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The Origin Story of the Bob Dylan Fan Club
Bob Dylan has never had a fan club. At least that’s what he thinks. At least that’s what he tells us he thinks when we eventually meet him in the narrow passageway between two trucks on a hot July day in St. Paul MN, where he is standing smoking an American Spirit cigarette and awaiting our arrival.
“And I was wondering if you girls would like to start one?”
When we ask him more specifically what he wants us to do he admits, in a tone that underscores the importance of the question, “Well that’s just it, I don’t really know. You see, I’ve never had a fan club.”
It really takes me a few seconds to realize that he is talking about a fan club in a literal way, and not just using the turn of phrase to say something like, “I’ve never had a fan club until you two came along.” It is with increased puzzlement that I realize that he is serious and really does mean he wants us to form a club, made up of his fans. But how many? And how come? These questions and others will follow our encounter. For now I’m just thinking that, of all circumstances in which I’d imagined meeting Bob and discussions that might ensue…of all the things I have thought about him asking me, the requests he might lay on my table… that he’s wondering if I would like to co-preside over his official fan club just wasn’t among the possibilities.
To back up a little. One of Bob’s main crew guys appeared at the rail just after the gates opened on this last evening of the Bob Dylan Show Summer 2005 Tour. Willie Nelson and Family opened all these shows for Bob, and since Kait and I had befriended the Willie Nelson crew earlier in the week we had been inside the venue for a while already. Doing it, as we came to say, “The Willie Way.” That is, hanging out on the air-conditioned bus, drinking beer and tequila, then being taken down to the front row early, when it wasn’t really even the front row yet since no one else had been let in. Not a bad set of circumstances. In any case, on this day we had just gone out to our spot from backstage, and just a row or two had begun to fill in behind us when our soon-to-be escort to Bob appeared around the end of the barricade and started walking toward our spot. Oddly but as it turns out accurately, the first thought to enter my mind when I see him coming towards us is that we are going to meet Bob. I’ve never seen him come out to the crowd before, and he’s looking right at us, and I just get this flash.
But then he doesn’t seem particularly friendly when he asks us, “You’ve been going to all the shows, right?” Uh, no, we stutter…well, some. The last few. He then asks us who else has been at all the shows, and for a panicked second I think he’s clearing out the regulars from the front row and my heart sinks. We’re hesitant to own up to this dubious reputation but then he says that we have to go with him and of course we do. Because even if Bob is asking us to leave the front row, we’ve always said that we would do whatever Bob wants. Won’t come here no more if it bothers you. Plus the guy promises we’ll get out spots back, that he’ll make sure of it, and then I know we are going to meet Bob.
But one of the two Asian twins who goes to all of Willie’s shows with her adoptive parents is standing next to us, and Red says that she should come too, and where is her sister? Aren’t they both at all the shows? He’s looking at me like it’s my responsibility, so I lean down to where she is sitting and say that he says we all have to go with him. She’s confused of course, but rises to follow and immediately starts tracking her sister down via cell phone. Now I’m not so sure we’re going to meet Bob, because how can he not know these girls leave before his set each night, and why would he want to meet them? Just what is happening here?
Our companion escorts the three of us backstage, back into the area that Kait and I have been roaming around with the Willie crew, for the past hour or so. We are a single file line behind him, me first, then Kait, then Asian girl, talking on her phone. I turn around and Kait looks fearful, like she is being marched down the hall to the principal’s office. I mouth, “What’s happening?” Right before rounding the corner of a big equipment truck, our guide turns around and stops us for a second with this instruction: “Bob wants to talk to you. Just listen to what he has to say.” I feel pale, even though I’m actually quite sunburned, not to mention sparkling with glitter on my chest and shoulders.
