TRYING TO BREATHE THE SAME AIR AS DYLAN
Bob Dylan has been something of a musical obsession for me for 25 years. But the closest I got to touching the hand of Bob was back in March of 2004 in Chicago.
The circumstances under which I almost got to meet the man were not normal and had a lot to do with Jim Callaghan. Not the one-time Labour Party leader. That would have been just too bizarre. But rather a rock and roll security guy of the same name.
A literary agent I was dabbling with at the time had some contacts with Callaghan and there was talk of him wanting a ghost for a warts’n’all autobiography that was in the air. An interesting project, for sure, especially since Callaghan had worked with the Stones for years and years – and when Keith Richards was at his most naughty and hedonistic.
In fact, I was so enthusiastic for the project that I was even prepared to stump up half of the cost of flights to Chicago, where Callaghan was marshalling Dylan’s security doings. The fact that my potential co-worker just so happened to be working with Dylan certainly weighed in my decision to invest some dough in the venture. After all, Bob was playing a number of nights – four, I think – in intimate Chicago theatres; one to two thousand seaters maybe. Gig heaven. If the book idea didn’t come off, then at the very least I’d have the chance to see one of my all-time heroes in truly intimate circumstances on at least two occasions. It was a real Dr. Pepper moment. What’s the worst that could happen?!
I’ve loved Dylan since a hippie lass from Huddersfield introduced me to his music back in university, around 1983. Up to that point I’d not paid the fella any mind. Dylan seemed old, irrelevant, uncool. To a 19-year-old heavy metal fan in the full arrogance of youth he was nothing more than an overly nasal irrelevance. But The Huddersfield Hippy persevered with Dylan’s latest album at the time, ‘Infidels’, and slowly but surely I started to get hooked. ‘Infidels’ is a million miles away from a true Dylan classic, but it did and still does hold a special place in my heart. First loves and all that. Not Huddersfield Hippy. The album.
From ‘Infidels’ I suddenly got the Dylan bug and swiftly backtracked to what I quickly realised was a back catalogue that was utterly immense. First it was ‘Blood On The Tracks’, then it was ‘Highway 61’, then ‘Desire’, then ‘Blonde On Blonde’ and so on and so forth. I started to understand what a scenester Dylan had been, what a hip dude he was, what bloody unbelievable songs he’d written, what social relevance he had. It hadn’t been an instant revelation, but it was a revelation all the same.
Callaghan was canny. He knew he was working something on Bob’s time that might not have been considered kosher, I guess. Though discussing a book with me was hardly like divulging the notoriously secretive Dylan’s innermost thoughts, there was still no backstage pass for HoJo. The first time I met Callaghan was outside the Aragon Ballroom on March 5, with throngs of Dylan fans milling about. His opening gambit was brilliant. ‘Tell me a joke, then…’ Shit. I’ve always been the world’s worst at remembering jokes. Bar none. I utterly blew my opening lines.
If Callaghan had marked me down with a big fat mental cross right there and then, at least he had the good grace not to let it show. In fact, quite the opposite. We buddied up for the next two or three days, me and Jim, meeting for breakfast in diners, chatting in my hotel room, chatting in his hotel room. I suspect I didn’t do myself any favours, though. Much as I was genuinely interested in Jim’s book idea and found the man charming in a roguish kind of way – he truly did have the most amazing stories – I found it utterly impossible not to be thinking about Dylan all the while. Like a true fan. ‘Oh my God, he’s in this very hotel. Wouldn’t it be great if we bumped into him in the lobby? Will Jim take me backstage tonight to introduce me? What will I say? What will he say?’
Of course nothing of the sort happened. While I got the VIP treatment front of house and enjoyed the shows from privileged vantage points sat at the front of the balcony I never got within a country mile of real human contact with His Bobness. Jim Callaghan, bless him, was doing his job – and doing it right.
Witnessing Dylan for two nights in such intimate surroundings was truly awesome, mind. If I hadn’t been so damned jetlagged the first night it would have been even better. But hey, that’s just nitpicking.
I didn’t even get so much as a glimpse of Dylan, actually. I didn’t get so much as a glimpse of the proposed book either. I think Jim changed his mind in the end. I never saw any book appear, at least. But for me, getting that close to Dylan in his natural habitat was a thrill in itself. And above all the whole experience made me realise that I was glad I hadn’t become so jaded by my rock and roll doings over the years as to forget what it feels like to be a real honest-to-goodness fan of a man whose music I still love and admire to this day.
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HoJo rocked as a top journalist on legendary UK metal magazine
Kerrang! and now runs a way-cool rock T-shirt site at www.saltyrockz.com.