I once met Bob Dylan, or should I say he once met me.
His Halloween concert at Evanston’s McGaw Hall in 2000 offered yet another opportunity to see the great artist in action, where he is often at his best. The grooves on my copies of at least a dozen of his LPs have been completely worn away, and it’s always interesting to experience his live re-interpretations of his material.
These re-interpretations, however, don’t come without their risks. Nothing spoils the mood more quickly than thinking you’re hearing the opening strains of ‘Just Like A Woman’, staring deeply into the eyes of your significant other and sweating bullets as the song turns out to be ‘Idiot Wind’.
In recent years, Dylan’s shows have become a crapshoot. You never know whether you’re going to get the real Bob or someone I call MumbleBob, a seemingly confused fellow who looks like Bob but over the course of the concert never plays, sings or speaks one decipherable note or word.
MumbleBob squeezes all of his songs’ lyrics into the first 30 seconds, leaving the next 10-12 minutes for pointless guitar jamming. I’ve seen MumbleBob start the same song twice in a row, seemingly unaware he’d performed the same number moments earlier.
At MumbleBob’s shows there’s usually a point that my nephew One-F calls “the blowhole moment.” It sounds like everything that’s been clogging up Bob’s singing apparatus suddenly clears and he’s able to produce words and notes that you don’t need a subwoofer and a stenographer to decipher. Then, unfortunately, the blowhole fills in just as quickly, leaving you to wonder whether the song you’re clapping for was “Lay Lady Lay” or “Like A Rolling Stone”.
On this night, however, he was magnificent. Over the course of three hours, he played a vast array of material with spontaneity and conviction. Led by the twin-guitar attack of Larry Campbell and Charlie Sexton, the band was on fire and they knew it. There was even some good-natured onstage Halloween banter. Somehow it’s comforting to me that Bob knows when it’s Halloween.
After the third encore, he put on the acoustic and started strumming the opening chords to ‘Forever Young’, and we began making our way toward the door. The auditorium erupted in a mind-numbing roar.
As we approached the exit, we noticed a commotion nearby and went over to see what it was. It turned out to be a relatively unsecured area that Bob and his band were about to pass through. Sure enough, a few moments later he came around the corner, a towel around his neck, four burly guards surrounding him, moving briskly through the crowd.
When he was about 10 feet from us, he looked at me, broke into a big smile, walked right up to me and extended his hand as though we were long-lost friends. “Hey man,” he said, “what you been up to?”
“Not much,” I said, attempting to disguise my shock at this sudden turn of events.
The man stands about 5’ 6” with the help of cowboy boots and a black cowboy hat. He has light blue eyes, small hands and a mischievous look, possibly caused by not wearing his contact lenses. With the pencil-thin mustache he’d recently acquired, he looked up at me like a miniature Vincent Price.
Still shaking my hand warmly, he suddenly realized that he didn’t know me from Adam, and laughed.
“Hey man, whoever you are, what you been up to?”
“Just work,” I said numbly.
“Yeah, you and me both been workin’ too hard.”
Then he put his left hand on my right shoulder and said, “You got anything?”
In retrospect, I’m sure he was asking if I had something I wanted him to autograph; there’s no way that he was trying to “score” in front of a group of complete strangers. In my stunned state, however, I guess I thought he was asking how to get in touch with me. So I handed him a business card.
He took a quick look at it, laughed again and put it in his pocket.
“Thanks man, I needed one of these!”
As he turned to leave, he called back loud enough for everyone to hear, “Let’s get together again soon!”
Maybe he mistook me for Roger McGuinn. Maybe he thought I was the ugly guy in Rush (Geddy Lee). And maybe he does sometimes get lost in the middle of his own songs and have trouble figuring out how his guitar strap works. None of that matters. In the same way that it’s comforting to me that the man knows when it’s Halloween, I’m happy to report that, based on first-hand experience, Bob Dylan has a sparkle in his eye and a functioning sense of humor.