But then we round the truck’s corner, and there’s another truck parked right next to it creating a little alley about 10 feet wide and we are directed into there and there’s Bob, standing there smoking, with the hand that isn’t smoking resting halfway into the front pocket of his pants. There’s a security guy at the far end and it seems like Bob is maybe making small talk with him as he waits, but when he sees us he wheels around and says, “Hi, girls!” with a boyish smile and enthusiasm that kills me and puts me at ease in a way I wouldn’t have thought possible. He walks quickly over to us and I think we take a couple steps toward him but not many. He’s wearing black jeans, motorcycle boots, and a mostly untucked white button up shirt with black trim, short sleeved. The shirt looks like a bowling shirt, or a leisure shirt at a Catskills resort. A yellow pack of American Spirits is in the breast pocket. Our chaperone stays at the end of the trucks, the mouth of our little alleyway. The first thing Bob says, with an intonation I will never forget, is that he loves seeing us out there. The way he emphasizes seeing within that sentence. We love seeing you out there too, I assure him and he says that’s good.
I have to admit that while I am confident that I remember everything Bob said, I’m not clear on the sequential order of our conversation. Meeting with Bob is like a series of very clearly remembered moments in time that seem somehow removed from the moments before and after, not really connected. Snapshots, or movie clips. I’m not sure why it seems that way, maybe because I immediately determined to lock each moment of our encounter in my brain, and that’s how it came out. One frame, then the next. I think it’s also in part because that was kind of how Bob talked to us, like he had a series of things that he wanted to say and wasn’t that concerned about making the connections for us.
I remember thinking to myself that I just need to absorb everything about the moment and not think about it while it’s happening. It’s like I didn’t want my interpretation of anything to be part of the memory. I just want the memory of us three in the alley between the trucks with none of the interference of analysis. Plenty of time for that later. So I try to be a completely blank slate and just be there, with Bob, and see what he might say. There’s not a lot of small talk, no beating around the bush. Kait and I dutifully answer all direct questions, and chime in a couple of times each throughout the conversation. But mostly we stand, nod, beam at times and, well, just listen to what he has to say.
He says to Kait, “You have green eyes! I been looking all my life for a woman with green eyes.” Oh my God, such a line! It’s great, like something out of Masked & Anonymous. He also says, “Yeah, I can see that from up there” which I take to mean her eyes, from the stage. And a little later, keeping the topic alive: “So, what’s it mean to have green eyes? Does your mother have green eyes?” She tells him no but her grandmother did, and that it means she’s Polish.
Pretty early on in our meeting he asks, “So…so what do you do?” He’s squinting at me and I giggle because I can’t actually think of what I do. What do I do? I…I go to your shows? Write about them afterward? I can’t remember what I actually say, but fortunately Kait speaks up that she manages an art gallery and Bob asks if she has a business card. She doesn’t so she writes the number down on the world’s smallest piece of paper dug out of the bottom of her purse, with a sparkly pen. She asks, “Is this OK?” and he says it’s fine, and puts it in his pants pocket. As she’s rummaging through her purse Bob looks at me intensely and asks me my name. None of his questions really sound like questions. I say my name and he says it back to me, and that sounds really nice. “Caroline…” He says it carefully. “…And”… (he looks to Kait for assistance and then repeats her name after her as well)”…and Kait.”
I remember distinctly the way Bob said, “Athens, Ohio” after Kait told him that’s where she lives. The words came out like he was measuring or weighing them and you could almost see them hanging there.
After we express some kind of befuddled agreement to the fan club idea he tells us more
about why it’s important. He says this, like it’s the key: “You see, I play for people like you, who go to all the shows.” (Ha! I knew it!) “Because you understand. The reviewers, they don’t get it. They get it wrong. They’re used to things that are all flash and…and... (I chime in, “Commercialized!”) …yeah, commercialized, so that’s what they’re used to and so they write about what’s on the surface, like the way we dress, or...(me: yeah, or that you don’t talk to the audience between songs) …exactly, or he doesn’t talk between the songs, or that he does the songs different now…” He audibly scoffs at this and then I think he mumbles something about the songs always have been different, but then says more distinctly and with greater indignation, “I been playing some of the songs that way for years!”
By this point we’re getting riled up along with him, joining Bob in his indignation toward “the reviewers.” This is one of the points where myself as onlooker sneaks in and I’m thinking, how fucking cool is this! He looks at me with intensity and a bit of a smile, and reaffirms, “But you two…you get it!”
He talks about how what he does is different from what everyone else is doing or has done. A lot of people don’t really get what I do, he says, but you could write a college course on it now. He says, “But I’m getting kind of old…” – and then I really wish I could remember his exact wording here but he says something along the lines of not knowing what’s going to happen when he’s gone, that what he does might be forgotten – and then he says to us, “I don’t…I don’t like thinking about that.”
