There are a very few interviews with Bob Dylan on YouTube. I think I've watched them all. In them he refuses both to be led by the interviewer's questions and to accept the interviewer's praise. One tells him that he is a poet. Dylan retorts that he is not a poet, only a songwriter. The man continues, praising Dylan as a great storyteller. Again Dylan demurs, insisting that he writes not stories, but only anecdotes.
Then, on Netflix, there is Martin Scorsese's documentary of Bob Dylan 1975 Rolling Thunder Revue tour. (In one quick flash, in a scene from the show in Hartford, the camera shows the section of seats where I was sitting with my brother.) Here again, Bob Dylan comes across as a true individual, a very quirky individual. In watching Dylan on film one can sense his authenticity. He isn't acting. In the Scorsese film The musicians who accompanied him on the tour testify to it. Unbounded by social norms, cultivating his eccentricity, free-wheeling, he true to his inner genius.
As a member of the show The Apprentice, liberal journalist Piers Morgan spent hundreds of hours with Donald Trump. Over such a long period of time, interacting with so many people, it is not possible to hide your true feelings, at least not from such a practiced observer of persons: "...I don't personally think he is a racist, because I've seen him interacting around a lot of non-white people in my time I've never got a sense at all of him having any issue in terms of being in his heart a racist. However, and it's a big however,..." I'm not saying that Trump is honest or sincere. I'm just pointing out, as Shakespeare did before me, "at the length truth will out."
But then neither am I saying that Bob Dylan is honest or sincere, just authentic. In which regard I am reminded of the interview 60 Minutes did with Woody Allen back when the whole thing was Soon-Yi was happening. The camera was fixed showing only a small frame of Woody's apartment behind his talking head. In it one understands that Allen doesn't really act. His real life personality matches his on-screen persona. When asked about the death threats that Mia Farrow made against him he said, "I took it seriously in the middle of the night. When you get a phone call at 4 in the morning saying that you are going to be killed... you get scared, because it's the middle of the night... When it got to be daytime I felt better. When I'm moving around in New York City I always feel scared, anyhow. So this was no worse."
Early Sunday morning Bob Dylan came to me in a dream. Occurring on my 62nd birthday, constituting a great pleasure for me, I count it as my first present of the day. In the dream Bob and I were sitting at my dining room table singing together. I don't remember which song it was, but it was one from his earlier albums before my time. Pipsqueak that I was in the early (and even mid) 60s, I don't know the words to those earlier songs the way I do to later ones. Bob's memory wasn't serving him very well either. I rose from the table and crossed the room to a bookcase. I took down from it a large volume, the Complete Lyrics of Bob Dylan. Coming back to the table, apologetically I offered, "I don't know that you'll abide by this sort of thing, but..." and then placed the book upon the table.
He abided just fine, picking up the book, turning its pages to the song in question. Then, looking up, he told me, "You should be very grateful to your great-grandmother Maria Oy, because she puts you in touch with country."
Ramblin Jack Elliott was another member of The Rolling Thunder Revue. He seemed to embody the country spirit through and through, repertoire and twang included. In Scorsese's film someone remarks about him, "I didn't know he was the son of a Jewish dentist from New Jersey." he seemed like real country with his trying and all."
On his hospital death bed Woody Guthrie asked specifically for the "Jewish kid," the then unknown Bob Dylan, who used to come visit him there and sing and play. Someone said, country is as country does. It's a club with an open membership. I fit right in.
Even though I was myself a Jewish kid from a suburb in Connecticut, I felt very at home in Vermont's very rural Northeast Kingdom. This, I think, was largely due to my inheritance from my mother's side of the family. Converting to Judaism to marry Dad, Mom's people were country folk.
Woody Guthrie ***
Those Polish matriarchs were Women of Steel. If the horse died and the man was no good, they'd strap the plow onto their own shoulders and furrow the field. What they were short on, at least in my lineage, was maternal affection. I know that I have to forgive my mother, and I suppose, by extension, her mother and her mother's mother, my maternal great-grandmother, whom, in my dream, Bob Dylan called Mario Oy.
Understanding that it is important to forgive my mother, who is now gone eight years, I've been looking for a way to do it; "Why and what's the reason for?" I know my resentment of her emotional neglect has tied me to re-experiencing that emotional neglect. Not having come to terms with that neglect, I've been unable to advocate my own needs in other relationships. I neglect myself like I was neglected.
As near as I can figure, like Bob advised me, it starts with gratitude, focusing on the positive. As I learn to appreciate the strengths I inherited from my mother, I find more strengths to appreciate, and my strengths get stronger.
In my boyhood track home, my mother had a good-sized potted garden inside the sliding glass doors of her dining room. There must have been four to five dozen plants there. Now, I had the woods around the neighboring school and golf course to explore, but her dining room garden was a wonder to me. She took good care of those plants, at least. I've got my own garden, spread out here over the three floors of this house. I must have six to seven dozen pots. I'm learning to take good care of them and myself. Of course that's easier here in Mexico then it was in Connecticut.
Which reminds me of the "Century Plant" my grandmother had in a large sawed-off barrel in the walkout basement at Uncle Bill's. They call it a "Century Plant" because it flowers so infrequently. Up there in the north I don't think it ever did. Down here we call it Agave. Some are growing in the lot next door.
¡Viva Mexico! ¡Viva Bob Dylan! ¡Viva Mom!
photo: Alessandro Bo (cropped)
Dr. David welcomes you to San Miguel Sunday. Anyone with any interest in contributing articles is heartily encouraged to contact him at the email below. The "Best City in the World" deserves a good Lokkal magazine.