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.