Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Subterranean Homesick Bob

In the mid-eighties, when I was living in Austin, TX, Bob Dylan was on tour with Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. They played at the Frank Irwin Center, and I was new to Austin and still without an adequate grasp of just how laid back the city is. I arrived two hours early for the concert, convinced that showing up later would doom me to having to park miles away from the venue.

I was the first one there, of course, and killed time by wandering around the perimeter of the building, wondering if I'd ever be famous enough to get a gig at a place that size. I rounded a corner and saw the opening for the underground bus barn. As I considered (and then rejected) the idea of walking into the building, a Buffalo Springfield bus pulled up beside me, the air brakes hissing as it came to a stop. I glanced around, but did not see anyone else nearby. When I turned my attention back to the bus the doors opened, and the first person off was Bob Dylan.

About twenty people materialized out of thin air, asking Bob for his autograph, some pestering him with questions, others professing their undying love and devotion. The best way to describe what happened next is to say that Bob just shrank, crawling into himself like a nervous turtle. He remained silent as he signed the scraps of paper thrust towards him, nodding his head to the noise of his fans, or maybe just keeping time to a song that only he could hear. I was not one of the autograph seekers. I merely observed, believing with the conviction of a babe in the woods that someday I would meet Bob on equal footing.

"Will," he'd say. "I really like your songs."

Later that night when Bob took the stage, he was a much more animated version of his previous self.

"Hey, how's everybody doin', (mumble, unintelligible) alright!"

Bob was excited, and plowed into his catalog with the fervor and energy of a child evangelist on a caffeine jag. He is notorious for changing the arrangements of his songs, and at one point in the evening, three quarters of the way through a tune that no one in the audience had so far recognized, it hit us; he was playing "Blowin' In The Wind."

You haven't lived until you've seen over twenty thousand people simultaneously fumbling for their lighters, anxious to add their personal ray of light to a song that changed their lives, and perhaps, the world.

No comments: