Writings about Music
Nautical Moccasin Elusive Blues
I wish to thank David Amram for all his kind words regarding both my music and writings about music. David spent a summer on Fire Island in the sixties playing and singing folk songs with Bob Dylan while vacationing with their families. One of the funniest stories I've ever heard is about how David brought Bob and Allen Ginsberg together for a collaboration. A neighbor, Linda Silver, told me of her late husband, Roy Silver, who explains how he had Dylan record a demo for a new song he found phenomenal for the purpose of bringing it to the attention of Peter, Paul and Mary. The song? Blowin' in the Wind.
Roy Silver and Bob Dylan (unidentified guitarist)
Still can’t believe it.
Me, his devoted student from recordings, I ran into him at a seaside café late last Wednesday afternoon, and he even went and sat down at the table next to ours. We had scrutinized each other briefly near the counter without saying anything. I was wearing sunglasses so that may have been off-putting. So, I left the ordering line and went to sit down too, sending 17-year-old Lily visiting her aunt from Maui to take my place in line. That’s when I noticed the two beefy bodyguards in black T-shirts sitting at the table in front of me scrutinizing me obliquely. Bob Dylan was seated at the table to my left just a few feet away wearing pretty fancy moccasins, blue jeans, and a bluish T-shirt with a stain on the back.
Brian Jones and Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan's artistically nourishing influence transformed British musicians such as the Rolling Stones and the Beatles. From them he got the idea to "go electric".
Pretty soon after, he began eating king crab legs, turning away from us towards the ocean for privacy, I suppose. Not wishing to be rude, but hoping to engage Bob after he had finished with the crab, I told the truth in a voice loud enough to be heard about how I had caught Woody Guthrie on KCSN recently, and how he was one of the greatest musicians I had ever experienced. Dylan heard me say this, but still no response. I had prefaced this with comments about a UFO seen in Maui last spring, and that got his attention too, but no response. Heard his companion wearing a Grateful Dead T-shirt comment about the weather: "At least its cool" even though it was rather warm, so its not like I was competing with scintillating conversation.
The way he ate that crab was noteworthy. It was like he was in communion with the spirit of the crab who had died so that it might transmit some sacred knowledge to its eater, engaged in an ancient ritual of sacrifice and the process of reincarnation. Dylan ate those crab legs like they were the most delectable thing in the entire world. Like they might yield a musical secret for a new song. Who knows, maybe he was stoned. But it was also the manner of a prisoner (in this case a prisoner of fame) who had learned to guard his food carefully, arms wrapped around it while leaning slightly forward, determined to retain at least a semblance of the freedom found in public anonymity.
After a half-hour or more of this, he made a call on his cell, speaking in an authoritative manner. Then he got up to order more food after perusing a paper menu in front of him on the table, his companion pointing out that the fried stuff was on one side of the menu and the un-fried stuff on the other. I say stuff because the food wasn’t that great, having gone downhill a bit since the last time I was there about six years ago. They didn’t even have lobster rolls, which were my favorite.
After Bob got up to get in line to order more food, we got up too, and I admittedly walked out of my way in order to pass by him standing in line with his bodyguards who had been drinking giant cans of beer at the table, looking like pretty cool guys actually. Dylan was excited about the food like a young boy entering the corner candy store facing a dizzyin' array of sweet concoctions. Maybe he knew what to order and I had missed out.
Walking into the parking lot towards the car, I told Lily that the guy sitting next to us had been Bob Dylan (at the table I was afraid she might blurt out something indiscreet), and that she should go and give him a kiss, but only half-serious, not expecting her to do anything but look. She became excited though, saying she loved him, which surprised me because I had assumed she was too young to know his music.
I waited by the car and couldn’t believe what I missed by doing so. Lily had tapped Dylan on the shoulder several times while he was still in line, obviously deemed kosher by the bodyguards – she’s French-Italian-Irish-Gypsy. Finally, he turned around, and they had an amiable conversation for five minutes or so. He smiled a lot, and said something about a national hug day occurring recently, and they eventually hugged. Bob also said something about having thrown a party recently with a lot of beer involved. Lily said Dylan came across like a friendly old man, and that he had blue eyes and was wearing a Bob Dylan T-shirt. I had been unable to make out what his shirt said at the table.
He didn’t seem like an old man to me. I found his movements spritely and lively, like age was a fake costume being worn. He seemed smart and shrewd as heck, and was foremost in the moment, definitely not in the past. He wasn’t any person he might have been before, even yesterday, because that would be boring and antithetical to life (and music). He was elusive and chameleon-like, if not towards Lily.
Sure, I would like to spend some time with him, mostly to ask about Woody Guthrie and others he admires, thus gaining a vantage point into his way of thinking and being, learning about music from him in this clandestine manner. I also play chess and like taking walks. God, it sounds like I’m writing a personal ad here!
Found a funny piece online about a neighbor of his who is amused by the Christmas lights he puts up every year. She analyzed Bob's light displays at length, mostly in a friendly if satirical manner. But looking at the photos, it was clear to me. They form a single meandering strand with engaging colors. They represent the rambling, solitary pathway that was Woody Guthrie, and then Bob Dylan too.
I know he’s just a person who worked harder than most everyone in his field to manifest a very high level of personal artistic realization. An old teacher and friend, Lee Konitz, is like that too. My god, Lee even outplayed Charlie Parker when they were both on tour with the Stan Kenton Orchestra in the early fifties. Even Bob Dylan can’t match that!
Lee Konitz and Charlie Parker
Here are some writings that show the extent of my fascination with Dylan’s music. He sure did fake me out because normally I’m not too intimidated to speak to people. I would have to say that he’s mercurial of mind and gesture and likely a formidable chess opponent.
So happy just to be alive
I now know how to spell moccasin too. And I wish to thank Mr. Dylan for not bothering me while I was trying to eat.
- Michael Robinson, July 2016
© 2016 Michael Robinson All rights reserved
Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer and writer (musicologist).