Sunday, July 31, 2011

I'm Bob Dylan- Lost Pages from Dylan's Memoirs

         One night, Bono and I were on a train, having dinner and talking about how famous we both were.   
     “It’s hard to believe that a man like Bob Dylan could write so many profound songs in his lifetime,” I said to Bono. 
   “I know, it’s incredible. Even though I’m a bit of legend myself, it's almost intimidating sitting here talking to you.”
    “I’m intimidated myself,” I sighed. “The other day I spent three hours in a hotel begging me to explain what the meaning of existence was.”   
      “What did you tell yourself?”  
     “I said it would ruin my mystique if I ever said something in my life that made even remote sense.” 
     We continued talking on a wide variety of subjects that ranged from my musical career all the way to Bono’s musical career.
      Bono has got an amazing sense of right and wrong, although he occasionally forgets which is which. I told him if he had been alive in the early 1800’s, such is the strength of his moral conviction, that he would have most surely been born a midget.
    Bono said that, like the majority of my lyrics, that line could either be taken as brilliant or entirely incomprehensible, and the fun was to guess which. 
     The night wore on. Bono asked if I had any new songs, any unrecorded ones. It just so happened that I did. I pulled the pages out of my suitcase and showed them to him. 
    “These are brilliant,” he said, as I was handing him the lyrics. “You should record them.”
      I said I wasn’t so sure about that, thought that maybe I should pour lighter fluid over them- and then dry the pages off and then record them.
    He said, “No, no,” and then brought up the name of Daniel Lanois, said he was a producer, said he was a great partner, be perfect to work with me.
     I had no idea where he was going with this, so I asked him to elaborate. He told me that if I wanted to record another album Lanois could produce it. I didn’t understand why he was being so cryptic. If he has something to say, just say it. I asked him again what he was getting at, that he should stop speaking in circles, and he finally seemed to understand. He then said, “Lanois could be the savoir that would jetty your talent into the great highways of America and make you be the court jester you’ve always dreamed of being in the jingle-jangle morning.” 
     Lanois produce my new album? It didn’t seem like a bad idea. I told him I’d think about it. 
      Later that night, I went back to my house.  I listened to some news on the radio and then went into my bathroom and started removing the Mascara I had lately been wearing to conceal some of the wrinkles on my face. Twelve hours later, I left the bathroom and went into a small art studio on the property. I started thinking about Lanois, what Bono said. Maybe I should get back into recording, that old rat race. Lately, my live performances have failed to capture the inner spirit of the songs.  For the listeners, it must have been like going through deserted orchards and dead grass. There were just too many distractions that had turned my musical path into a jungle of vines. The windows had been boarded up for years and covered with cobwebs. And what’s worse, I could now only think of four metaphors for every situation instead of the usual eleven or twelve.
      Prior to this, things had changed and not in an abstract way, which was unusual for me. A hurricane had come and blown away my reputation. A Tsunami had licked up all my previous musical skill and dragged them into the impenetrable darkness of the ocean’s abyss. Also, my brain was becoming confused between reality and hyperbolic metaphors. The other week, an actual tornado formed in my backyard, and I stood there relating it to my musical career before my wife dragged me into the basement.
     Here the memoir travels back in time to when Dylan arrived in New York in the early 60’s, to make a name for himself. While many critics agree this fragmented structure serves as an excellent literary device, Dylan’s own explanation- that frequent drug use had corroded the area of the brain that conceptualizes time- no one would deny that the jumbled structure does little to make his life story any more interesting. 