And then, as best I can determine, Bob asks us to be his voice to the public. He has said that he can’t really talk to that many people about what he does because he’s very busy and doesn’t have the time. He makes a simple-sounding request, that is anything but that, and states it as if it needs no further explanation: “I was hoping maybe the two of you could speak for me…you know…be my voice.” He asks us directly, “Do you think you could do that?” I hear Kait, like she’s Pledging Allegiance, and I half expect her to have her hand placed over her heart: “We’ll do our best.” I nod in agreement thinking, Holy Shit.
Bob talks about the timing he plays in, and how he learned this very old timing. He wrote about this in Chronicles Vol. 1. He’s saying that what he does comes from a very old tradition, and it’s a different kind of timing than anyone else uses. People don’t realize why, but when you play like this “it sounds different.” He says that at most times in the past some band member or other has been holding him back, but not now.
He asks us if we are going to Canada, where the tour heads next. We tell him no, but we are going to the last two shows out west, since I live out there now. He says with excitement, “Oh, that’s great!” I can’t help myself and I say, “You should come to Arcata after the tour ends, it’s not too far and it’s a really nice town.” He looks into my face and his eyes are so clear and he’s very serious and says, “I would like to do that.” When he says this it carries the weight of truth, and I immediately know that I believe him. Not that I’m thinking he will come visit, but that he would like to do that. It means a lot to me, the way he says that, because it is so precise. Not like, “Oh yeah that’d be great” in some phony way, but considered and exact. Much of the way Bob talks is like this, like he knows we’re listening and is thinking about what he says.
Bob is sweet, sincere and something of a perve. He pauses in the middle of all this talk of his legacy to suddenly stagger back a couple steps, shake his head as if he can’t believe his eyes, and declare, “Damn, you girls look good!” with a horny chuckle. I look into his face and there’s a big sly smile and his eyes are moving from one of us to the other and narrowed: can’t tell whether we’re blinding him with our glitter there in the sun or if it’s just a Bob squint. We all share a laugh, and I think one or both of us says, “Thanks.”
Bob is also wryly funny. At one point he discloses, with a conspiratorial tone as if this is what it’s all about, “You see, they keep me in a cage. They let me out to play shows, and then they put me back in my cage.” Come to think of it, he looks a little like he’s been kept in a cage, roughly unkempt and squinting here in the bright sunlight.
There eventually comes the moment when it’s clear that Bob has said what he called us back there to say. It’s not awkward at all, he just stops talking and we stop nodding our heads or whatever we are doing, and then we all three are standing contentedly in our little circle between the equipment trucks. Bob smiles a little…shyly?...and says, “Well, that’s what I wanted to say.” We’re like, “OK.” Then we all stand there another moment and for an instant I think we’re all going to hug, but instead Bob pats us each on the back. Well, more like the upper buttocks, like he’s our affable, slightly lecherous uncle. But it’s really the sweetest touch, just the tiniest bit self-conscious, mostly just authentically affectionate. I’m standing more alongside him than Kait is, so it’s easy for me to reach out and return the gesture. Yup, I pat Bob’s little waist, while Kait noodles him with her arm. He laughs in a really cute way, again seeming charmingly embarrassed and then we’re all like, “OK, well, see you in a little while!” I’ve totally forgotten the Asian Willie chicks are there, like totally, and completely forgotten, and so did Bob. They’re standing apart from our little threesome and, as our chaperone comes back over to take us away, Bob says to the twins, “You can be in the fan club, too!”
Then I’m numb and more than a little confused. We’re being walked back out toward the stage and our crewmember guide looks at me and says, “You alright?” and I snap back into it a little. “Oh, yeah, that was…awesome.” I say to Kait under my breath, “Bob is cool” and she agrees. We get to the end of the rail and I feel like everyone is looking at me and can tell that I just met Bob by the look in my eye, so I look down at the ground. As if in a dream I hear, “OK, see there you go, there’s your spot.” Yeah, OK, thanks, and I stumble down there, and only then do I turn and look Kait square in the face and we both laugh.