Friday, June 10, 2011

The BD Experience

A friend referred me to a guy who's looking for BD fan recollections.

Since BD wasnt exactly the prime reason for my travels, I held off sending him anything, but ultimately wrote this, because I wanted to pay tribute/give credit to those that don’t often get heralded when discussing Bob Dylan the aura/legend/mythos/etc….. the members of his band. They're ignored, perhaps mistreated and/or pestered by most of the fans who think that BD is some sort of deity, and I wanted people to know that there are at least *some* people out there who appreciate them, even one who went specifically to see them.

I'm 22, from Colorado, more or less.

Like a lot of other younger people, I got sick of the current musical offerings one day, and out of the blue, took a gamble and bought the No Direction Home soundtrack w/ some high school graduation money. Instantly, I was hooked. I used the rest of that graduation money to buy every other BD album w/i an hour’s drive of my small, rural town. Spend all summer absorbing all I could about the man, the music, the writings, everything. He was delivering to me the way I always felt about life, to quote BD himself, and I just dug the whole mythology, and I connected in some way w/ (what I thought) he was trying to get at, even if it wasn’t something you could explain in prose.

I absolutely HAD to see him live.

That summer, 2006, his tour came nowhere near where I was living, and being 17, my parents wouldn’t allow me to go to him. But by the fall, I’d hit that magical 18 and was away at college, and lo and behold, the Dylan tour was making a stop! I never ditched one class my entire school career before; the first class I ever cut was my 10 am Intro to Film class the day tickets went on sale for my first BD show. Oh, what a slippery slope!

Ironically, I didn’t cut any classes the day of the show, but arrived early enough for a very long wait. By this time, I’d dabbled in guitar, but was starting to get bored w/ it, and always found myself drawn to the bass anyway. As truly excited as I was to see Bob Dylan, I was actually really looking forward to finally seeing Tony Garnier as well!

I walked in that night excited to share the same physical space as Bob Dylan. I walked out honored to have breathed the same air as Denny Freeman, a guitar player who’s name I’d only seen mentioned on the Dylan message boards.


I wanted to play guitar like THAT!!! It wasn’t overbearing, shred-a-minute, clich├ęd “rock star” guitar, it was just exactly what the song needed. It wasn’t about making Freeman look good, it was about what would make the song sound that much better, it was….. perfect, for lack of a better term. I don’t know how to describe it, but THAT was what a guitar was meant to sound like, THAT was how a guitar was meant to be played! I HAD to find out more about this guy! A broken collarbone soon after afforded me the time to go back and download many audience recordings of previous shows w/ Denny in the band. The more I heard, the more I liked this guy.

That was the last time I was ever bored w/ the guitar, I can tell you that much……

And so, from a month after I turned 18 to a month before I turned 21 (formative years, at least according to American popular culture), I followed the Bob Dylan tour around the country. Not every show, of course, I’m not rich, but a sizeable chunk of shows in nearly every state, certainly every time zone. I met nearly every type of fan, from some of the absolute nicest people on Earth who’d give you their last penny, straight through to some people I’d rather not mention. I personally put over 100,000 miles on my (new-ish) car.

But I saw the country! I experienced SO much that ordinarily would have passed me by; why else would I ever have reason to be in Kalamazoo MI, outdoors for hours on a dreary, bitter cold November day? Or spend a soggy August day melting on the downtown sidewalks of Kansas City MO, only to stampede w/ thousands of other bodies across an empty ballroom floor (w/ all the booby traps and pitfalls that is known to entail)?

The tour allowed me to absorb both the flavor of the different areas and cities of the country, and at once the ever-changing flight of a life lived in transit. I loved every minute of it, from Point A to Point B and the location In Between, which often gets overlooked. Just as treasured as the locally based memories are the ones that exist in generalities only. Just as vivid as the conversations in the shade of the venue in KCMO are the memories of the Kansas cornfield flashing past my headlights at 3 am, the previous show’s sweat still clinging to my forehead as the sticky night air whistles in the window, forcing me to turn up “Nettie Moore,” which has been on repeat for a good 6 or 7 cycles now. I reach down for the only cold liquid in the car, a Dr Pepper purchased some miles down the road at a dimly lit backwoods convenience store, as a particularly juicy June Bug explodes against the windshield ……. Looking back, thinking, summarizing, it has a certain charm about it, a mid-century wild, ineffable looseness, a freedom that isn’t supposed to exist anymore, a mindset certainly not shared by many who share my birth year.

(Oh, and there was college in there, somewhere. Managed a double degree, w/ honors, so must have put some efforts in that direction, somewhere, I think….)

While this touring mentality certainly is not unique to me, and I certainly met many likeminded travelers, what are unique to me were my motives. While the other fans were busy talking about the meaning behind a particular gesture on a particular line at a previous concert or whether or not any given part of the Dylan mythos was fact or fiction, I was rattling off, to anyone who would listen, the highs and the lows of the music, in particular, Freeman’s guitar work. In the aforementioned stampede, I had the distinct advantage of not wanting to be as close to Dylan as possible; rather, I wanted to be in front of Denny, I wanted to see his fingers on the fret board and hopefully unlock some key to his playing, some small secret. While everyone charged to the right, I broke left, usually uninhibited, and secured a prime space for listening, watching, learning.

I was there for the band, plain and simple.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoyed Dylan and I still do. But I am not a singer, not a lyricist; there was nothing to be learned from observing him. But from Denny?! There was (and still is) so much to take from his playing; I know I’ll never get it all down!

The fall 2009 tour brought a line-up change that saw Freeman leave the band, and, for my own personal reasons, I decided to quit the cross country touring. I still loved seeing Tony and the rest of the fellas in the band, I absolutely loved the absurd, out of the way places the tour would take me, and as I stated, I do dig Dylan’s songs, that never changed, but for a variety of reasons I found that the “scene,” if you will, had changed, and I no longer had the time or the energy to deal w/ certain aspects.

But those few short, whirlwind years forever changed my life, in ways I may never fully comprehend. Before the tour, I had always planned to live in New York, to lead the charge of a 2nd American New Wave in film. Now? I can never live anywhere but Austin, TX, and the guitar is now a bigger part of my life than I ever dreamed possible. Certainly, much of this is due to the impact of Freeman’s playing, rather than Bob Dylan himself.

But just as certainly, I would have never been in the position to be exposed to Freeman if it weren’t for Bob Dylan. Bob Dylan ruined my life, and, right now, I can’t thank him enough.

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