This is the last regular post, and it’s about our day in New York City. We will probably be writing a postscript soon, a summing up of sorts, and perhaps a few supplementary posts, particularly if we attend the Dylan concert in Holyoke, Mass., on Sept 7. This trip has been quite a ride through Dylan’s, music, history, and the country.
Our New York mission was all about buttoning up this experience, knotting the thread, dotting the i’s and crossing the t’s. No drama today (so we thought), just takin’ care of business. We headed up to Greenwich Village where it all began. We simply wanted to find and stand before the places important in the folk music scene of the early ‘60s, such as the clubs that nurtured performers like Dylan. In retrospect, these dark caverns helped to launch a counter-culture. A few of these places have been demolished, while others have morphed into nail salons or head shops or whatever. A few plaques aside, very few of them even hint at what they once were. Those who seek them out drift down the streets feeling like ghosts.
We visited the sites of the Village Gate, the Folklore Center, The Gaslight Café, the Kettle of Fish, the Sheridan Square Theater, and the Theatre de Lys. Among the survivors are the Bitter End and the Café Wha. Gerde’s Folk City had been demolished. We also found the townhouse Dylan bought after moving back to the Village from Woodstock, a purchase he came to regret because it demonstrated the truth of his credo: that trying to return to the past is a dead end. The photos we’ve posted illustrate our sightseeing tour of the Village that no longer exists.
But then…out of nowhere… something happened that was so astounding and unexpected that, dear Readers, you need to stop whatever you are doing and listen with rapt attention. If you have a dental appointment, cancel it. If you are about to give birth, hold it. And if you are planning to fly to your long lost lover, please reschedule. Here is what occurred late on our final day.
After checking out the locations of the various old folk clubs and then having lunch, we walked over to 161 W. 4th street, to check out the building where the 20-year old Dylan and 18-year old Suze Rotolo found their first apartment in 1962 and lived in for two more years. (Dylan’s first Columbia Record deal in late ‘61 made the $60/month apartment possible.). We dutifully stood in front of the building and photographed it from every possible angle. Then each of us took turns getting in the photo. Then a nice young woman came by and volunteered to photograph both of us together. Would we like that, she asked. Sure. After about 10 minutes of excessive documentation and just as we were preparing to leave for the final stops on our walking tour, we noticed that a Mini-Cooper, which had been parked a few yards ahead of us, started backing up…to get a better parking space perchance? No. The window rolled down and the man inside began talking to us in a well-loved New York accent: “You guys Dylan fans?” (He had seen us taking photographs). “Yeah,” we replied, “Dylan lived here.” “I know,” said the man. Him: “My son lives in the building.” Us: “Oh, that’s cool.” Him: “Actually he lives in Dylan’s apartment.” Us: “Wha?” Him: “Yeah.” Us: Hey, you think you could call him and ask him if we could see the apartment? We just finished a 4700 mile trip to find Bob Dylan.” Him (smiling): “Sure, let me call him.” Us: “Thanks” Him: “OK, go up the stairs. He’s going to ring you in…it’s Apt. 4R.
We vaulted up the stairs, our hearts going from pitter-patter to thumpity-thump as we ascended. As we reached the last landing, Nick opened the door. We were about to enter the tiny, apartment described in detail by Suze Rotolo in her memoir “Freewheelin’ Times.”
Nick was a welcoming host despite being feeling very hassled by the fact his dad had just found a typo in his wedding invitation. In fact, Nick was trying to deal with this mini-disaster when we arrived, and was in the midst of talking on phone with his fiancé. He graciously told her he would call back and asked us to come in. Suddenly we were standing in the living room, the very space once occupied by….well, the guy we had been pursuing across the country and across whole eras. Nick told us that Dylan fans often photographed the building but that we were the first ones ever to come up. “I would have invited the others to come up and see the place, because I know how much it means to them, but no one has ever asked before.” Nick told us that he once tweeted Dylan and invited him to dinner at his old place, but never heard back.
During the next 15 to 20 minutes, we chatted and Nick asked us if we like to hear a Dylan song while we there. For sure! He proceeded to put on a beautiful Dylan cover of “Early Morning Rain.” He also asked if we would like to see a photo of Dylan in his West 4th St. pad, which he could call up on his computer? Yes by all means! So while the Dylan song was playing, we were looking at a photo of Dylan sitting in this very apartment while we were…yikes!…standing in the same apartment! Dylan’s voice pulled us back in time, while the computer screen returned us to our own. Time travel. Back and forth. Emotionally, readers, we were levitating. We had slipped the surly bonds of Earth. Was this really happening? In seconds, we had rocketed from the serendipitous to the sublime.
We had a question for Nick. “How do you feel living in Dylan’s apartment? Do you feel anything? Nick: “I don’t think about it every day, he said, “but I do sometimes think about it and I feel the vibration, I find myself wondering what songs he wrote here. Yes, it is special.”
We thanked Nick and traded contact information and then went down and thanked his father again. What was the cosmic probability that we would arrive at the building at the same time as Nick’s dad? In short, right on time! What if we hadn’t stopped for lunch? What if that woman passing by hadn’t offered to take that photo of both of us? What if Nick’s dad had left a minute earlier? Larry, our data man, estimated that the chance of this encounter occurring, given all the variables and random factors involved was somewhere around one chance in tens of millions. This event seemed perfectly synchronized by a simple twist of fate. Destiny…you have made us believers.
We were back on the street, pinching ourselves and possibly each other. We then went around the corner to Jones St. and W. 4th where the iconic photo of Dylan and Rotolo that graced the Freewheelin’ album cover was shot. Bill schemed how to recreate the scene by asking a woman walking down the street to pose with him (without seeming a psychopath). He almost succeeded. Larry was both amused and distressed, perhaps a smidgeon more of the latter. To Larry’s relief the offer was rejected without fisticuffs.
We ended up at the “Unoppressive, Non-Imperialist Bookstore” nearby on Carmine St. Nick’s father had told us we needed to check out its huge Dylan collection. It didn’t disappoint, and what’s more we learned that the owner had met Jesse Dylan, Bob’s filmmaking son, who wandered into the shop one day. (He had also met Jakob on some occasion). Naturally we requested details (or did we demand a full debriefing?) Jesse told this story: Dylan had an audience with Pope John Paul (“He didn’t kiss the ring,” Jesse said, “because he was Jewish”). Dylan told the Pope he was the greatest Pope ever. Turns out that this audience was the one thing Pope John Paul’s dear friend, the present Pope Benedict, couldn’t forgive. He felt John Paul should never have agreed to grant a meeting to this “False Prophet.” Jesse went on to say he was very proud of his father, not only for all the music he created, but because “he was there for us,” attended all their baseball games, etc. The one other thing Jesse said to the shop owner was that “my father does not like to live in the past.” (We had heard this many times about Dylan).
Larry felt we should end our Dylan adventure by listening to live music. Seemed like a good idea, so we returned to the Village at night and listened to some excellent acoustic southern blues and northern electrified blues at the Terra Blues club on Bleeker St.
Our trip was over. In the end, there was the music.