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the pioneer of Dylan Studies; writer, public speaker, critic; became a Doctor of Letters in 2015 (awarded by the University of York, UK)

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Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Hello again. Had a week's family holiday in Turkey from August 21 to 28, flew home to North Yorkshire, had 10 hours there overnight and then set off, with wife Sarah, to fly from Manchester to NYC for a 17-day book-promotion tour. The week in Dalyan, on the Turkish coast, was a great pre-trip unwinding. Son Gabriel came: the one who at age 9 got Bob Dylan's autograph backstage at Earl's Court in London in 1978. He's now 37. Daughter Magdalena came too: the one to whom The Bob Dylan Encyclopedia is dedicated. She stayed at home to look after things while her mother & I were in the States and Canada. Of course Digby the Wire-Hair Fox Terrier looked after her. I had my 60th birthday in Dalyan, and celebrated this by taking a microlight flight - scary but thrilling - flying over the beach & the sea (and seeing a huge turtle swimming there in the shallows), skirting the mountains and overflying the town, and best of all flying over the river delta and its beautiful patterns of reed bed (where sections of the film African Queen were filmed 50 years ago).

The same week I collected my bus pass I gave a talk at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. It was the first gig. We travelled an average of over 1000 miles a day for the 17 days of the trip.

Some things great, some not. If you're one of those people with a very low tolerance of negative comments, skip the next two paragraphs.

Greatest disappointment: Woodstock. It's been a magical name in my imagination since 1967, and when we got there we found what seemed a pretentious dump full of self-regarding phonies pretending to be green & caring. The groovy bakery/coffee-shop, Bread Alone, is about as green as Macdonalds: paper plates, paper cups with plastic lids, plastic knives & spoons. Staying in what everyone said is the best place in town, the Wild Rose Inn, we felt marooned. It wasn't an inn at all, of course, but a B&B. Nice old house cutesified to death, no phone in the room and almost never anyone there running the place either. Clearly they weren't letting their business interfere with their lives. This near-total absence was PR-ed as "our make-yourself-at-home policy". Yeah, right. It wasn't helpful in a town where you can't get a cellphone signal, it rained all the time we were there, the airline had lost our luggage en route (and took 3 days to find it again), and when we wanted a taxi back through the deluge from an overpriced restaurant we were told it would cost $27 to take us a mile because no Woodstock taxi wanted to work and so the one they could get had to come from another town miles & miles away. This just about summed up the spirit of place. Woodstock 2006 - so laid back we can't be arsed to do anything.

The other lowspot was Powell's Bookshop in the beautiful city of Portland, Oregon, where the guy running my event claimed - and I know this was a blatant lie - that he'd never been given a list of the sound equipment he was supposed to have ready for the soundcheck we'd had scheduled for an hour ahead of time; he claimed he'd only been told he needed "an LCD player and a projector", and he hadn't bothered to have even these things set up - and when he and two colleagues finally rounded them up, they spent the whole hour failing to find out how to connect them to each other. Nor had he heard of the posters the publisher had had printed and sent to them. In the end I had to give the talk with no film or sound at all, and to the smallest audience I've ever addressed. This at "the world's biggest bookstore".

Greatest highs: first, the R&R Hall of Fame itself: kind people, and unexpectedly super-competent; thoroughly decent archiving, a tremendous, knowledgeable audience and a great theatre to speak in, with a brilliant sound system & suitably huge screen - on which the footage of the complete Newcastle '66 'Like A Rolling Stone' was heart-stoppingly thrilling. This was part of a special new one-off version of a talk called "Bob Dylan & the History of Rock'n'Roll", which in a previous incarnation six years ago was the first talk I gave after Song & Dance Man III's publication. At the end, they were selling copies of that book as well as of the Encyclopedia.

The next high was the New School gig in NYC on September 5th (tremendous audience, place packed out) - many thanks to Bob Levinson and to Prof. Robert Polito for getting this one organised.

And then there was Austin TX - first time I've been in this beguiling town since 1979. Again, a packed-out hall and a marvellous audience, plus civilised considerate people all over town: including radio DJ Bryan Beck, who drove us from his studio to the campus to save us having to get a taxi, and Dylan-enthusiast classics prof Tom Palaima who had organised the event, who met us at the airport when we arrived at 1am, and who, with his wife Carolyn, kindly threw a fine reception for us at their home just ahead of the gig and let us unwind there again afterwards. Here we stayed at a real B&B: Woodburn House (tel 512-458-4335): a lovely old wooden house that was being looked after, not smothered in pastiche, and where the guests were looked after too.

Other memories: the security queues at airports being less of a pain than in the UK (better organised and less under-staffed); travelling up & down Manhattan on the water-taxis in NYC; being in a taxi in Austin that crashed into the side of a pick-up truck at a traffic-lights (both sides to blame); the pleasantness of City Lights bookstore in San Francisco; the unpleasantness of Booksmiths bookstore in the same city, on boringly scuzzy old Haight Street; meeting Tony Glover at the end of my talk at a bookstore in Minneapolis; the kindness and interesting mind of the manager at Black Oak Books in Berkeley, Lewis Klausner, with whom we drank beautiful old-vines Zinfandel a few doors down the street, at a wine bar run by people who are actually interested in wine - which made me realise that in England this is more or less unheard of; the delightful refuge of Jack's Restaurant (formerly Jack's Oyster Bar) and its ex-East Ender head waiter whose accent was a weird mix of East Coast US, Australia (where he'd grown up) and East End, in the handsome state capital of NY, Albany, when we had escaped from Woodstock. And the Dylan exhibition itself at the R&R Hall of Fame: an extraordinarily well-curated, wide-ranging assemblage full of thrilling encounters with shimmering, numinous artefacts.


Blogger EJCrow said...

... groovey. Next time you're in the States hit Cody, Wyoming and Yellowstone try to break some bones to lighten up your trip! Kwaheri rafiki, EJCrow

11:17 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tip, I can avoid goin to Woodstock now.And boring and scuzzy Haight street, ha ha. Some things haven't changed.

4:30 am  

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