket, self-consciously casual, checking out this music icon their kids worshiped. You could see many adults shaking their heads, wondering what all the fuss was about.

But a few, not tied to tradition for tradition's sake, stopped and openly listened. And I think, heard the eloquent pleas for peace, reason, change, understanding.

That indelible encounter has stayed with me for 30 years, and will linger in my memory banks forever. I know now what I didn't really appreciate then: I was lucky enough to experience, up close and personal, the clarion Voice of my Generation.

My friend Jesse Kornbluth--in his formal persona as Head Butler--stirred these memories of Bob Dylan.

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6 Comments:

Blogger The-Karaoke-Advisor said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:31 PM  
Blogger CADsmith said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:31 PM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

JEEZUS! Is nothing sacred? Suddenly I'm a Gratuitous Ad magnet? I know I can delete these dumbass comments, but does anybody know how to Block them?

3:39 PM  
Blogger Stef the engineer said...

Turn on the password function, where posters have to type in a word produced by a picture; that stops them coming. It's on the settings for comments from the dashboard. Works like a charm. (Disallowing anonymous comments won't do it, as the spambots have blogger identities. To be fair, they're probably smarter than some blogger members.)

And talking about ads; any comments on Dylan's decision to link up with Starbucks and tie up with sexy underwear?
(I have to say I'm actually fairly easy about his decision; there are worse things to be tied up in. Hang on, that came out wrong...)

3:03 AM  
Blogger Sally Swift said...

I do know about the password function, and though valuable for secure sites which store personal information, I personally have found the whole thing annoying for any other site ... and imagined anybody wanting to post a comment wouldn't necessarily be inspired enough to jump through extra hoops to do so. Maybe I'm wrong, one can only hope.

Re Dylan, coffee and underwear, I've long been of the opinion that if companies want to pay celebs and said celebs want to take the money, it's pretty much up to consumer whether or not to "buy" the endorsement.

Of course, having seen Dylan in a bathing suit in his youth, I'm not in a real big hurry to see him in underwear 30 years later. I'd rather just listen and enjoy what he evokes in my mind.

But that's just me.

5:21 PM  
Blogger Marisa said...

Wow, what an amazing experience, thanks for sharing it.

2:20 PM  

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