Thursday, August 20, 2009

Knocked out loaded: the private life of Bob Dylan

"A riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma"-although these words were used to describe Russia in 1939, they could just as well be used to describe the private life of Bob Dylan. Ever evasive, Dylan has been notoriously unwilling to divulge anything about his private life; reporters are apparently warned not to question him about it in interviews, and those that are brave enough are uniformly met by his famous "1000 yard stare". The private life of Bob Dylan is just that: completely, totally and utterly private.

However, once every so often tales slip through the net, stories that capture Dylan at his most unguarded and natural. And they always seem to paint him as...well, completely normal, actually.

1971 was a particularly reclusive year for Dylan, although not, in terms of exposure, totally a private one. This can be put down to deranged "Dylanologist" A.J Weberman, famous as the man who rummaged around Dylan's rubbish outside his New York apartment, subsequently coming up with many strange theories; among other things, Weberman somehow became convinced that Dylan had become a serious heroin junkie (many years later, he came to exactly the same conclusion with Jakob Dylan as well). In January 1971, Dylan and Weberman had a series of phone exchanges relating to the publishing of an article by Weberman about Dylan; Weberman recorded the conversations, and they were released that year on a Folkways L.P called "The Ballad of A.J Weberman". Now part of Dylan folklore, the hilarious dialogue between the two occasionally clears to reveal some insights about Bob Dylan, the family man.

Among the many gems is the classic about Bob Dylan, home carpenter:

Dylan: (On putting off a meeting with Weberman) "I'm working man, I'm building some shit you know, and I really gotta get it built. Just, ah, some tables and some shelves and some stuff and I gotta get it done man, I put it way off"

Or this one about Bob Dylan, protector of children and, just maybe, abused husband:

"Leave my kids out of it...I don't want to say it, my wife will fuckin' hit me, man"

And, although not strictly relevant, it would be a crime to leave out this hilarious exchange about music critic Greil Marcus:

Weberman: "Those music critics, they're all full of shit man..."

Dylan: "Greil Marcus is or isn't, did you say?"

Weberman: "He's full of shit"

Dylan: "Yeah, I think so too"

The original L.P was pulled soon after it was released, unsurprisingly, due to legal threats from Dylan. However, the tapes still managed to float around, no doubt to the frustration and consternation for poor Bob.

In the more recent past, the stories about Bob Dylan and his private life have been slipping out more steadily, lending creedence to the contemporary view of Bob Dylan: eccentric. In 2007, a report surfaced about Dylan travelling to his grandson's kindergarten (Jakob-heroin addict's-son) to play music to his pre-school class. Apparently the children did not appreciate having a musical legend in their midst: "The kids have been coming home and telling their parents about the wierd man who keeps coming to class to sing scary songs on his guitar", said a source quoted in the New York Post. "Hes been visiting the school just for fun, but the kids don't appreciate they are in the prescence of a musical legend. They just think of him as the wierd guitar guy". The story telling ended in short order when, after hearing about the "wierd man" from their kids, parents began turning up and discovering, to their amazement, that this stranger was actually Bob Dylan. Poor Bob.

And of course, this leads to the latest, and quite possibly funniest, story of the bunch: Bob Dylan gets arrested. Well, not quite, but almost.

It all happened on July 23rd, whilst in New Jersey for a tour date with John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson. Apparently before the show, Dylan decided to take a walk by himself around the streets of N.J in the pouring rain; after all, Dylan did once say "some people feel the rain, others just get wet".

An alarm was raised by frightened homeowners who came across poor Bob staring in through their window-their house was for sale, and Dylan later noted that he was thinking about buying it. However, the owners called the police, reporting that an "eccentric looking old man" was on their property; after some residents followed him for several blocks, the police pulled over to question him. Agreeing to take him to to his hotel (although still refusing to believe that it was actually Bob Dylan), they "humoured" him, although they noted that he was very polite and pleasant about the ordeal. Despite their doubts ("that's not Bob Dylan", a police sergeant was quoted as saying), it turned out that, in fact, it WAS Bob Dylan. Red faces abounded and, in the event, noone knows whether he was taken back to the house by the police like he had asked. Presumably not, it would be fair to say.

Poor Bob Dylan. Although stiving to be anonymous, his fame often precedes him, with often hilarious results. Who knows what his next 'uncovering' will be; all I know is that I'm looking forward to it. Thats for sure.

1 comment:

  1. I have a number of small tales regarding the private life of "Poor Bob". My brother was rather well acquainted with Dylan in 1961-64. He has some stories that are amusing, charming, and very normal. I have urged him to write them all down. He has enough recollections to make a very long article, or a very short book. He continues to refuse, to this day, on the grounds of privacy, and his thought that if he doesn't get some of the details just right, it will haunt him, and he doesn't want to be beset by "Bobcats", who are looking for more stories. I hope to persuade him, some day. I probably have about a dozen stories from him, and I know there are more as he pops up with a new one, every now and then.

    " I remember when Bob came to play at Lena's, in Saratoga and we went bowling after the gig. He made everbody laugh when he..."

    It kills me. I hope, someday, he'll relent and see the wisdom of sharing these wonderful bits of Bob, the human.