     A month after finishing up a tour in Europe to publicize my 38th album, I went to New York to try and make a name for myself. I was 18, and came across the country from the Midwest in a four-door, sedan 57 Impala- straight out of Chicago, clearing the hell out of there- racing all the way through the smoky towns, winding roads, green fields covered with snow, a twenty-four-hour ride, dozing most of the way in the backseat, making small talk, strumming on my guitar, suddenly remembering I was the only one in the vehicle and leaping frantically into the front seat to regain control of the
      The big car came to a full stop on the other side of the George Washington Bridge. I slammed the door shut behind me, waved goodbye to no one, and stepped out on to the hard snow. 
     I was there to find singers, the ones I’d heard on record- Dave Van Ronk, Woody Guthrie, Charlie McCarthy.
      The Café Wha was a club on MacDougal Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. A man on the corner told me to go there and ask for a singer named Freddy Neil who ran the daytime show. Said if anyone could get me a gig, Neil could. This was a little odd, since all I asked the man for was a light, but I just took it in stride.  
      I found the place and was told that Freddy was downstairs in the basement engaged in a heated political debate with some of the hats and coats that were checked in there. And that’s where I found him. Neil was the MC of the room and the maestro in charge of all the entertainers. He was a tall, lanky dude with a well-trimmed, black moustache that he kept in his wallet. He asked me what I did. I told him I sang, played guitar and harmonica.
      “Well, play something for me, kid. Let’s see what you got.”
      I was signed to a record deal as I was taking my guitar out of its case, and was soon hailed by music critics all over the country as the best thing to come out of the folk music scene.
     The memoir shifts again to the recording of his album Oh Mercy, which one rock critic was famously noted as saying, “Out of all his 42 albums, Oh Mercy ranks somewhere in there.” 

     I was over by the pool, sitting with G.E. Smith, a man who claims to have been my back-up guitarist for the last 58 years. I like Smith, he’s mild-mannered, and has got thoughts that could kill a man, although I have no idea what this means. He had just spent 4 months on the road with Willie Nelson before both of them realized no tour had been scheduled.
     He asked me where I was living these days. 
     “Everywhere,” I said. “And nowhere.” 
    “What does that mean,” he asked, unable to comprehend my obscure comments but still feeling fairly certain they were the words of an undeniable genius- a common reaction people have towards me.   
     “It means nothing,” I said. “And everything.” 
     “Aren’t you just saying a vague answer and then following it up with it’s opposite to sound profound?”
     “Maybe,” I said softly. “But then again…maybe not.” 
     Just then, a waiter came up and asked what if we were ready to order. I explained to the waiter that I had achieved such a mythical status in the last 25 years that I no longer did such petty, mortal things as consume food or water. Then I ordered a fried enchilada.  
     Later that day, I went to the Marie Antoinette Hotel, where the Beatles were staying on their first tour in America. The success of the Beatles had finally gotten to Lennon’s head, and he now not only claimed that he had composed the majority of their songs, but also helped write the Magna Carta. Ringo was back at the studio, vigorously trying to hone in on his drumming ability, and could now hit two of the drums at the same time.            
    Night was falling. I decided to take a stroll around the French Quarters with a profound, stoic look on my face.         
     At the corner of the block, a frail, starving cat was crouched on a concrete ledge. You could see his ribs sticking out of his fur. I wished I had a jug of milk, I thought to myself. I was really thirsty.  
     I continued strolling into the dusk. About ten feet into the dusk, a bum approached me. He said I looked like a good guy, asked if I could help him out any. I took pity on his unfortunate state and gave him my autograph, and then continued walking down the road.

     The Other Musicians on “Oh Mercy” 

    Lanois had recruited an eclectic alliance of musicians for my new album. They included the singer Maron Rufkin who played in Bourbon Street bars like The Rising Sun before someone explained to him that the bar was a fictional place in an old folk ballad and didn’t actually exist. Rufkin was a regional star, he had a high pompadour and a set of pearly teeth. He told me that as a teenager he’d played with Memphis Slim. I thought I had something in common with him there because I had also once been ateenager. Rufkin had some fine songs. One of them had the line: “You do good things for people and it just makes them bad.” I might have thought about recording it if I hadn’t written thousands of better ones. There was also the guitar player Brian Soltz, whose licks were thought out like piano patterns but still left dabs of saliva on your face. And how could you forget to mention Lightning Willie Green, a man who achieved the incredible feat of being a folk legend without having written any songs or knowing how to play an instrument. 
     They were a good group of performers, and I felt they could me well. I had a couple of songs with me, though I had yet to write lyrics or melodies for them. Right now they were just blank pieces of notebook paper. But that was a start at least. All I had to do was sit down in a quiet place, remind myself I was Bob Dylan, and then some of the most brilliant lyrics in the world would start effortlessly flowing from my pen.   
      Cause I’m Bob Dylan. 

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